Housing Crisis Fuels Opposition to Safeco Field Investment

Coalition calls on King County Council to divert public money away from stadium maintenance and put it toward affordable housing

A coalition of more than 50 local organizations have endorsed a joint statement calling on the King County Council to move money previously slated for Safeco Field maintenance to investments in affordable housing near transit stations.

Back in May, King County Executive Dow Constantine rolled out a plan to use around $180 million in new revenues from the lodging tax (a tax on stays at hotels and motels) over the next two decades to fund Safeco Field maintenance. The plan was quickly criticized by King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who argued that the county should funnel those funds to affordable housing near transit stations and homeless youth services.

Constantine’s plan has also been widely condemned by affordable-housing advocates, who packed a July 29 Council committee hearing on the proposal to call for more money to be shifted to affordable-housing investments. The next day, Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, an original sponsor of the plan, did an about-face and withdrew her name from the legislation, announcing that she would propose an amendment slashing the investment in Safeco Field from $180 million to $25 million and boost the future investments in affordable housing by $184 million.

The coalition’s statement, which advocates a plan to deliver to the Council on Aug. 27, notes that Constantine and former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness back in 2015; that “one in three King County households” pay more than a third of their incomes to cover the cost of housing; and that the county’s own Regional Affordable Housing Taskforce estimated that upward of 244,000 additional affordable homes are needed in the county to meet demand.

The most recent annual One Night Count of people experiencing homelessness across the county logged more than 12,000 individuals.

“King County residents and taxpayers must pay our rent before we can enjoy a ballgame. We ask that the council follow suit and make decisions that respond to the urgent affordable-housing crisis in our region by showing they understand community priorities,” the letter states. The document has been signed primarily by human-service providers and nonprofit affordable-housing developers—both of which stand to potentially benefit if more money gets shifted to affordable housing and homeless youth services because the county routinely dishes out funding for housing and services. Seattle Tech 4 Housing, Plymouth Housing Group, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the Chief Seattle Club are among the organizations that signed the letter.

The letter goes on to endorse the amendment proposed by Kohl-Welles to reappropriate a large amount of the funding originally intended for Safeco Field to affordable-housing investments. “While we continue to believe that every available dollar should be prioritized for affordable housing, we believe that Councilmember Kohl-Welles’ proposal is an acceptable compromise. We urge all King County Councilmembers to join her in support of this compromise.”

In July, Seattle Weekly reported that the Seattle Mariners are refusing to sign a new 25-year lease extension with the Public Facilities District—the public entity that manages and technically owns Safeco Field—unless the county approves the $180 million allocation for upkeep. The sports team has argued that the county should pay for the repairs because the stadium is publicly owned and the Mariners have promised to pay for other maintenance and upgrades, such as a brewpub. If the county doesn’t allocate the money, the team says it will obtain a short-term lease extension and renegotiate terms for a long-term lease.

“We think it’s imperative that the councilmembers all understand the visibility of this decision they are about to make. It’s a clear question of priorities, and the more people hear about this, the more they wonder how it is possible, in the midst of a housing crisis, to justify doing the minimum. Everyone knows we need more,” Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly. “These opportunities to allocate public dollars tell us whether our elected leaders will lead on housing or not.”

The proposal will get its next hearing on Aug. 29, where it could be voted out of committee to the the full Council for further consideration.

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