Affordable housing tops public's budget concerns at Seattle hearing

People packed Seattle's council chambers Tuesday night to make a pitch for more affordable housing. (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- Council chambers hit a tipping point on Tuesday night as the public seized on its last chance to make a pitch in Seattle's city budget. Testimony went on for hours as people pushed their priority projects, and affordable housing topped the list.

Massing outside the chambers before the start of the hearing, a coalition of religious and political leaders gathered to demand that money be spent on housing.

“We have $160 million,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant. “We're saying let's use it to build 1,000 affordable homes."

Sawant has led the outcry against a new north Seattle police precinct, demanding that money be used to ease the city's housing crisis.

However, housing advocates weren't the only ones packing Seattle's final public hearing on the 2017 budget.

Several people highlighted the need to maintain funding for domestic violence response teams. Others emphasized the need for safety in city parks.

“I'm here to protest the mayor's proposed reduction of funding for the park ranger program,” said Jim Erickson, a boardmember with the Freeway Park Association.

Expanding a scholarship program for first-year college students also saw many supporters. Then there were those who pushed for workers' rights protections.

“The exploitation of vulnerable, marginalized workers is real in Seattle so we urge continued funding for the office of labor standards,” said Marcos Martinez with Casa Latina.

Speakers were limited to a two-minute pitch but it all added up to hours of testimony before city councilmembers. Of all the issues, Sawant's proposal to redirect precinct funding into housing came up again and again.

“Do you want that money to go to the police bunker next year,” one man at the podium asked the crowd. “Me neither. That's why I'm here to support Kshama's proposal to block that bunker for good and spend that money on what we desperately need. Housing."

Mayor Ed Murray remains committed to replacing the police facilities in north Seattle and points to numerous efforts he now has in play to expand the supply of affordable housing.

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