Seattle is a wonderful place to live, work, raise a family, and retire, but rising costs and affordability issues are making it difficult for many lower-income families and seniors to remain in the city. That’s why Jenny Durkan has developed a five-point “Families and Seniors Agenda” that includes a set of specific policy proposals to help financially pinched families with children and seniors struggling to remain in their homes in the face of rising home values and increased property taxes.
All of these proposals can be implemented without need for an additional tax increase:
1. Siting new childcare facilities
Begin a program to identify opportunities to create new spaces to house licensed child care facilities, including potentially retrofitting and remodeling existing community centers to add such spaces. This will help to alleviate the significant space/capacity issues currently faced by Seattle Public Schools (which is being forced to push out child care services previously housed in some elementary schools). The initial six-year plan for the Seattle Park District ends in 2020. Without increasing the tax rate, we can reprioritize spending priorities to begin equipping and remodeling community center space to make it available for child care and quality preschool uses, as well as identifying additional funds for this purpose.
2. Expand the City’s Child Care Assistance program
The City of Seattle has an existing child care assistance program for working and middle income families. By increasing the program’s sliding scale funding and eligibility thresholds we can provide more families with subsidies to pay for child care costs. Right now, Seattle provides child care vouchers on a sliding scale based on income. A family of four making up to $6100 a month in gross income can get 25 percent of their child care costs subsidized by the City. If we repurpose $1 million of existing general fund revenues that would allow us to provide nearly 400 more families a 20 percent ($215 monthly) subsidy for child care (based on a $13,000 annual cost for child care). This effort could be expanded further if we identify additional available existing revenue.
3. Prioritize in the City’s Olympia legislative agenda an expansion of the property tax homestead exemption for low-income seniors
Currently, seniors earning $40,000 annually or less can qualify for reduced property taxes. We will work to raise that threshold so more Seattle seniors—who are facing the crunch of rising home values and increased property taxes (which will only get worse after the McCleary plan passed by the legislature kicks in)—qualify for the exemption and will be able to afford to remain in their homes. This will take bipartisan support in Olympia but the legislature has done it before and we believe there is a strong case to be made give the McCleary resolution.
4. Work to sign up more eligible seniors for the property tax homestead exemption program and for the utility discount program
Many seniors who currently qualify are unaware of the exemption and therefore do not take advantage of it. Currently, 1500 seniors are enrolled in both—Mayor Murray committed to doubling that number by 2018, and we will follow through on that commitment. Plus, we will go further, by creating a single stop online portal to make it simple and easy for seniors to enroll in all City benefit programs and we will work on consolidating and simplifying the application process as well.
5. Develop a transportation pilot program for lower income and vulnerable seniors
We can work with transit agencies, non-profits, taxi companies, and car and ride share services to offer subsidized rides for seniors needing to get to and from doctors appointments, the grocery store, or to visit public facilities like libraries or senior centers.
— Jenny Durkan