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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Most voters favor Seattle Charter Amendment 29 (concerning homelessness) out of the gate

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.

Poll finding on Seattle Charter Amendment 29

Visu­al­iza­tion of NPI’s poll find­ing on Seat­tle Char­ter Amend­ment 29, which will appear on the Novem­ber 2021 gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot if cer­ti­fied (Graph­ic by NPI)

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.”

The Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union of Wash­ing­ton is among the orga­ni­za­tions that has declared its oppo­si­tion to Char­ter Amend­ment 29, writ­ing:

“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!

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One Ping

  1. […] In our recent sur­vey of Seat­tle’s Top Two elec­torate, we asked vot­ers how they would vote on Char­ter Amend­ment 29 if the geneal elec­tion were hap­pen­ing now. 61% said they would sup­port the mea­sure, 23% said they would oppose it, and 16% were not sure. (Read this post for reac­tion to the find­ing from Com­pas­sion Seat­tle and the opposition …) […]

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