Seattle considers employee head tax for the city’s top-grossing companies

Employees at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo)

Two Seattle councilmembers want the city’s highest-grossing businesses to pay for a new program to curb homelessness.

The H.O.M.E.S — Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter — program would increase the number of 24-hour shelters and safe zones for vehicles, increase outreach to the homeless population, and create more permanent housing options and rental assistance vouchers for people living in poverty. Funding for the program would come from a tax of 4.8 cents per hour, per employee on the top 10 percent of the highest-grossing Seattle businesses.

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley (who took over the seat from Mayor Tim Burgess) proposed the H.O.M.E.S. initiative. It is intended to supplement Burgess’s 2018 budget.

“We can’t ignore the displacement caused by growth in Seattle,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Without more 24-hour shelters so people can come inside and new short- and long-term housing solutions, our existing system is setup to fail.”

The City Council says the program would generate up to $24 million in 2018, amounting to about $100 per employee for the year.

“We need to invest our resources wisely toward solutions that work, instead of pursuing a new tax on jobs,” said Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Maud Daudon in a statement. “The Council has a nearly $70 million increase in the general fund that it could use to address housing affordability. This money is in addition to last year’s $290 million Housing Levy — which the Chamber and the business community supported and helped pass — and a $29 million affordable housing bond Council added last year. This is not a resource issue.”

Related: Amazon angst dominates Seattle Chamber annual meeting as city leaders make longshot bid for HQ2

The proposal is part of a widening chasm between Seattle lawmakers and the business community. The city’s most left-leaning politicians say they want booming industry to take responsibility for the communities adversely affected by rising housing prices and displacement. Meanwhile, business leaders say that kind of attitude is alienating employers and driving Amazon to seek a second corporate headquarters in another city.

“I was really sad to see so many, in the days following the announcement, saying, ‘We’ve had enough. Let’s take a breather. Let them move on.’ I can’t tell you how differently I feel about that,” Daudon said at the Chamber’s annual meeting last month, referencing Amazon’s HQ2 plans. “This announcement should serve as a wakeup call for this city. We can’t take our prosperity for granted.”

The City Council will discuss the H.O.M.E.S. proposal during budget deliberations, which will begin Monday morning.

“It is our large employers who have benefited most from Seattle’s economic boom,” said Harris-Talley in a statement. “As a result, big business is best positioned to help relieve some of the pressure created by rapid economic growth. We need a systemic fix to help address the resulting lack of affordable housing and dearth of places for people to go.”