Holly Zhang, a businesswoman, and John Stokes, the incumbent, are running for Position 1 on the Bellevue City Council. The General Election is Nov. 5.
How will you support affordable housing for Bellevue residents?
Zhang: We need to look at and adapt successful models for affordable housing being used abroad. Singapore’s Housing Development Board successfully houses its multi-ethnic population in affordable housing after decades of slums.
I support an idea now in use in Vancouver, Canada — a tax on houses that are purchased, held and kept empty by foreign buyers. Here in Bellevue, many absentee foreign homeowners neglect their properties and let their lawns grow tall, causing neighbors’ houses to be de-valued. An “empty house tax” levied on them would de-incentivize this practice and provide revenues to support the building of affordable homes for people in Bellevue.
ARCH – A Regional Coalition for Housing – is coordinating the building of affordable housing all over East King County, including Bellevue. But there have been problems with corruption, as high-income buyers purchase ARCH’s low-income units to resell at market rates. ARCH housing is government-funded — it therefore needs to remain low income, even after it is re-sold. The city of Bellevue needs to contribute personnel to monitor this corrupt situation and bring it into compliance.
Stokes: As a prime author of the Bellevue Affordable Housing Strategy, I will work to accomplish the strategies and efforts outlined in that document. That will include continuation of the multifamily housing tax exemption, inventorying and helping to preserve current affordable housing for future residents, working with the new condo laws and facilitating the locations and financing of funding for available land in public and nonprofit and private hands that are prime for affordable housing.
How will you support services for the unhoused in the city?
Zhang: The focus of Bellevue City Council should be on housing. First. Shelters should be little more than in-take centers. The Housing First approach, piloted in New York and getting scaled up in Finland for use across Europe, works. Several nights of quality sleep in a room or studio behind a locked door transforms traumatized minds and situations from chaos to manageability. Because people with a room don’t fear being attacked or ripped off, their psychosis induced by sleep deprivation goes down; substance abuse and mental illness flare-ups subside. People who are housed first are able to focus on long-term solutions like medical treatment, job readiness and independence.
Right now there are Bellevue residents living in large, nearly empty houses. Empty bedrooms can be rented and/or subsidized quickly and affordably to homeless people now. The plan that Bellevue City Council approved three years ago allows for this flexibility. The extra information needed to log and track this solution could be integrated into the city of Bellevue’s newly unveiled paperless system.
Kudos to heroic volunteers who renovated the Lincoln Center homeless shelter site. But volunteers should not be shouldered with the city council’s responsibility to provide leadership to permanent solutions to homelessness.
Stokes: I also am a leader in working to craft the best homeless shelter program for the city, which is now moving forward with community and business support. I will also work to complete Bellevue’s plans for the next steps once temporary shelter is found to move people into support and permanent housing.
How do you intend to foster transportation availability and accessibility around the city?
Zhang: Let’s increase convenient public transportation in order to decrease congestion. Let’s increase the numbers of smaller buses going into the neighborhoods. Let’s make bus lines so convenient that people won’t miss their cars. Let’s develop a public transportation app in multiple languages so that elderly, first-generation immigrants in Bellevue are less isolated and less reliant on their grown children for their social lives. Let’s use smart systems to predict peaks and valleys in bus route use and take buses off their road when they are not needed and put more on the road when they are needed.
Bus schedules are already being published in multiple languages, but they aren’t easily accessible — you have to call and ask for them. Why? Bus shelters and park-and-rides should carry bus schedules in multiple languages now. Let’s survey what we have now and make maximum use of what we have.
Stokes: The city has a well-tuned and aggressive plan to do just this, working with the private sector as well as Sound Transit, Metro Bus Service and Ride Share. I led our effort for a transportation accessibility levy and connectivity. We will also focus on the balance of growth and development and our transportation infrastructure to assure that growth is supported by transportation. I see this as one of the top priorities for the immediate future of the council work.
How do you strike a balance between development and nurturing what already makes Bellevue unique?
Zhang: Bellevue’s culture is informed by love of beautiful parks, awareness of climate change and the expertise of high-tech workers. We are fortunate to have these values and this expertise embedded in our culture. In our current, divisive political climate, the solutions need to start at the local level.
We need to keep our residents meaningfully involved in these solutions. When we ask for citizen input on growth management plans, we need to stick with those plans and keep growth in the agreed-upon growth corridors.
We need to balance our love of the environment with growth and development.
When our educated citizenry proposes cost-effective, well-researched solar power options, batteries and smart grids, we need to listen.
Bellevue residents are smart and flexible. They are open to change that makes sense. Their input is needed – and should be wanted. And if I am elected to city council, they will be heard.
Stokes: Development of a vibrant and livable downtown and our neighborhood areas is an asset to the community, not a deterrent. We have sound livability and growth plans that work to do that balance. Development is part of what draws people to Bellevue and makes it livable at a level that few cities with a population the size of Bellevue can manage. Our Downtown Livability Initiative is just the kind of steps that are necessary for this companion work. We are also working to keep these unique elements while recognizing that our development can be an enhancement to that — not a problem — which will take a strong and focused council working with the city manager and staff, and the community to see that the balance is in fact attained, as I believe it is and can be.