Andrew Grant Houston's Mayoral Bid

Andrew Grant Houston's Mayoral Bid

This week Seattle  mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston chats with Crystal about his  plans if he becomes mayor, including: rapid housing in tiny homes for  our unhoused population, restoring transit up to pre-covid levels, and  public safety efforts becoming less than 50% police focused. He also  covers how he - an architect who has not been in elected office before -  will be able to overcome the “Seattle Process” and get things done.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii. Find today’s guest, Andrew Grant Houston, at @AGH4SEA. More information is available at


Learn about Seattle’s response to unhoused folks last summer during the fires:

Read about our rising carbon footprint here:

Learn about cuts to public transit during the Covid-19 pandemic here:

Check on the status of the eviction moratorium here:

Learn more about the public safety alternatives to policing here:

Find out what folks mean when they reference the “Seattle Process” here:

Learn about Andrew Grant Houston’s priorities on this Twitter thread:

Find out more about Andrew Grant Houston - and many other mayoral candidates - in this interview series from the South Seattle Emerald:


Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this  show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into  local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and  provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full  transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Welcome to the show today. I'm thrilled that we have Andrew Grant Houston, also known as Ace, here with us today.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:01:00] Hello!

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:00] Yes! Welcome. And you are running for mayor of the City of Seattle.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:01:05] Yes I am.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:07] How did you decide to do that?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:01:10]  Well, it came down to being extremely angry at the response during the  last wildfires where the City said we have 95 shelter beds for 5,500  unsheltered people. Going to my friends, who I organize with, asking  some other people if they were going to run because I would have loved  for them to run, and them saying that they have decided not to. And so  it was during those conversations that I felt that the response that we  need at a time of crisis, where we're dealing with multiple crises, is  that we need a new type of leadership in City Hall from the executive.  Because what has become extremely clear to me in the past year is how  much power the mayor has, and the ability to stop any type of regression  and improvement in the city that even City Council, if they're all  aligned together, is trying to push through.

And  so, I am bringing my project management experience as an architect, as  someone who manages multi-million dollar construction budgets to a city  that needs to build a lot of housing, fix its streets, and deal with  public safety in a very short amount of time. We basically have less  than 10 years to solve a lot of crises, and so I'm bringing my  systems-based thinking, my design eye, to truly come at our issues from a  different point of view. And so that's why I'm running.

Crystal Fincher: [00:02:55]  Well, and that makes sense. And I think I certainly heard from a number  of people - there've been names out there who have made it very clear  for years and years and years that they have had their eye on higher  office, different office, the mayor's office. And so, as soon as Mayor  Durkan announced that she wasn't running again, there were a list of  names that popped into many people's heads about - All right, well that  means that so-and-so is going to run and the other person who had  signaled that they were going to be running. And a number of people were  surprised to hear that you were interested in getting into the race. So  without having that kind of history and background and signaling that  you had ambitions to be in office, do you think that puts you in a  better position, worse position, unique position? How do you think the  public should read that?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:03:47]  I think it is definitely a unique position. And to give some more  background as to why I even got into the position of saying that I was  interested in doing this, I have been a housing activist and organizer  since I was in college. And so, I've been doing this now, I want to say,  for nine years - really just trying to get more housing built. I  definitely am from the YIMBY camp, for sure. So when people talk about  NIMBYs versus YIMBYs, I'm definitely YIMBY. I have -

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:23] Yes, In My Backyard - bring it on.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:04:25]  Yep, exactly. I'm looking at this from a point of - tying to my  experience as a Person of Color, as a lifelong renter, born and raised  by my single mother who was a public school teacher back in Texas. And  so, part of my frustration in last year in those wildfires was knowing  how hard myself and other people have been fighting to try and get  housing built in the City.

And  knowing that if I was going to do anything with more impact, it's  basically take the reins and address the crisis we're in. Especially  when we're also talking about not just the housing prices, but how it's  tied to the climate crisis, where we have less than nine years now to  cut our emissions in half. And so, when you look at what the City has  done so far in the past roughly two mayors, three mayors, who have all  been career politicians and lawyers, who try to always come to consensus  and we see minor changes. We see maybe a 4% reduction or a 3%  reduction, when we need to see a 50% reduction. As well as the promise  that Council has made to effectively eliminate emissions as part of the  Seattle Green New Deal, so we're talking not just 50%, but close to  100%. We actually need someone who has a working knowledge of the  technical steps that it takes to actually do that work. And so that's  why I am definitely a unique perspective and why I'm running in this  specific moment.

Crystal Fincher: [00:05:59]  So it sounds like you're saying you are bringing a lot of relevant  experience and although you may be new to some people, you aren't new to  this area or these issues and are bringing a unique perspective to  them. So, and hear you're saying that there needs to be an urgency that  you don't feel is currently there. And a lot of people may say, Okay,  but there's a reason why we haven't just slashed it by 50%, and that the  process dictates that we can only implement incremental change and you  just don't understand. What do you say to those people?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:06:43]  I don't think you understand just how bad of a situation we're in. It  is - I think more than even I can truly comprehend. And I don't  necessarily just want to instill fear in people, the fear of God and  say, Oh boy, it's coming. But we are on track currently to - or let me  rephrase this a bit. So we have the Paris Climate Accords, which  everyone is very happy that we're back in. They always talk about,  they're like, oh, especially in policy circles. Yay, we're back in the  Paris Climate Agreement. So that is supposed to commit us to a 1.5  degree centigrade increase in heat overall, average. Currently if  Seattle, and this includes us, but also other cities, if we do what  we're doing currently, we are on track to hit a plus 3 degree centigrade  of warming, and so double where we need to be ideally.

And  it's not to say that it's impossible, but we need to be doing every  single thing that we can to get as close to that number as possible. And  that means really rethinking the way that we - one, pass legislation -  pass and make progress. But also use our City and use what we have. And  so in that way, really making it clear that, especially with all the  things we've done during the pandemic to allow for people to walk in the  streets, people to use and operate cafés outside, and how quickly that  happened, that we actually can do this really quickly and we have the  ability to do so. It's solely from political will. And I am running to  say, Okay, we're taking all of that will, and we're throwing it aside  and we are doing the things that we know that we need to do.

Crystal Fincher: [00:08:49]  So with those things, I guess, how do we achieve that? What are the  policies that you would implement to accomplish that? And what are you  also looking to get accomplished in other areas?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:09:03]  Yep. So I am definitely going to come up with a lot of policy plans. I  definitely come from a vein of being a Warren Democrat, and so yes, I  have a plan for that. And I started with my first three, which will be  coming out ideally this week, if not next week - about more details of  the 2,500 tiny homes. So the short term solution to our housing crisis,  because we know we simply need to build more housing and we need that  funding, specifically from the federal government. The income tax, which  I am now framing as the Just Transition tax. So creating a more  progressive stream of revenue that can then be turned over and put into  green jobs, into apprenticeships so that we can actually train people in  the City, our own residents, to help build the communities that they're  a part of. And so I'm really excited about that.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:59] And so that's a City of Seattle income tax-

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:10:03] Yep.

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:03] Okay. Gotcha.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:10:04]  And the last one is to put buses back on the ballot in 2022. And so,  what that's really looking at - as restoring service to what it was  before COVID, and then being able to go even further with a county-wide  initiative, either in 2023 or 2024. Because once we improve bus service  and get people excited about being able to imagine that you go outside  of your home to the nearest bus stop, and you don't even have to think  about the bus coming, it just shows up - that is how we get people to  ride the bus and to shift away from cars.

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:50]  And do you feel like there is the capacity to get that accomplished  from the seat of the mayor? Or do you need the Council and other  partners? You think you can do that and get that accomplished in the  mayor's seat?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:11:07]  Well, I think part of it is that if you are following a lot of the, not  necessarily ambitions but the desires of Council, then they are already  on board with a lot of the things that I'm proposing and they have  tried to fund these things. But like many things that have been funded  by Council, that have been prioritized by Council, it is the current  mayor that has stopped them from happening, solely because the mayor is  the only person that can spend the money.

And  so we've seen this time and time again. The one that comes to mind,  just in this moment right now, is spending money to put people in  hotels. It has been so difficult and you've seen this from both sides  and it's very public, as to getting the mayor to just spend the money.  The money is there. The money is essentially free money from the federal  government. And so the question is, what is taking so long? What is  keeping the mayor from not acting? And so the one thing that I can  commit to 100% is working with Council and not being a mayor of  inaction, but being the mayor of action.

Crystal Fincher: [00:12:19]  Well, and you raise a really good point. And we have not had a city  where the Council and the mayor have been in agreement on policy for  quite some time. Now we have a Council that is certainly more  progressive than the mayor. And before this, it was flipped. We had a  mayor with Mayor McGinn that was more progressive than the Council at  the time. And so, for the past, what, 12 years we've seen this tension.  Or even longer going back to Nickels, we've seen this tension between  the Council and the mayor where it seems like, Well, that's just a  relationship that is tense, period, and that's just how it is. But you  bring a good point that it doesn't necessarily have to be, and what if  the mayor and the Council were aligned?

Now,  obviously we're going to have some competitive races for Council this  year so the composition may shift. But there are certainly, even for the  other council members that aren't up for election, as you said, they  have certainly signaled that they support a number of more progressive  policies - more transit, more housing, getting more homes for people who  don't have them right now.

So  as you're looking forward, when it comes to certainly taking care of  transit, trying to move the needle on the climate goals that is there -  know a lot of people are concerned about, Hey, we're still in the middle  of a pandemic. We can see light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps, but  we're still very much in it. More people are un-vaccinated still than  are vaccinated and new variants are passing around. And we still hear  news of restaurants closing, and very beloved neighborhood businesses  closing, and people losing work. So there's a very real need for still -  help for people who are impacted by - things weren't great in the first  place and the pandemic made it even worse. And now there are a lot of  people out of jobs trying to figure out what they're going to do when  this eviction moratorium ends. What do you think needs to happen to help  people who are on the edge of crisis once there's no moratorium and  there's no more support for the effects of this pandemic? And also for  businesses who have closed or who are on the brink right now, what needs  to happen and what can people expect from you as mayor?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:14:59]  So I think you're bringing up some really excellent points. And it is,  in some ways, almost my frustration with the fact that I'm running now,  knowing that I won't step into office until January of 2022. And that's a  lot of time between being able to truly drive the conversation in the  driver's seat, as opposed to just being in the back as a backseat driver  saying, Hey, you might want to do this. But if we're looking at what is  happening right now, myself and my campaign are definitely taking the  approach of what we are calling "organize everywhere." And so, in that  way we are pushing for the eviction moratorium to be extended both in  the City and at the state level, because it should be until the end of  the year. And that includes both - for renters, as well as landlords and  owners.

It's really the  need for grace in this time where we are seeing aid come through, which  is something that is extremely helpful, especially from a new  government. Our new federal government is actually acting and responding  to the need in crisis. And that's really where the money is going to  come from, because again, at the end of the day, the City Council budget  has to be fully balanced. That's something that definitely limits what  we can do. And we also have money coming from the State, from the  governor, which is fantastic. And so we need time in order to get that  aid to the people that need it, especially so that they can still be  able to keep their homes and keep their businesses. Because one of my  biggest fears is that we get to end of June, people are evicted, and  then our aid is able to go out July or August, but those people aren't  there to receive it.

And  so if there's one thing I can do, it's really pushing on that. And also  in terms of that organizing, really driving the conversation about,  okay, when we see more aid come through, when there are discussions  about the infrastructure bill happening at the federal level, what are  the plans that we're talking about now? What are the ways that we can  actually have those community conversations now? So that when I step  into office, I am able to say, we've already had the conversation, we  already know what community wants to see, and we're able to act on day  one. That is definitely what I am very interested in, is doing all the  background work now, so that once I'm able to step in, I can just say,  Look, we've already had our community conversations, we've already gone  through the Seattle process. Let's go.

Crystal Fincher: [00:17:39]  Well, and that makes sense. And you talk about not taking office until  January 2022. Certainly the election will be in November of 2021. And in  the meantime, some of these conversations that we're having will signal  and shape the conversations that lead to the policy that you'll be able  to implement. And I know one that is on the front of a lot of people's  minds is that around policing and public safety. So I guess, as you  evaluate the current situation, what does public safety mean to you and  what is your plan for moving forward?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:18:16]  So, public safety, for me, means one very clear message. 100% public  safety, less than 50% police. We are currently operating in a system  where it is a complete understanding by many individuals in our  community, but across the nation, that when we talk public safety, we're  immediately talking about police. We're not talking about first  responders, we're not talking about fire, we're not talking about mental  health responses to crisis. And so, part of that is going to take some  re-education, some re-imagining within our own minds. And so that's not  everything that I can control. But what I can control is how we invest  in what our response to crises looks like in the future.

So  for me, that's a number of things - that is really being led by  community, especially movements like the Black Lives Matter movement,  the King County Equity Now movement, the No New Youth Jail movement, the  Decriminalize Seattle movement. Movements that have been happening for  many, many, many years before George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor. And  so, these are conversations that have been happening for a very long  time as to the over-policing of communities, especially communities of  color.

But also on the  flip side, that we are expecting too much of our police in terms of what  they're supposed to be responding to. And so we need to invest in  community alternatives. We need to expand our types of responses. And as  one of my biggest focuses, we need to start doing preventative care and  harm reduction so that people never end up in crises in the first  place. And so that is why housing is such a big part of my plans and why  I am a housing is a human right, and even signed onto the Homes  Guarantee, which is something that is a national movement to really get  people housed. Because I believe that a lot of the situations,  especially related to the homelessness crisis that we've been dealing  with that has been declared an emergency since 2015, and yet we have not  seen the response that has to be necessary in order to meet the scale  of that crisis - that a big part of it is just giving people homes. And  so that's what we need to focus on.

Crystal Fincher: [00:20:46]  Well, and bouncing back to the policing, specifically, and public  safety conversation, what became apparent was that some of the progress  that even the Council signaled that they wanted to make was not going to  be possible without a change in the SPOG contract, the Seattle Police  Officers Guild, their union contract. And that is going to be up for  negotiation coming up, depending on the person, either later this year  or next year.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:21:20]  And of course, even now, there are conversations between a number of  different individuals as supposed to - when that negotiation is supposed  to start. So I'm definitely keeping track.

Crystal Fincher: [00:21:29]  Yes. And so really, certainly in the seat of the mayor and in concert  with the Council, it's going to be up to you to determine what is  ultimately acceptable in that contract - with the understanding that  right now, that contract has hindered the ability to instill, to deliver  discipline, to have accountability and to maintain the values of the  residents in the City. It is tied the hands of the police chief and  reversed decisions that they've made. And certainly has brought about  outcomes that were counter to what the Council and residents in the City  have wanted to see. And there is a broad feeling, I certainly am one of  those, who feels that it is a hindrance, that it does go too far in  allowing police to police themselves.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:22:36]  And it's one of those tough discussions, because having been here and  having lived here during that time, where in 2017 Council passed new  ordinances to try and create more accountability. But then in 2018, they  approved the SPOG contract, which walked back a lot of it. It's, I know  in most people's minds, that they don't want to see that happen again.  They don't want to put their faith in Council to actually keep the  police accountable and then walk it back again through this contract.  And so, I am committed to hearing the voices of community, and  specifically those who are most impacted - people who look like me, who  are Black and Indigenous, and other People of Color, and to really get  at the heart of what this is. And knowing that negotiation is going to  take a long time. But the last contract took about four years and I am a  extremely stubborn person, and so I got all the time in the world to  get that right.

Crystal Fincher: [00:23:43] So as mayor, would you sign a contract that didn't incorporate the 2017 Accountability Ordinance?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:23:51] No.

Crystal Fincher: [00:23:53] That's a bright line.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:23:55]  We really need to get to a point where we actually have true  accountability for the police, because if we don't have that, then it  doesn't really matter what we try to do. And in many ways,  unfortunately, it almost puts too much power into the police. And not  even the chief, this is just into SPOG itself as an entity, that you  then have to question who they're accountable to. And when you provide  that much power in any individual's hands, that is-

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:27]  And so you talked about issues of public safety being much broader than  police, and talking about how housing issues are critical to keeping  people safe in our community. Certainly this is a huge conversation -  both housing affordability and people being able to afford a home, and  for people who do not have homes who can't afford any shelter, and  getting them into shelter. Right now an immediate issue that the City is  dealing with has been sweeping homeless living areas, whether they're  encampments or otherwise, that is against CDC guidance.

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:25:15]  Again, similar to the conversations we were having earlier about that  disconnect between the executive, meaning the mayor and those  departments, and then the Council. The Council has defunded sweeps and  said, No more sweeps. And yet the executive has continued to do those.  And so that, I think, is a very clear line and something that I want to  make people aware of - in that the choice to truly address our  homelessness crisis, it solely lies with the executive in terms of the  on-the-ground action. And so, I just wanted to make that extremely  clear, because I hear from a lot of people, they're very frustrated.  They're like, Oh man, the City is doing this. I'm like, No, it's the  executive.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:04]  It is. And we've heard a number of justifications for a number of  different things. And so, I guess I just wanted to know, do you ever see  any justification for doing a sweep? Do you ever see that as a viable  tool or tactic?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:26:19]  No. We are asking people, currently, to pick themselves up, and when we  sweep them, we are kicking them back down. If we give people permanent  housing or even just permanent shelter, they know every day where  they're coming back to. And something that I think a lot of people don't  know - but they can actually go to the latest King County Point-in-Time  Count that was done. And it was just released, if I remember correctly,  at the beginning of this week - if not, it was last week. That about  70-80% of people who are currently unhoused are working, and most of  those people are working full-time. And so, when you are working  full-time and simply cannot afford to live in the City, but you're still  connected to our community, we need to be able to support those people.  We need to be able to provide them shelter, to provide them that  permanence so that they can improve their own standing.

And  I do recognize if there are people who are dealing with either drug  abuse or other health considerations, and we do need more services and  response for those people. But again, like I said before, we really need  to address some of the other issues that can prevent people from  falling into homelessness. Because what I'm looking at in terms of the  numbers right now, what it's saying is that, what we're doing is helpful  to prevent the number from going up too drastically. In other words,  the overall amount of people every year is roughly the same, but we're  not doing enough to actually get to functional zero. And so, as we lift  people out of homelessness, other people are falling in.

And  so addressing things like rent, which I am already talking about rent  control and going to push that. And that's definitely going to be a  legal challenge, but I hope Pete Holmes is ready. I am looking at  raising the minimum wage, because if we just give people more money in  their pocket, that's actually going to make them be able to afford their  rents. And of course, as I said, focusing on 2,500 tiny homes - this is  a short-term solution that we can build more permanently affordable  housing. Because housing, even if we want to talk about, let's go and do  a ballot ordinance and get more money for housing. If we were to cut  every single piece of red tape right now, it would still take roughly  three years to build more apartments. And so, we really need a  short-term solution, and that knowledge and experience about how long it  actually takes to get a building built, and designed, and through  permits - I have that understanding. And so, that is part of why I'm  running in the first place - is to make it that much easier for us to  build the housing that we need.

Crystal Fincher: [00:29:14]  Well, and that's a really good point and useful to know, especially  since so many of our conversations have been about - obviously, there's a  need for short-term immediate shelter, but also needing to transition  people to permanent stable housing, and just that context is useful.

Also,  I wanted to just point out, and we've talked about unhoused people on  many different shows - I just wanted to also clarify on last week's  show, we had a conversation with Councilmember Lewis that covered a lot  of this ground and talked about tiny homes, his plans for those. In  there, he mentioned that he had heard, and I don't know whether it was  at a Council briefing or not, that there was some justification for  doing some sweeps of encampments potentially because of human  trafficking. I just wanted to point out that we have not seen or  encountered any evidence of that happening anywhere. And so I just  wanted to be clear that that was brought up and we are not aware of that  happening at all. Certainly he said that - even if that were to be the  case, that would be a tiny minority. At this point, it appears to be 0%.  So just wanted to bring that up.

And  then kind of circle back, you talk about your experience helping with  the knowledge of timelines and just how to approach how we need to just  functionally address with providing homes and building and shelter. And  that gets back to the question of your experience outside of government  and not having experience in government. You're running against people  who have held office before. There are a couple of former City Council  members running, people who have held other office. And certainly after  years of Trump and other public officials who have no idea what's going  on, some people are a little hesitant to say, Okay, maybe we need to be  careful when we hand over the keys to someone who hasn't driven this car  before.

And that  management of just the departments - that the City of Seattle is a big  organization at its core that needs to be managed and that's a big task.  So, as someone coming from the outside who doesn't have the background  of how the sausage gets made within the City of Seattle, how do you  think you're positioned to lead the City, to implement policy, to make  sure things actually get done as you intend?

Andrew Grant Houston: [00:32:00]  So I'm going to touch on this a couple of different ways, and I'll say  it's probably three. So the first one being I'm currently the Interim  Policy Manager for Councilmember Mosqueda. This was a position that I  was offered, I actually did not apply for it. She basically just called  me up and said, "Hey, I need someone temporary. Are you available?" And I  think if anyone just looks from the outside and kind of sees the work  that's going on with the office, there have been no blips. And so  clearly I'm doing something right. And so that makes me feel good, and  knows that one, not only am I getting that inside view as to how the  sausage is made, I'm actually being able to contribute to an excellent  team. And I will say that I love my team a lot, and that's all I'm going  to say about that because probably shouldn't be talking too much about  that.

Second item is I  have not worked for - inside the government, but I have worked in  collaboration with governments in the past. So outside of being an  architect, I am also an urban designer and I'm a planner. So one of my  former positions was as actually a land use code writer. And so we would  go do community engagement, engage with staff, and actually write the  rules to the game of building housing. And so when you're talking about  someone who has extremely technical knowledge as to exactly how codes  should or should not work, I am your person.

And  the third thing that I will add is - I think being an outsider is  exactly what we need at this moment. Especially, as I said again, that  we need to make significant, drastic changes in the next nine years,  basically in the next two terms for mayor. One thing that I have made  very clear is that I'm committed to serving two terms, because I know  that's been an issue with mayors in the past. And I'm not a career  politician. I'm not looking at this office, at this open seat as, Oh  yeah, it'll be a great stepping stone on my way to a statewide position  or even a national position. No, I am committed to making housing and  improving the City, not just for myself, but for everyone here. That is  why I call my campaign The Rising Tide. It's about being a new movement.  It is about building a rising tide that lifts all boats, but  specifically the way that water works is that it starts with those at  the bottom first. And so in that way, we are progressively improving the  City in a way that has never been done before.

Crystal Fincher: [00:34:34]  Well, I certainly appreciate that. That was a quick little 30 minutes  that went by and were able to cover a lot. Appreciate you taking the  time to have this conversation with us today, and we'll be keeping an  eye on you as you continue throughout the campaign.

Thank  you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU  is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler.  You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And  now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else  you get your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks and Wonks" into the search  bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our  mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full  text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced  during the show at and in the podcast episode  notes.

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