(The Center Square) – In his own words, Andrew Grant Houston has no idea how to drive a car, but he believes Seattle should be a city where you never need to own one.
Houston, an architect by training, says he wants Seattle to be a place where you never have to get behind the wheel to get to work, school, or the closest coffee shop. That means more public transit, more bike lanes, and more foot traffic. He sees investments in all three working together to make Seattle a walkable city where supporting small business comes without parking meters.
“I definitely have a lot of experience, not only using land use code, but also writing it myself,” Houston said. “So as I used to joke with my friends, it’s not just playing the game of architecture, but also writing the rules to the game. So I recognize that there are a number of instances within our current system which have been fixed a little bit.”
Ask Houston anything, and he likely has an answer for you, or he will once he runs the numbers. Brainstorming big ideas is a large part of his many jobs, which include working as interim policy manager for Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, heading his architectural practice, and running for mayor of Seattle.
The blueprint Houston has in mind for the city calls for new housing projects left and right to shelter the homeless, starting with 2,500 “tiny homes” which he says will be ready and waiting for occupants by the end of his first term. By his estimates, that would cost the city about $37.5 million, or less than 1% of its $1.5 billion total budget.
“We need to provide them a permanent place, so that they don't have to worry every single day about having to find a place to come home to sleep,” Houston said. “Ideally, you'd like to have a permanent place where you know that, at the end of the day, you can come home to four walls and locks. I think that's something that we should be giving to people, especially as we expect them to be full members of society.”
Passing a corporate income tax would be just one of the ways Houston says he will pay for such ambitious housing projects, but plugging the staggering housing deficit in itself will help rebuild the city’s economy, he says.
“One of the benefits of having our current sales tax system is that all the housing that we build, with all those building materials, actually pay sales tax,” Houston said. “We're then able to increase revenue, at least in the short term, while we think about long term solutions for progressive revenue. We can still find all the things that we need, which includes expanding some of our really great programs and providing for our hardest hit businesses and residents.”
It was Washington's historic wildfires last fall that pushed Houston to run for office. He sees them as a devastating warning for what climate change could have in store for Seattleites. Climate action is central to his efforts in the state legislature where he's pushed hard to see it written into state statutes.
“It seems every year that smoke season gets longer and longer,” Houston said. “We are dealing with a climate crisis now, and particularly in Seattle, where we have such a large, unhoused population, the style of leadership that we're seeing right now has not been the solution for a housing crisis.”
Decarbonizing Seattle is a goal Houston shares with city leaders, but for him, no deadline could be soon enough. For Houston, repairing rather than replacing the West Seattle Bridge is the right option if it means a few tons less of cement and industrial pollution.
Born and raised in Texas, Houston credits his interest in housing and climate action to his home state having so much less of either. The son of a single-mother, Houston sees climate change as a working class issue at its core. For him, that means making mass transit as available for the low-income workers who will never afford a new electric car.
Houston counts himself among those who want to see fewer cops on the streets, especially as a high-risk individual who saw tear gas seep into his home over the summer as Seattle police beat back demonstrations against racism and police brutality below him. Like many activists, Houston says he absolutely wants to defund the police, but he believes there’s room for reform when it comes to training and tactics.
“What I really want to do is listen to community, and say, ‘Okay, well, what we need is 100% public safety, but that does not equal 100% policing, what 100% public safety should equal is less than 50% police,’” Houston said. “And the rest of it should be alternatives for helping people who are in crisis. When it comes to looking at some alternatives for that we already have some really great existing systems at the city.”
For Houston, those alternatives are investing in community liaisons, the city's medical response team, and social workers who he believes have a better toolkit for helping someone through a mental health crisis than a man with a gun.
Houston has more ideas he says will fall to the state to decide, from revisiting rent control to income taxes. He says he's doing his homework on those issues now so he can hit the ground running next year.
"The biggest thing for me is being a mayor of action because we have dealt with nearly four years of delayed action by the current mayor," Houston said. "We don't have time to wait."
Seattleites have until May 21 to file their candidacy for mayor. Voters will choose two candidates to run in the November general election on August 3.