Murray Asks Businesses to Help Homeless as Seattle Opposes Trump

Washington state’s emergence as a capital of resistance to the Trump administration has been abetted by many prominent tech companies. Now Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is asking companies based in the Northwest’s largest innovation hub to do more to address issues such as homelessness—helping fill a void left by an adversarial federal government that Murray says will be indifferent to the issue.

“The next four years in this country will be a battle for the soul of America,” Murray said in prepared remarks for his 2017 State of the City address, delivered from a North Seattle mosque Tuesday morning.

He proposed a tax on sugary beverages to fund education, a $55 million property tax increase to reduce homelessness, and asked businesses—“who are reaping the rewards of our booming city”—to collectively contribute $25 million over the next five years to the housing effort.

Murray, in the last year of his first term as mayor, delivered what could be called his “City upon a Hill” speech. He articulated a vision of Seattle as a welcoming, equitable, innovative city of the world, acting to address climate change, safe for immigrants and refugees, and standing in opposition to a president leading the country toward division, mistrust, and isolation.

“Where the president spreads darkness, Seattle will shine a light, and offer a different vision,” Murray said.

At the state level, Washington successfully challenged President Trump’s ban on travel from seven majority Muslim countries, with support from Seattle-area tech giants including Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE). They were later joined by scores of other companies and universities.

Murray argues that Seattle’s recent growth and prosperity—driven in large part by new tech industry jobs at Seattle-based companies such as Amazon—gives it a platform from which to proffer its progressive vision. But, Murray added, many of the city’s challenges stem from that very success.

“Climate change, wage stagnation, income inequality, housing affordability, infrastructure investment: our challenges as a city mirror our challenges as a country,” he said.

He described the “Other Seattle,” populated by some 3,000 homeless people and others who have struggled to remain in Seattle as a tech-driven economic boom has caused rapid growth in population, employment, and housing costs. He cited an influx of 75,000 new residents over the last five years (up 12 percent), some 90,000 new jobs added in Seattle since 2010, and a median household income topping $80,000.

(The salary required to buy a median-priced home in the Seattle metro area in the fourth quarter of 2016 was about $84,000—or a little less than half the $161,000 required in San Francisco, according to a report from mortgage information publisher HSH.com.)

Thriving Seattle needs to do more to help the people of “Other Seattle,” Murray said, announcing an overhaul of the city’s efforts to reduce homelessness, called Pathways Home.

Murray said he’d hoped declaring a state of emergency on homelessness in the city 15 months ago would result in increased federal support.

“Regrettably, little help has come,” Murray said. “We must face reality. Developing a national housing and homelessness agenda is not a priority for the new president’s administration.

“We are the ones who must prioritize the lives of the people struggling in the Other Seattle.”

Murray wants to double Seattle’s spending on homelessness. He assigned Nick Hanauer, a Seattle entrepreneur and co-founder of venture capital firm Second Avenue Partners, along with Downtown Emergency Services Center executive director Daniel Malone and members of the City Council, to lead an advisory group that would come up with a funding package in the next two weeks.

Murray said he aims to boost funding through a $55 million property tax increase, which he wants to put before voters in August, and is asking the private sector to step up, too.

“Our businesses, who are reaping the rewards of our booming city, must join our new public commitment and help those who are in need,” Murray said, noting the efforts of companies including Starbucks, Amazon, and Dick’s to raise $4.5 million for Mary’s Place, which helps homeless families. “I am challenging Seattle’s business community to raise $25 million over the next five years focused on disruptive innovations that will get more homeless individuals and families into housing.”

Murray also said he would forward a 2-cents-per-ounce sugary beverage tax proposal to the City Council to fund programs aimed at reducing racial disparities in Seattle education, and launched a new program to increase the number of mentors available to young black men.

He also announced plans to send Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, seeking the Trump administration’s definition of a sanctuary city. He wants greater understanding of “enforcement actions the federal government may take against us,” and information on changes to travel and immigration policy (some of which was released by DHS earlier Tuesday).

“Seattle is a great American city because of immigrants and refugees,” Murray said.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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