This morning, social equity consultant ChrisTiana Obeysumner hard-launched their campaign to represent District 5 on the Seattle City Council. Obeysumner, who has lived in Seattle for 13 years, wants to bring to the body their unique perspective as a Black, queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent, multi-disabled person who has experienced homelessness.
In an interview with The Stranger, Obeysumner did a lot of explaining about some of Seattle’s hot button issues, including the housing crisis and the future of policing and public safety, but not so much when it came to policy proposals. They said they can’t fully tackle such huge problems in one term, but in the interim they want to run an audit and turn a Sam’s Club into a community center.
Obeysumner’s main priority in office will be racial and social equity that considers the intersections of different identities. In 2018, they helped create the Seattle Office of Civil Rights’ Racial Equity Toolkit. But the toolkit did not have “teeth” as a mere initiative, so they said they want to make the toolkit an ordinance. The ordinance would let the City audit its departments and enforce the toolkit’s recommendations where departments come up short. For Obeysumner, such an audit would help “make sure that anything that we plant is being planted in soil that is going to be rich.”
Pay Up, Landlords
In their pursuit of equity, Obeysumner identified issues with the City’s response to the housing and homelessness crisis that they want to address on council.
Within the first three months of taking office, Obeysumner committed to finding out what the fuck is going on with housing in Seattle. They want to reintroduce the landlord registry that the Mayor vetoed so the council can better understand Seattle’s housing stock.
They also want that registry to track vacancies so that the City can tax units that have been vacant for six months or longer. A vacancy tax could generate revenue to build more housing and bolster homelessness services, or at least incentivize landlords to make their units more rentable, Obeysumner said.
KEEP People Housed
As for homelessness, they highlighted many issues unhoused people face to get inside permanently, but they also noted that a key factor in eliminating homelessness is preventing it in the first place.
To do that, they proposed expanding coordinated entry, a database of unhoused people that helps the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) connect people with services and housing to match their needs.
Right now, that database only serves people living outside, in a shelter, in other places that don’t count as a house, or young people who are on the verge of getting kicked out of their housing. Obeysummer wants to push KCRHA to lower the barrier of entry to include people who are housing-insecure and in need of services.
This year, voters will cast their ballots for the first major council shake-up since the 2020 protests, so candidates need to come prepared with a plan for policing and public safety. Obeysumner said the cops are doing too much and that the City ought to offload some of their responsibilities to police alternatives.
But if the City changes the scope of cops’ jobs, they could run into labor disputes with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). Obeysumner said they are optimistic that the City can negotiate a deal with SPOG that allows the council to bring police alternative pilot programs to scale. They did not say how, just that the Mayor seemed down to play nice with SPOG during his recent State of the City address.
If SPOG plays nice or if the City forges ahead despite their saber-rattling, Obeysumner said they will pay for police alternatives by using SPD dollars earmarked for services the department would no longer perform.
They also stressed the urgent need for the City to “reduce our reliance on the carceral system as much as possible.” When I asked which policies they would propose to stop the City from throwing as many people in jail as they do now, they said they would work with the new Public Development Authority to acquire the vacant Sam’s Club on Aurora and turn it into a day center that would help people satisfy their basic needs and connect with services.
Though a handful of candidates have filed for the position, Obeysumner is the first candidate in District 5 to hard-launch (or at least the first to email The Stranger for an interview). But there’s still plenty of time for other candidates to flock to the open seat.