Emily Alvarado, Candidate for 34th LD State Representative

Emily Alvarado, Candidate for 34th LD State Representative

On this midweek show, Crystal chats with Emily Alvarado about her campaign for State Representative in the 34th Legislative District - why she decided to run, how the last legislative session went, and her thoughts on how to address housing affordability and zoning, Washington’s regressive tax structure, homelessness, climate change, public safety, drug decriminalization, COVID response and recovery.

About the Guest

Find Emily on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/emilyforwa.


Campaign Website - Emily Alvarado: https://emilyforwa.com/


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, I'm very pleased to welcome to the show - Emily Alvarado, who is a candidate for the 34th District State Representative seat in Position 1 - welcome to the show.

[00:00:48] Emily Alvarado: Thank you so much, Crystal. It's good to be here.

[00:00:51] Crystal Fincher: Good to be here, great to meet you. I wanted to start off just talking about what made you choose to run?

[00:00:59] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, well, I'm running for the State Legislature because I believe that government has an obligation to meet the basic needs of all people, and because I've spent my entire career in public service fighting for just that. I'm a lawyer - I went to the University of Washington School of Law, where I was a Gates Public Service Law Scholar. I'm a Latina, raised in a multicultural household, and I'm committed to advancing racial equity and defending civil rights. I'm the child of public school educators and the parent of two kids in Seattle Public Schools, and I care about the future of our public education and the future of our environment. I'm also running because housing is a human right - everyone deserves access to safe, affordable housing, and I'll bring over a decade of experience to the Legislature to address housing affordability.

[00:02:00] Crystal Fincher: Well, that is a huge thing - it's a crisis, as you are very aware of. So what should we be doing to make housing affordable, and is part of the solution increasing density in single-family neighborhoods?

[00:02:16] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, thanks for that question. Clearly, our housing system is broken and needs to be repaired. We do not have enough housing choices throughout the state. We have a shortage of hundreds of thousands of homes to meet the needs of people, so we do need to pursue options to create more housing choices in all communities. We need duplexes, triplexes, ADUs in all communities - so we have options for multi-generational households, for first-time home buyers, for seniors to live with their grandchildren, so that we can have inclusion and diversity. We need more density by our public transit investments so that people can have access to their jobs and to transit, and we can address climate change through our housing policy.

We need more from the market, and we also know that the market is necessary, but it's not sufficient, to solve our affordable housing crisis. It has not, and will not, be able to serve the needs of extremely low income people, people with no income, people on a fixed income, people working part-time jobs at minimum wage. So I think we also need significant and deep and sustained investment in publicly-financed, permanently affordable housing - including housing to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, like permanent supportive housing, which is the proven evidence-based cost-effective and humane solution to addressing homelessness. And we need deep public investments in housing for seniors, for people with disabilities, for low income working families - we need those investments.

And third, to help take bold action for housing, we need to make sure that we're protecting tenants and homeowners. Tenants cannot be subject to excessive year-over-year rent increases that exceeds the wages and wage increases of normal families. We can't have year-over-year rent increases that really hamstring people on fixed incomes. So I would take action to make sure that we're providing stability and that we're providing access for tenants. We have to make sure that people who have criminal histories have access to housing, so we're not continuing recidivism and a cycle of incarceration. So there's a lot of steps to take on housing, and I'll put together that bold plan rooted in experience, a deep understanding of what all levels of government - local, state, and federal - what we can do to work together. And I'll build coalitions because this is urgent and it's time to take action now.

[00:05:15] Crystal Fincher: You bring a wealth of knowledge with you as a former director of the City of Seattle Office of Housing - you talk about a lot of different tools and we certainly need to be taking a lot of action, varied types of action, to address this crisis. So it sounds like social housing should be on the table, rent control should be on the table - have all of the tools available at our disposal - and those are the types of things that you would be voting to enable or implement if you were in the Legislature.

[00:05:46] Emily Alvarado: Absolutely. We need all of the tools and we need significant resource to invest to make the tools actionable. We know that -

[00:05:57] Crystal Fincher: Where do we get those resources?

[00:05:59] Emily Alvarado: Right. Well, we know that Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the entire country where poor people, low income folks are disproportionately paying a higher percentage of their income to contribute to really critical public necessities - like housing, like education and childcare, like shared investments in transportation and our infrastructure. I believe we need to fix our regressive tax system and we need to do so with urgency. I support a range of strategies to create more progressive revenue, and I think we need to act quickly because that's the kind of scale and resource that it's going to take to solve our most pressing issues.

[00:06:49] Crystal Fincher: I think we absolutely need so many of these things - that you are bringing tools to the table that have been shown, have been proven to help in these crises. Looking at how we've been handling the homelessness crisis - you talked so eloquently about supportive housing being critical - we have seen over the past few years, an approach that - it seems sweeps-focused and the criminalization of homelessness and moving the unhoused population around. Okay, you can't be here - we're sweeping your location without providing those services, or without ensuring that services that are relevant to the people needing them are available. Have we been taking the wrong approach by doing that? And what should we be doing?

[00:07:51] Emily Alvarado: It's not acceptable to simply move people experiencing homelessness from one place to another. What people need is housing, and they need services and supports to live healthy and stable lives. What we're seeing right now are the outcomes of 40+ years of intentional policy from the federal level - disinvestment and privatization that has really exacerbated and created the homelessness crisis that we see today. Housing is one of the issues in our country where - there is no entitlement to housing. At the federal level, if you need affordable housing, if you have an extremely low income, you apply to a lottery to receive a Section 8 voucher. We can't have a lottery system driving the extent to which people are able to meet their basic human needs. We need to ensure that all people have access to housing. And I think first and foremost, that means that we need our federal government to step back up and reinvest in housing, and reinvest in human services and in social services, and in homelessness supports like through the McKinney-Vento Program, like through the Section 8 voucher program, like through investments in public housing and the National Housing Trust Fund and HUD 202 and 811 - so many sources that we've seen disinvestment from. We need the federal government to reinvest.

While they're working on doing that, we need to continue to take action at the local and at the state level to meaningfully solve the problem. And we know what works. As I mentioned earlier, permanent supportive housing works - to move people into a home and give them the necessary behavioral health, substance abuse, social supports that they need to be stable and safe. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to adequately and sufficiently scale up our permanent supportive housing response to be able to provide the housing that's necessary.

In addition, Washington has one of the worst behavioral health systems in the nation. And so we've seen that people's behavioral health challenges have increased significantly throughout the pandemic, across the board - in our schools, in jails, in hospitals, and on the street - you see this and yet more than half of the people who need support of mental health services can't access those services. There's nowhere to go. And the people who are providing those services are burnt out and there's not enough of a workforce to be providing adequate mental health and behavioral health supports, especially when people are in a time of crisis. We have to invest deeply in our behavioral health system - make sure that it's a one-stop place where people know how to get care and treatment. And I believe that those kinds of investments that I would work deeply on as a State legislator, paired with really thoughtful, scaled investment in permanent supportive housing and other measures to address poverty like universal basic income and other kinds of supports will make a meaningful difference - and we'll actually solve homelessness and provide dignity and stability to people who are suffering.

[00:11:36] Crystal Fincher: So we just came out of a legislative session where some good things happened, some not so good things happened. What was your evaluation of this past session?

[00:11:49] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, well, I think there were some significant record investments in areas in which we have under-investment, and we showed that the Legislature can lead. Good examples are in housing - the Legislature made record investments in housing, both in purchasing and acquiring buildings to help move people out of homelessness into housing, new resources for the state Housing Trust fund to invest in community development, equitable development, and affordable housing projects across the state. New resources in housing, especially to help make sure that frontline human service and homeless service workers have compensation for the hard work that they've done during the pandemic. On that end, there were great strides. Similarly, record level of investments in transportation with a real emphasis on creating investments in mobility, in electrification, in buses and Metro and ferries. Those really show that we're moving in the right direction of knowing where we need to invest our resources.

Unfortunately, I think we didn't make as strong strides on the policy end. And I know that it was a short session and I look forward to entering the Legislature next year with some strong plans to really move the needle, especially on housing policy, but on other issues as well. We need to make sure that we're bringing together coalitions of people and we're establishing policies and plans now, that can help impact generations to come. Another place where generational-level policy is needed is around planning in our communities for growth. It was really unfortunate last legislative session - that we lost the chance to include in our Growth Management Act and in our comprehensive planning policies - a focus on climate change and on environmental justice. We could have said that all communities under GMA that are planning are prioritizing efforts to address climate change, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce vehicle miles traveled. And instead, we were not able to bring that across the finish line. I'll work hard to make sure that, from a policy perspective, in addition to investments, we're planning thoughtfully on issues like climate change, like housing, like healthcare - to make sure that we have strong, progressive, forward-looking policy.

[00:14:44] Crystal Fincher: I think you bring up a number of excellent points. And I do think it was really critical that we saw the types of investments in mobility and transit, and the types of transportation that will move us into a sustainable future. One of the things that a lot of folks talked about and saw was that while we were doing that, which is great, there were also a significant amount of investment in highway expansion and the types of things that - if we take two steps forward with the record transit investments, we take a step back with increasing, continuing to invest in highway expansion. Should we be investing in further highway expanse?

[00:15:31] Emily Alvarado: I don't believe that's our priority. I don't think that investments in highway expansion have ever demonstrated that they serve the needs of community in a way that really focuses on equity, that focuses on mobility, that focuses on livability for communities. I would prioritize continued investments in public transportation, in connectivity, in multimodal transit and mobility - to make sure that people can really access communities in a way that is effective, efficient, affordable, and also people-centered. That's the kind of communities that we need to be building for our climate future - we need dense communities where people can walk, where we can have thriving small businesses, where people can bike, where people can commute with their children safely from one place to another. And as a legislator, those are the kinds of investments I would prioritize.

[00:16:37] Crystal Fincher: I definitely want a legislator who prioritizes those types of things - will make life just better in so many ways for so many people. What more should we be doing to meet our 2030 climate goals? There's a lot of action that has been taken, but it doesn't have us on track to achieve our goals yet. What more do we need to do? And what will you lead on?

[00:17:01] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, well, we obviously have a lot more to do. We have to move towards electrification of our transportation system, and we need to do so urgently and aggressively, and I'd support all of those efforts. As I've mentioned before, affordable housing policy is climate policy. And until we create the policy to build a future of having dense, compact, livable communities, we are never going to address the emissions that come from driving. And we need to prioritize that - one of the things that the state can be doing is to have more alignment in our investment around housing and transportation. I've spent a lot of my career at the local level working on equitable transit-oriented development - really making sure that we're purchasing property or using surplus property by our transit investments to create dense, affordable housing with community facilities, with cultural assets, so that we can both avoid or mitigate or prevent displacement. And also, so that low income people have an opportunity to live in communities by jobs and by transit - many of whom are the most transit-dependent people in our state. So alignment of our housing and transportation investments can make sure that we're creating the dense communities that are needed.

We also know that from a carbon emissions perspective, our housing stock is one of the greatest drivers of carbon. And so we really need to take seriously an effort to not only build towards the future, where we're building buildings that are climate resilient, but also looking at our existing building stock. We need new financing tools, new partnerships to meaningfully upgrade and retrofit our existing buildings to move away from fossil fuels towards electrification. And we need to do so with a prioritization on the people who are low income so that they are achieving the benefits, not only of climate justice, but also of electrification, which can bring air conditioning as we see changes in our weather and climate.

[00:19:32] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely.

[00:19:32] Emily Alvarado: So I'll pursue continued strategies to build climate resilience through our housing policy. And lastly, Crystal, I don't want to move on from this topic without saying that - a focus on our climate justice work has to be environmental justice. We need to be investing in communities that are most impacted by air pollution, by water pollution - whose impacts are often aligned with the same impacts of housing policy, including redlining and racially restrictive covenants. We need to start by investing in those communities through grants and partnerships and resources so that there is genuine environmental justice planning that happens, that helps to build the policy platform and strategies for our future. And those are the kinds of strategies that I would follow and invest in.

[00:20:32] Crystal Fincher: Our Legislature certainly would benefit from an increased focus and centering and prioritization of that, and I appreciate you prioritizing that. We, in this last legislative session - the Democratic majority and the Legislature overall also took some new action, reversed some prior action - when it comes to public safety and police accountability reforms. Do you think they did the right thing?

[00:21:05] Emily Alvarado: I completely support the efforts that were made two years ago to make sweeping reforms in police accountability. And I'm glad that we really took the steps to take meaningful action - it's necessary. I would not have supported the rollback of those laws. That's not the right direction. We need to be intentional and focused on addressing racial bias in policing, on addressing over-policing of communities of color. And I would make sure that we continue to have systems of accountability that can help to repair trust and help to get us back on a path towards real community-led, community-driven public safety.

I think, outside of the conversation about the police accountability and police reform measures, we need to take public safety seriously by investing deeply in communities that have been impacted by violence and by intentional disinvestment for decades. And I would start by making sure that people have access to basic needs of housing, healthcare, education, that we have investments in youth activities, in civic infrastructure, in community facilities - so that we have healthy communities. We know that healthy communities are safer communities, they're less violent communities. That's where I believe that true public safety begins. I also think, as I mentioned before, that we need to be investing in a system of crisis response that's actually meeting the needs of what crisis people are facing. If people are facing a behavioral health crisis, we might want to respond with a behavioral health response rather than a police response - and law enforcement agrees with that. So again, we need investments in those kinds of behavioral health crisis responses so that we can meet people where they are and treat people as they need to be treated.

I also believe that we need to seriously address gun violence in order for our communities to be safe. I appreciate the efforts of the state to create the new Office of Firearms, Safety and Gun Prevention, Violence Prevention. As a legislator, I would make investments in that office. I would scale the work of that office and make sure that they are prioritizing - themselves - investments and a commitment to communities that are most impacted by gun violence.

[00:23:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely makes sense. Another area that does impact how safe we are - how we're meeting people's needs who are in crisis - are those who are dealing with substance use disorder. And we've had this War on Drugs that - it's pretty universally recognized as a failure and ultimately as counterproductive. What should the approach to possessing drugs be - should it be treated as a criminal activity or a public health problem? How would you address that?

[00:24:29] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, I would definitely start by treating substance abuse as a public health problem. And we know right now that - one, our laws have primarily been designed in a way to focus on criminalization and to focus on over-policing of communities of color. That's how our drug policy for decades has been designed at the federal level and locally. We need to undo those kinds of policies. We also need to make sure that people who are often caught up in systems of incarceration - that we're putting better interventions in place. People should not go to jail because they have a substance abuse disorder. They should be treated for the substance abuse disorder. And that's an investment in public health, that's an investment in our healthcare systems, and in investing in public health and healthcare in a way that's also meeting people where they are - through community-based health care centers, through street-based outreach and services, so that people can get treatment.

As I mentioned earlier, too, part of the cycle of recidivism and incarceration is because we put intentional barriers up that don't allow people to live healthy, stable lives. We need to take action now on ensuring that people who have criminal history in the criminal justice system can access housing. People need to be able to have safety and security of a home - and without that, there continues to be people who are caught up in systems over and over again. And then our laws on drug possession and others become other tools by which we continue incarceration. I'll oppose those.

[00:26:32] Crystal Fincher: We are still in this time where COVID is spreading, still impacting people. In fact, right now the rates are increasing and even the hospitalizations are increasing. And it seems like a lot of people have just decided to be done with COVID, even though COVID has not yet decided to be done with us. What more should the Legislature be doing to help prevent the spread and mitigate the impacts of COVID?

[00:26:59] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, well, first of all, we need to make sure that our healthcare system, which has been serving and supporting people through the pandemic for three years now - over two years now - has the resources that it needs to really serve people. And we know that right now we have a nursing shortage. We know that many of the people who work in the healthcare industry are burnt out, or are quitting, and are overworked. And we need to address that kind of a staffing issue if we want to provide adequate safety for our community, and we want to provide appropriate health care for our community. So I would work on efforts that didn't move forward last legislative session - to make sure that we have staffing safety for nurses and for nursing workers, so that we can have a strong, robust health workforce. We need that as part of our future.

We also have to continue to invest in the underlying systems that make people feel comfortable taking days off when they're sick and being at home with their children. Unfortunately, we do have so much economic insecurity and job insecurity that people can't be at home. I'll fight hard for safe workplaces and to make sure that we work on policies so that when people are sick, they can be at home. I'm proud to have support from many labor organizations because I'll fight to make sure that workers can put themselves and their health and their safety before overworking.

[00:28:53] Crystal Fincher: Well, and as we conclude this conversation today, I'm wondering - if you're talking to a voter, who's trying to decide between you and your opponent, trying to decide who's most aligned with their values, who they can most count on to fight for what they need - what would you tell them in terms of you versus your opponent and how they should approach that decision?

[00:29:20] Emily Alvarado: Look, I believe that we can build a future that works for all Washingtonians. I am hopeful. I believe that investing in robust housing, in healthcare, in childcare, in education and infrastructure - I believe that's absolutely necessary to build strong communities and a thriving middle class. In a state and a region with incredible opportunity, I believe we can have shared prosperity, I believe we can solve our biggest challenges. The difference between me and my opponent is that I've spent my entire career working for social justice. I've spent my life fighting for families who need housing, for individuals experiencing homelessness, for people who want connection and belonging, and for communities who want safe thriving neighborhoods. I have a track record of not only advocating, but also on delivering, on implementing policies, on investing in housing and services for people who need it, and advancing creative solutions. My track record and demonstrated commitment is clear. My personal commitment to social justice and progressive change is clear, as is my ability to bring people together and solve our biggest challenges.

[00:30:42] Crystal Fincher: Appreciate that. And just final question - as director of the Office of Housing, certainly you have a lot of responsibility. You were working within an administration that some people have a lot of questions about when it came to their commitment, particularly with former Mayor Jenny Durkan, to the same kinds of values that you talk about. How would you characterize your work within that administration, or your work despite that administration - whichever one is more appropriate - when people are trying to figure out how you fit within that and how you were aligned with Mayor Durkan and her approach?

[00:31:21] Emily Alvarado: Yeah, thanks for that pointed question - I appreciate it. I think that the track record that I have of creating progressive outcomes as director at the Office of Housing, at one of the more challenging times of our recent history with tense political tensions, is demonstrative of my success and the effectiveness that I would bring to the State Legislature. I got things done at a time when council and the mayor didn't agree. At a time when I didn't always agree with the mayor, we still moved progressive policy. Just remember - during that time, I was able to make record investments in affordable housing - record investments. I made the greatest number investments in BIPOC-led community-based housing organizations that have ever been made. We implemented a permanent supportive housing pilot to triple our annual production of permanent supportive housing as a COVID response, including by using federal resources. We got more resources to buy buildings and buy land - to move people out of homelessness. We passed record policies on addressing displacement, community preference policy - making sure that communities can stay in place and access affordable housing. I created a rental assistance program during COVID and invested in BIPOC-led, community-based organizations to provide resources to the most impacted communities. I implemented foreclosure prevention policies targeted in communities facing the highest risk of displacement. So outside of the administration, I delivered clearly on the values that I hold dear and I'm transparent about. I worked deeply with community and maintained and built strong, authentic community relationships. And I brought people together to get things done - that's what we need in the Legislature - someone who's going to bring people together and get progressive policy accomplished.

[00:33:45] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much for your time today, for this conversation, and appreciate the time that you spent. Thank you so much.

[00:33:53] Emily Alvarado: Thank you, Crystal - I appreciate it.

[00:33:55] Crystal Fincher: I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - we'll talk to you next time.