Seattle City Council's Sawant proposes spending $160M intended for police precinct on affordable housing

SEATTLE – The city's $160 million plan to build a new police precinct in north Seattle is now on a one-year hold due, in part, to opposition by the “Block the Bunker” movement.

On Thursday night, Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant says she know what to do with those dollars.

Sawant says the city needs to take the $160 million that would’ve replaced the police department's North Precinct and use those dollars to build 1,000 affordable housing units.  Sawant says there’s $183.4 million being used on golf courses, parks, and police and fire facilities that could be reallocated.

Vocal, and at times disruptive, protests at Seattle City Council meetings in August seemed to have worked.  The City Council ultimately deciding to put the North Precinct construction plans on hold for a year despite some people living in the area who wanted the new building.

“We need a new precinct.  We live around here, we see a lot of crime.  We’re also familiar with the old precinct and it’s very rundown and a new one needs to be built,” said one resident.

But the boisterous “Block the Bunker” movement celebrates.  Now, Sawant wants to build on that momentum by making sure those dollars don’t go to waste.

“With the $160 million the mayor intended for the police precinct, we can build a thousand units of affordable housing,” said Sawant.

Here’s how it breaks down.  Sawant says swap out general fund dollars with real estate excise, or REET funding, for certain capitol projects.  She says it’ll free up $183.4 million that could be used to build affordable housing.

“Substitute to the REET funding into those projects like road construction and so on which frees up regular budget money that has no restrictions that can be used for affordable housing,” said Sawant.

It’s an idea that David-Israel Sandler says the city desperately needs.

“There are schools with a couple hundred families that are homeless who come to school every day from transitional housing, from their cars from relatives’ apartments,” said Seattle resident Sandler.

The plan is up to the City Council to approve.  The mayor presents his city budget on Monday.  After that, the council spends the next two months making amendments, potentially like the affordable housing measure Sawant will present.  Then the council will ultimately approve a budget.

In response to the rally tonight and the North Precinct construction plans being put on hold, Q13 News received this statement from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services spokesperson Julie Moore.

It reads, in its entirety, “The existing North Precinct Police Station, which serves 40 percent of the city, is badly overcrowded and there is not enough space available to adequately expand it on its current site. Aside from planning for future growth of personnel that will work out of the station, building a new facility on a larger piece of property offers a timely opportunity for the City to include features that address other needs of the entire police department as well as offer amenities to the public.

"The plan for the new North Police Precinct and Training Center, which has been put on hold, includes spaces for additional training and for community interaction that will allow SPD to fulfill commitments outlined in the U.S. Department of Justice consent decree. The building’s design work incorporates important principles for supervision, training, humane treatment of detainees and community engagement as set out in the settlement agreement to create a building that will serve both officers and the community in a way that the existing facility never will. In addition, this facility was designed to perform as much more than a station where precinct officers report for duty. New classrooms and training facilities will help ensure SPD fulfills training protocols established as part of the settlement agreement. Several design elements specifically respond to other principles of the settlement agreement, including: elimination of physical barriers between officers and supervisors, promoting interaction and greater accountability; appropriate space for the safe handling of detainees, aimed at reducing the time in custody and preventing occasions for uses of force; private interview rooms and a juvenile waiting area, enhancing privacy and respect.

"A large lobby and community room were designed to welcome all members of the public and provide space for the community to meet with police personnel, improving transparency and replacing a community room that was lost to equipment lockers in the existing facility a decade ago. Building a new precinct station without a community space is antithetical to modern policing and the specific efforts of the SPD to connect with the community.”