Housing Space: Above and Beyond the EHT

Housing Now's official statement regarding the Employee Hours Tax

Today, Friday 5/10 the Seattle City Council will be voting on a proposal that would levy a tax on large companies in proportion to their number of employees in the city. This "Employee Hours Tax" (EHT) would boost funding for extremely affordable housing for those most in need. We support the EHT and we want this to be the start of something even bigger.

Housing Now has for the past few years conducted research into housing affordability. One thing that should be clear is that new housing is inherently expensive to construct. There are things we can do to make it less expensive, but it is nearly impossible to make housing in a big city like ours on the cheap, especially at a scale that will make a difference.

Opponents of the EHT have circulated on Facebook and in other places the idea that there "is no plan" on how to spend the money from the EHT. This is such a patently false idea that it wouldn't be worth even acknowledging if it wasn't for the fact that it has been repeated so often. Here’s the plan.  Even if for some strange reason this didn’t exist, it's not even like coming up with a plan to spend money on housing for homeless people is HARD. The problem has always been the money.

We mention this for another reason though, not just to debunk it. When opponents talk about the plan for the EHT money they ignore the fact that it is THEY who don't have a plan. This question needs to be asked and then answered: with or without the EHT, how will privileged people and companies step up to solve the housing crisis?

Others have pointed out that the Seattle City Council has lagged behind when it comes to efforts to expand the supply of housing and reduce the cost of new housing. While it's true that the City Council can do much better in this area, we can't let this distract us from the failure of big businesses to take responsibility for what they can do. We live in a city where the implements of taxation and zoning are bent to the will of those with money. Big businesses have been largely silent on the land use issue, except where it narrowly serves their interests, and completely reactionary on the issue of progressive taxation.

A recent report commissioned by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce indicated that it would take $400 million a year to solve homelessness regionally. This may sound like a lot, until one considers that Amazon alone made $1600 million in the first three months of this year.

The EHT is expected to raise $75 million a year, including $20 million from Amazon. Big businesses like Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, etc should be spending less time trying to kill this very modest tax and more time coming up with another $325 million. Heck, Jeff Bezos himself could personally donate this, and still have money left over to explore space. This isn’t a complicated problem: while exploring space may be rocket science, solving homelessness is not.

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