In many ways, 2016 was a year of both progress and reaffirmation. Time and again, our community stepped up to care for its most vulnerable residents, showed the world our spirit of inclusiveness and demonstrated what it means to put progressive values into action.
Here’s a look back at how we kept momentum and set the stage for even bolder action in pursuit of a more equitable, livable and vibrant city in the year ahead.
It’s no secret Seattle is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis due to a booming economy driving population growth and demand for housing that has outpaced supply. In August voters renewed the Seattle Housing Levy by an overwhelming margin, adopting the largest affordable housing funding measure in the city’s history. By leveraging $290 million in levy funds with other pieces of our Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, we’re on track to create 20,000 income- and rent-restricted affordable homes over the next decade, along with 30,000 market-rate units to meet growing demand. Since the start of 2015, 1,725 income and rent-restricted homes have opened, with 3,512 more units in development. This represents the most aggressive housing production this city’s ever seen and we’re on pace to triple past investments in affordable housing. This year we celebrated the opening of affordable housing and cultural space at Plaza Roberto Maestas (pictured above), broke ground at Arbora Court and Anchor Flats, and continued work with partners to leverage the Housing Levy.
To promote greater housing production and more equitable distribution of affordable housing, we adopted the Mandatory Housing Affordability program that for the first time ensures residential and commercial developers create or fund affordable housing with every new project. Supporting a vision laid out in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, growth is being directed at urban centers and villages with access to transit, parks, small businesses and schools. In addition, the City this year adopted a number of new tenant protections, such as tackling source-of-income discrimination and prohibiting rent increases when units don’t meet minimum maintenance standards.
In October we struck a deal for redevelopment of Civic Square, otherwise known as “the hole next to City Hall,” which will result in nearly $22 million to support affordable housing and our Equitable Development Initiative.
To learn more about HALA, developer requirements and how you can join conversations about smart growth strategies, visit http://seattle.gov/hala and watch a replay of this Facebook Live Q&A.
Related to housing affordability, we’ve been facing a homelessness crisis affecting not just Seattle but a number of West Coast cities. The causes are many, from a decades-long decline in state and federal funding for health and human services to a worsening opioid epidemic. With more than 3,000 people – including 500 families – living unsheltered in Seattle, it’s clear that we must take bold action and try new approaches to achieve the goal of getting those experiencing homelessness off the street and into stable housing. To that end, this year we’ve initiated Pathways Home, a person-centered strategy that focuses on programs and approaches that best achieve the goal of ending homelessness by finding stable housing for those living unsheltered.
Pathways Home is transformational, and will take years to fully implement. We’ve begun by establishing performance-based contracting, funding programs that assist vulnerable residents with finding and keeping stable housing, and pursuing low-barrier shelter including a soon-to-open Navigation Center that will accommodate the individual needs and challenges of those experiencing homelessness including those with pets and those fighting addiction.
While Pathways Home offers the best chance to end homelessness in the long term, we must do more to provide safer alternatives for those living unsheltered and establish greater safety and certainty for those living in and near encampments. Like many, I was shocked by the violence and terrible conditions of the unauthorized East Duwamish encampment known as “the Jungle,” which existed for decades as a threat to the health and safety of its inhabitants and the wider community. Following months of outreach, in October we worked with the State to close the Jungle, found safer shelter for dozens of those who had been living there and cleared away hundreds of tons of garbage.
Also in October I unveiled Bridging the Gap, an interim action plan on homelessness that:
- Creates safer alternative spaces to live, including four new authorized encampments including up to two low sites.
- Expanded outreach by tripling the number of outreach workers connecting with people living in encampments, dedicating a Seattle Police team to partner with outreach workers to address behavioral disorder issues they encounter, and training frontline City employees on how to best offer referrals for people experiencing homelessness.
- Enacted more compassionate protocols for unauthorized encampments, including clearer notice of cleanups, improved handling of storage and personal belongings, and transparency around when and why cleanups are carried out.
- Improved trash and needle pickup with Seattle Public Utilities to help address areas most affected by trash buildup and make needle deposit boxes more accessible.
Our efforts to curb homelessness and work with neighborhoods to address issues related to encampments will continue in the year ahead, but I believe we are on the right track and are pursuing the most effective strategies. We can’t do it alone, and it will take the Federal and State government stepping up to bring an end to this crisis. We’ll be further challenged by the Trump Administration if it makes good on its threats to cut local funding.
Seattle Will Remain a Welcoming City
Speaking of President-elect Trump, 2016 will go down as a year when a presidential campaign waged through outrageous bigotry, misogyny and divisiveness challenged our core values. As I said on Election Day, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race, Seattle’s values will not change. We will continue to be a city that embraces diversity, welcomes immigrants, and declares that we will never enact a religious test. I recently spoke to these policies in an interview with the BBC.
In November I signed an Executive Order reaffirming these values. We made clear that City employees will not ask residents seeking services about immigration status unless police officers have a reasonable suspicion that a person is committing or has committed a felony violation. City employees will serve all residents and services will remain accessible to all residents, regardless of immigration status, ancestry, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender variance, marital status, physical or mental disability, or religion.
Further, I’ve directed that $250,000 be set aside to address the needs of unauthorized immigrant students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools. These students and their families are part of the fabric of our community. These parents work and pay taxes and make our community a more vibrant place. Their children will become the innovators and problem-solvers of the future, and deserve the chance to focus on school rather than live in fear of their family being ripped apart.
Equity and Inclusiveness
Building greater equity and inclusiveness was a major theme of our work in 2016. We completed a workforce equity strategic plan to better ensure the City’s workforce reflects our community’s diversity both in hiring and in participation, retention and advancement. Women- and minority-owned businesses accounted for nearly 20% of City contracts, one of the highest rates since passage of I-200 nearly 20 years ago.
We filled several important cabinet positions with skilled leaders who bring rich experience, diverse backgrounds and innovative thinking to our departments. These include:
- Mami Hara, our new Director of Seattle Public Utilities, who previously served at Philadelphia Water and helped implement Green City, Clean Waters, one of the nation’s most ambitious green infrastructure programs.
- Dylan Orr, who was sworn in as Director of Office of Labor standards in December. Dylan helped spearhead the City’s adoption of secure scheduling regulations to afford workers greater stability, a healthier workplace and more work-life balance. Previously, Dylan was appointed by President Obama as Special Assistant to the Office of Disability and Employment, making him the first openly-transgender person to be appointed by a presidential administration.
In addition to diversifying the City’s leadership, we took a series of steps to build greater equity and access in services, programs and community engagement:
- In July I issued an executive order directing the Department of Neighborhoods and others to develop robust, modern community engagement plans that offer greater avenues for participation to under-represented communities and make use of digital platforms including the web and social media. A shift to more representative and accessible outreach will ensure greater equity and inclusiveness in neighborhood decision-making. To learn more and participate in Equitable Outreach opportunities, visit https://engageseattle.consider.it/.
- We launched a Language Access program to increase the City’s ability to serve immigrant and refugee communities, and held a number of free workshops to provide resources to those seeking to become citizens.
- In August we secured an Age-Friendly City designation from the World Health Organization and AARP, recognition of our commitment to increasing age-friendly policies such as access to recreation, safe transportation, housing assistance and more.
- In October our Mobile Community Service Center made its debut during a Find It, Fix It walk in Georgetown. This “City Hall on wheels” will bring services and information to under-served neighborhoods.
- In all, we held six Find It, Fix It walks across the City this year, including Licton Springs, Belltown, Roxhill/Westwood, Judkins Park, Georgetown and Crown Hill/Whittier Heights. I appreciate all who take the time to improve their neighborhoods by joining these walks, especially when the weather turns. It’s rewarding to see the projects and creative solutions that emerge from our conversations and the Find It Fix It mobile app. Perhaps my favorite was the use of goats to trim back invasive brush in West Seattle.
- In the 2017-18 budget we funded expansion of Community Centers, increasing operating hours at several facilities, switching to free programming at five community centers and reducing drop-in fees for activities such as toddler gyms and basketball at all facilities.
- On Earth Day, we released an Equity and Environment Agenda to help ensure those most affected by environmental injustices have a bigger role in finding solutions and benefiting from them. Environmental equity means fighting pollution in communities of color through support for a “Green Wall” in Georgetown, promoting career opportunities in exciting fields of renewable energy and others through Green Pathways, and supporting the MobilizeGreen Conference which is building the next generation of leaders in environmental justice.
- In February I signed an executive order directing all City data be open by preference, meaning City departments will always make their data accessible to the public while taking steps to screen for privacy, security and quality. An open data policy builds equity and accountability, while increasing transparency and opportunities for innovation. We’ve established performance dashboards showing progress on public works projects and tools for exploring the City budget. App and software developers can work with these and other datasets at data.seattle.gov to develop new tools and solutions.
Closely tied to equity is our work on education reform, career readiness and pre-K programs.
In its second year, the Seattle Preschool Program expanded to serve 680 students, up from 280 the prior year, and exceeded equity goals with more than 75% of those served being students of color.
Building on our early learning initiatives, last spring I convened the City’s first Education Summit in 25 years, bringing together more than 500 attendees and facilitating more than 1,300 community engagements to address disparities facing students of color by ensuring all students are being prepared for the jobs of the future. Given that 43% of Seattle’s African American and Latino students do not graduate on time, or at all, we must do more to close the achievement gap. We’ve set a goal of raising post-secondary credential attainment to 70% for all Seattle Public Schools students by 2030.
In November, we received recommendations from an Education Summit advisory panel comprised of leaders in education, business and community engagement. Among the recommendations we’ll pursue in the coming year:
- Expanding the My Brother’s Keeper mentoring program for African American/Black male students from Aki Kurose Middle School to five additional middle schools.
- Expanding the innovation school model, which has been successful in addressing disparities in middle schools around attendance, behavior and curricula, to a high school.
- Broadening the City’s Summer Learning Program to serve an additional 200 students, with an emphasis on programs offering culturally specific curriculum.
- Investing in post-secondary programs that ensure students who graduate from high school remain engaged during the summer and successfully enroll in college.
The Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning, in partnership with the Seattle School District, community, philanthropy, and business community will release an action plan early next year outlining next steps.
I’d like to thank everyone who has participated in the Education Summit. Our work is by no means done but we couldn’t have gotten to this point without strong community buy-in.
Police Accountability & Reform
One of the biggest challenges in my time as Mayor has been overseeing a change in culture, training and accountability in our Police Department to improve its relationship with communities of color and comply with the terms of a federal consent decree on use of force. The past year saw tremendous progress. The federal monitor, Judge James Robart, wrote in the latest progress report:
“The Seattle Police Department has made significant progress over the last year in achieving compliance with many aspects of the Consent Decree. With diligence and hard work, and in the absence of unforeseen impediments, and if there comes about greater community cooperation and trust, the SPD could well reach full and effective compliance in as little as a year from now (Fall 2017) in many, if not all, areas. It has been a prodigious effort to come this far, and the distance traveled now exceeds the distance that remains.”
Evidence of that progress can be found in a recent survey showing an approval rating of 72% for the Seattle Police Department, compared to 54% in 2015. Seattle’s police force is becoming more diverse and better equipped to deal with people in crisis without resorting to force.
In October, we sent a reform package to Judge Robart for review that includes the strongest police accountability measures in the City’s history:
- Creation of the Office of Inspector General, empowered to review and report on any aspect of SPD’s policies and practices.
- Increases the independence of our Office of Professional Accountability, replacing sworn SPD officers with civilian staff tasked with overseeing all investigations and complaints against officers.
- Makes the CPC a permanent body, ensuring community input is institutionalized into Seattle’s police services.
Thanks to Chief O’Toole, and to all in SPD and community who have helped make our reform efforts a model across the nation. I look forward to continuing these efforts in the year ahead.
A fast-growing city striving for greater livability and working on the front lines of the fight against climate change needs a modern, multimodal transportation infrastructure. We saw great progress on transportation this year, from the historic passage of ST3 which will expand LINK Light Rail service for decades to come, to the opening of new LINK Light Rail stations connecting downtown with Capitol Hill and the U-District, to the opening of the Westlake cycle track, recently named the best new bike lane in America by People for Bikes.
Seattle is a leader on climate action and is moving away from fossil fuels by promoting renewable energy, walkable urban villages and transit-oriented development. This year we launched Drive Clean Seattle, through which we’re accelerating adoption of electric vehicles in our municipal fleet and making dozens more EV charging stations available throughout the City.
We also took big steps on pedestrian and driver safety by adopting reduced speed limits as part of our Vision Zero initiative aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030.
While most of our efforts are focused locally, I’m a big believer that cities have a role to play in making the world a better place, and that we can and should learn from one another. This year Seattle continued to lead on climate action, equity and inclusion, and innovation, while forging stronger bonds with other communities committed to these efforts.
In May, Seattle was selected to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities Network, one of only 37 cities chosen from 325 applicants. As part of the 100RC Network, we’ll work to bolster our ability to deal with challenges now and in the future. I’m most excited that we are bringing equity to the table as a strategy for building greater economic and environmental resilience by ensuring solutions are informed by and accrue benefits to all in our community.
In December, I spoke at a climate conference in Mexico City and signed a memorandum of understanding with leaders of that city, pledging cooperation on trade, information technology, clean technology, creative industries, education, people-to-people exchanges, and other fields of common interest. Just as we’ll share innovative approaches taking shape in Seattle, we’ll continue to learn from other communities through these partnerships.
I’m proud of the progress we’ve made together this year, and excited by the opportunities that await in 2017. As this year comes to an end and we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays and look forward to new beginnings, I want to thank all of you for your input, civic pride, kindness and generosity. I am proud to be the mayor of this great city and humbled by the actions of our passionate and dedicated community.
I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a bright new year.