This autumn, voters in Seattle are almost certainly going to be asked if they want to amend the Emerald City’s plan of government to add new directives regarding the city’s obligations for addressing homelessness, the issue that most voters in Seattle say is the top priority they want the next mayor to address.
Charter Amendment 29, as the measure is officially known, is currently awaiting certification from King County Elections officials following a late spring/early summer signature drive that ended at the beginning of the month.
Although the signature check isn’t yet complete, the measure is expected to qualify, and the campaigns for and against the amendment are revving up in preparation for what is expected to be a lively general election campaign.
With the contentious amendment poised to be a focal point of debate this autumn, we took the opportunity last week as part of our July 2021 citywide Top Two survey of Seattle voters to ask respondents how they would vote on the measure if the general election were being held now.
Out of the gate, we find Charter Amendment 29 in a strong position, with 61% of voters likely to vote in the current Top Two election saying they favor the amendment. Just 23% are opposed, and another 16% said they were not sure. That’s a net lead of thirty-seven points for the pro side to start.
Our poll of 617 likely August 2021 Seattle voters was in the field through Monday, July 12th, through Thursday, July 15th. All respondents participated online. The poll was conducted by Change Research for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a modeled margin of error of 4.3% at the 95% confidence interval.
Here’s the exact question that we asked, and the responses that we received:
QUESTION: This November, voters in Seattle may be asked to vote on a city charter amendment concerning actions to address homelessness and keep areas clear of encampments. The official description of the charter amendment is as follows: This measure would require the City to provide 2,000 housing units within one year; and, until 2028: waive land use regulations for units during declared emergencies; adopt homelessness policies; fund behavioral health and addiction treatment; dedicate minimum 12% of annual general fund revenue to homelessness and human services without affecting certain parks funding; implement diversion programs for law violations connected to poverty or behavioral health; and balance keeping public spaces clear of encampments with avoiding harm to individuals. If the autumn general election were being held now, would you vote yes to pass this charter amendment, or no to reject it?
- Would vote yes to pass the charter amendment: 61%
- Would vote no to reject the charter amendment: 23%
- Not sure: 16%
Compassion Seattle, the coalition in favor of the amendment, hailed the finding, saying that it showed Seattleites are ready to take action on homelessness.
“The findings of the NPI poll are consistent with our own research and the response we have received from the people of Seattle,” the campaign said in a statement. “Voters believe the best path forward to addressing the homelessness crisis is through a coordinated, actionable plan that holds the City of Seattle and its leadership accountable in making measurable progress.”
“It starts with prioritizing the individuals who need our help through emergency housing, access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and other necessary support services that are needed to bring people inside.”
“Ultimately, CA 29 is the plan that is needed to solve this crisis, and it requires our city to be transparent about progress and setbacks for it to be successful. As the campaign to approve the Charter Amendment begins, we urge all of Seattle to work together to solve this human crisis and not continue to politicize it.”
House Our Neighbors, the coalition opposed to the amendment, told NPI that they believe the measure’s fatal flaws will become increasingly apparent to voters, and cited Compassion Seattle’s referenced — but not publicly released — polling that showed even higher levels of support for the proposal a few months ago.
“[Backers] claim that their amendment was polling between 70–80% [prior to filing]. So the fact that in a few months, a grassroots campaign of currently homeless, formerly homeless, advocates, and over sixty organizations, bankrolled by people power, not real estate developers and corporations, has brought that number down to 61% is a great sign!” said Tiffani McCoy, Advocacy Director for Real Change and one of the organizers of House Our Neighbors.
“Voters are learning about the disingenuous nature of Charter Amendment 29, and how corporations and developers are buying a charter amendment to influence citywide elections,” McCoy added.
“CA 29 includes no new solutions, no new funding, and codifies the forced removal of our unhoused neighbors into the city charter.”
“Their Amendment, if passed, would already fail our unhoused neighbors. It does absolutely nothing for fifty percent of those currently living outside, and does nothing to deter the inflow of homelessness. It’s an empty promise to end homelessness and it sensationalizes our most vulnerable for political gain.”
“Charter Amendment 29 (CA 29) would enshrine Seattle’s current ineffective and harmful practice of sweeping unhoused residents and their homes from public places into the City’s Charter, while doing nothing to meaningfully address homelessness. The criminalization of poverty is not only unconstitutional, but an inappropriate way to address the long-standing and intersecting issues of housing affordability, Seattle’s racial wealth divide and community displacement, and the history of structural inequity in housing.”
Compassion Seattle says the ACLU’s analysis is incorrect.
“Despite what the ACLU says, Charter Amendment 29 does not promote sweeps, nor do we believe sweeps to be an effective practice to help those living unsheltered. That is why the Amendment requires creation of 2,000 units of emergency housing and expansion of behavioral health services.”
“Charter Amendment 29 does not criminalize homelessness; it says nothing about law enforcement,” a June 9th statement from the coalition contends. “It does require expansion of diversion programs so police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts can decide on a case-by-case basis whether treatment and other individualized services are better than arrest and prosecution.”
House Our Neighbors told NPI that they see three big problems with the Charter Amendment 29 ballot title, which you can read above in its entirety (it was part of the question that we asked voters). Here’s their analysis:
First, the ballot title says that CA 29 “would require the City to provide 2,000 housing units within one year” but the Charter Amendment languages actually dictates emergency or permanent housing, and the fact that this amendment would only divert roughly $18 million more to homelessness, these 2,000 units will be emergency shelter. The language in the ballot title makes it sound like permanent housing units.
Second, the ballot title says CA 29 will “balance keeping public spaces clear of encampments with avoiding harm to individuals.”
This is a flowery notion and has no place in the ballot title.
CA 29 is all about keeping public spaces clear, and allows the use of force to ensure this. The last sentence in section three of the proposed charter amendment states: “In those circumstances where the City does not close an encampment, the City may still require individuals to shift their belongings and any structures to ensure safety, accessibility and to accommodate use of public spaces.”
Let’s be clear, shift is a euphemism.
A shift is a sweep, it’s a forced removal, it’s displacement, without any guarantee of shelter or housing. This is the true aim of CA 29.
Third, the ballot title repeatedly refers to how this will fund x, and fund y. This is wildly misleading, as this Charter Amendment has zero funding attached to it. CA 29 only requires 1% more funding to be diverted to a human services fund, so that’s roughly $18 million more than we already spend.
Compassion Seattle argues in its FAQ: “2,000 units is not the end, it’s the beginning. This is an aggressive start to providing enough capacity in the first year to move people inside and make a noticeable difference in the region.”
And, with respect to the lack of funding attached to the proposal, the coalition says: “Adopting new taxes is not necessary to fulfill the first years of the plan outlined in Charter Amendment 29. We believe the City of Seattle has the necessary resources in its general fund, and it comes down to a matter of prioritization. If the City demonstrates both success and a need for new funding to complete the plan, they should then make that case to the voters.”
“Charter Amendment 29 is not a quick fix,” Compassion Seattle stresses.
“It will take a focused and persistent effort to persuade individuals to accept housing and services tailored to meet their needs. The best way to keep our public spaces free of encampments is to follow the experience of other cities who have successfully addressed this issue by meeting basic human needs for safe and secure housing and by providing behavioral health services.”
House Our Neighbors says Charter Amendment 29 would take the city in the wrong direction, not make things better over time. “The proposal is in fact a major step backwards in addressing the region’s housing crisis,” HON’s FAQ says.
“Our unhoused neighbors don’t need more ‘compassionate’ sweeps — they need deeply affordable, permanent, and sufficient housing units, an expansion of proven options like tiny house villages and subsidized hotel rooms, safe lots for RVs and other vehicles, and more wraparound services,” the coalition says.
NPI does not yet have a position on Seattle Charter Amendment 29 and was not involved in qualifying the measure to the ballot. While NPI does not take sides in candidate elections, we usually do take positions on ballot measures. We anticipate taking a position on Charter Amendment 29 this autumn.
If you’d like to dive more deeply into the case for and against the measure ahead of the fall campaign, we recommend reading the FAQs and answers to those questions posted by Compassion Seattle and House Our Neighbors.
Ballots in the current August 2021 Top Two election (which were mailed out last week) must be returned to a drop box by 8 PM or postmarked by the last outgoing mail collection time on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021. Happy voting!