Transit Riders, Unite!

The Transit Riders Union is an independent, democratic, member-run union of transit riders organizing for better public transit in Seattle, King County and beyond. Through our organizing efforts we won a low income fare! We invite you to join us and fight for the future of public transit!

Jeff Bezos 1, Homeless People 0. Now What?

June 14, 2018

In a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, city councilmembers voted 7-2 to repeal the big business tax they passed unanimously just four weeks ago. National news quickly filled with blistering headlines, slamming Seattle’s swift capitulation to Amazon’s bullying tactics.

There’s no sugarcoating it, we lost. But progress is never easy, or achieved without failure and the courage to persist through failure. We set out to do something big. Over the past nine months we have disrupted a status quo that protects the wealth and privilege of the few and leaves the rest of us fighting each other for scraps. What is remarkable is that we got so close. Our challenge now is to draw lessons from this experience, regroup, and move forward. Next time we will win.

In the wake of yesterday’s vote, many of us feel not just deep disappointment but anger and a sense of betrayal – how could our progressive allies on the city council, who stood with us and worked with us over the past nine months, cave so suddenly and so completely?

At least three of the councilmembers who voted to repeal the legislation – Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, and Lorena González – did not do so because they changed their minds about it being good policy or the right thing to do. They did so because they knew that the big business-funded referendum push had gathered enough signatures to make the ballot; and they saw ahead five more brutal months of a multi-million dollar propaganda war ending, they believed, almost inevitably in defeat.

Over the past nine months, big business lobby groups like the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association have offered no solutions. Instead they poured their vast resources into a media campaign to discredit the city council in the eyes of the public, and spread misinformation about the tax and the homelessness crisis. They cynically manipulated many Seattleites’ legitimate concerns about rising property taxes and the impact of homelessness on their neighborhoods, to inflame prejudice and weasel out of making a modest contribution toward real solutions. They made Seattle an uglier place.

They know very well that new resources are needed to address homelessness – and yet they have had no qualms about denying this again and again. They have drowned out facts with well-funded lies. They have, it seems, successfully turned the tide of “public opinion” – at least among likely voters. Seeing this, councilmembers chose to cut their losses and start over.

Whether we call their choice cowardly or sensible, we have to admit this outcome reflects the real power dynamics in our city. We – the Transit Riders Union and our allies – have built up enough people-power to push groundbreaking legislation through the city council. That’s no small accomplishment. But we don’t yet have the power to back it up. We simply weren’t able to counter the influence of big money on public opinion. We don’t yet have the ability to reach enough of our neighbors, to have enough conversations that change hearts and minds, to effectively counter the destructive and petty narratives that divide us rather than unite us.

The challenge before us is to build this kind of power, to organize more broadly and more deeply. No one can stop us from doing this. It is the challenge of our times, and together we will rise to it.

Yesterday Amazon, Starbucks, Vulcan, and the big business lobby groups got their way. They “won”. Who lost? Most of all, our neighbors experiencing homelessness: low-income seniors, veterans, at-risk youth, people struggling with mental health or substance use challenges, and people with disabilities, whose one shared characteristic is that they cannot afford a roof over their head in this insane housing market.

The homelessness state of emergency continues and is more urgent than ever. Our regressive tax system continues and the need for progressive revenue is more urgent than ever. There is simply no acceptable solution but for big businesses and the wealthy to start chipping in. They can’t avoid this social responsibility forever, and we’ll keep working to make sure that day of reckoning comes sooner rather than later.

Groundbreaking Legislation is Out!

April 20, 2018

Remember last fall, when TRU and Housing For All started pushing for a big business tax to fund housing, shelter and services?

Six months later, legislation is in our hands! (Here’s a more digestible summary.)

If passed this bill will raise $75 million per year, three times what was proposed last fall.  The tax will affect only approximately 3% of businesses in Seattle, those with annual revenue of $20 million or more.  Of the new funding generated by the tax, fully 75% will go to housing, 20% to shelter and services.

This legislation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Seattle to take a real step towards closing the affordable housing gap and addressing a root cause of the homelessness crisis.

The unveiling of this legislation is a great moment for TRU and our many allies in Housing For All who have come together to urge an effective and compassionate response to the homelessness state of emergency.  Now we just have to get it passed!  Join us for the official public hearing at City Hall:

Public Hearing: Monday, April 23, 5:30pm

Transit Riders Union calls for moratorium on punitive fare enforcement following damning audit

April 9, 2018

A new report from the King County Auditor’s Office released on April 4th reveals a RapidRide fare enforcement system wholly unable to justify its existence. It is not demonstrably effective, and it is demonstrably costly, harmful, and inequitable.

King County spends $1.7 million per year punishing people – predominantly poor people and people of color – who cannot provide proof of payment to the fare enforcement officers who periodically board RapidRide buses.

Nearly a quarter of riders slapped with a $124 fine, and over 30% of those charged with a misdemeanor, were homeless or “housing unstable”. According to the report, “the fines for individuals experiencing housing instability totaled just over $290,000 from 2015-2017. These fines, when unpaid, go into collections, which can then impact a person’s ability to obtain housing.” Less than three percent of fines are ever paid.

This situation is absurd and despicable. It traps the King County residents who most need public transit and are least able to pay fines. And to what end? According to the report, “research has not found a correlation between fare enforcement and fare evasion”. In other words, there is no evidence that fare evasion rates would rise significantly if fare enforcement simply stopped.

The Transit Riders Union calls on King County to establish a two-year moratorium on punitive fare enforcement while a better system is devised. “Fare-checking staff,” previously known as fare enforcement officers, should still check fares so that Metro can track any changes in fare payment rates over that period, but there should be no punishment: no warnings, no citations or fines, no misdemeanors. Perhaps riders who cannot show proof of payment could be handed a leaflet with information about reduced fare programs and where to obtain an ORCA card.

“Immediate cessation of punitive fare enforcement is the only acceptable baseline from which to consider any new policy,” said TRU’s general secretary Katie Wilson. “It is simply wrong to continue harming vulnerable populations while this problem is studied further. King County cannot continue harassing, fining and criminalizing poor people by default while task forces and elected officials mull things over.”

“Does it make sense do to this kind of fare enforcement at all?”  King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci asked during an interview with KIRO 7. “I don’t know that it makes any sense to be fining people who are coming onto the buses for shelter because they don’t have shelter.” The Transit Riders Union applauds this sentiment and urges the King County Council and County Executive to act swiftly to halt punitive fare enforcement pending further investigation.

Housing For All Campaign Heats Up

March 21, 2018

Our campaign to build thousands of new units of deeply affordable housing through a tax on large businesses is heating up fast.  The Chamber of Commerce & Co. are on the march, spreading misinformation and rallying their troops to try to stop the Housing For All movement in its tracks. We can’t let them succeed.  Please take a moment to send a message of support to our elected officials, urging them to stand strong:

Email City Councilmembers & Mayor Durkan

On Wednesday, March 14th, members of Housing For All filled Council Chambers and delivered a letter signed by fifty organizations to the City Council and Mayor Durkan.  That same afternoon the Progressive Revenue Task Force presented its final report, recommending major investments in new deeply affordable housing, shelter, and services: $150 million per year in new progressive revenue, with $75 million coming from an Employee Hours Tax on large businesses.

What’s next?  Over the coming weeks, Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Lorena González, who co-chaired the task force, will be drafting legislation.  TRU and Housing For All will be working hard to win the votes of at least six councilmembers.  Stay tuned for alerts of council meetings and public hearings, and attend our next Action Meeting on Saturday, March 31st.  We aim to pass this legislation through full council by mid-May!

Seattle’s Housing Gap: Unmet Needs & Challenges for People Experiencing Homelessness

February 13, 2018

Tuesday, February 20th
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Seattle City Hall, Council Chambers

We hear a lot of talk these days about affordable housing and how there’s not enough of it. But just how serious is this shortage, and what tools does the City of Seattle have to do something about it?

This event will explore the “housing gap” and its implications for our quality of life and the future of our City. We will focus especially on households in the lowest income bracket, 0-30% of Area Median Income (AMI), who may be homeless or at the greatest risk of homelessness. A presentation and round-table discussion will be followed by public comment.

Hosted by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and Housing For All
Co-hosted by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, and Kshama Sawant

Housing For All Campaign Launch 2018 – Wed., Jan. 31

January 14, 2018


6:00 – 8:00 PM
Wednesday, January 31st
Seattle Labor Temple, Hall 1
2800 1st Ave, Belltown
Venue is wheelchair accessible

(Note change in date, time and location from what was previously posted)

We are at a crossroads in Seattle’s history. As population and housing costs surge, the inseparable crises of homelessness, housing insecurity, and displacement deepen.

We can’t solve these crises without far more affordable housing. In order to meet the need, Seattle must build approximately 20,000 more homes affordable to low-income families and individuals in the next ten years .

Due to pressure from the Housing For All Coalition, the City Council has formed a Progressive Revenue Task Force to recommend funding sources, such as a tax on big businesses, to create new housing, shelter and services without further taxing working and poor people.

We can win this by the end of March – but only with your help. Join us on January 31st to learn more, get involved, and take actions that day that advance the campaign!

Housing For All Budget Accomplishments

November 27, 2017

Big Business Tax for Housing, Coming in 2018

This fall, the Housing For All Coalition set out to secure a commitment from our elected officials to massively step up the production of new housing affordable to people and families with the lowest incomes. We are on the road to victory.

On Monday, November 20, shortly after approving the 2018 budget, the City Council unanimously passed a Resolution 31782, establishing their intent to tax large businesses to fund housing and homeless services by the end of March 2018.

While the tax didn’t pass this fall, as we’d hoped, we now have an opportunity to push for additional progressive revenue and a much larger package than the $25M originally proposed. New sustainable revenue at this scale is the kind of game-changer that has been so lacking in the two years since Seattle declared a Homelessness State of Emergency. Without the work of the Housing For All Coalition, the City Council would not have the courage to stand up to relentless opposition from business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and commit to raising real revenue to address the crisis.

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to this effort so far. TRU and the Housing For All Coalition will be there every step of the way as this legislation is crafted over the next several months. Let’s bring it home in the new year!

Steps Toward Stopping the Sweeps

This fall we also set out to reform the City’s policies on removal of unauthorized encampments, a.k.a. sweeps. We called for outreach and services to be provided without threat of removal, unless an encampment site is irremediably unsafe or in conflict with other public uses of the site. Without housing to offer, the City is merely shuffling people around and doing more harm than good.

Although we weren’t able to achieve this policy shift during the budget process, the City’s 2018 budget includes measures that will add new transparency and accountability to removals of unauthorized encampments. Henceforth the City Council will receive weekly reports of all sweeps planned for the following week, with reasons for their prioritization. The City’s ability to put up fences, such as those erected beneath the Spokane St. Viaduct earlier this month, will be restricted. And next year, responsibility for encampment removals will be shifted from the Finance and Administrative Services to the Human Services Department.

While these measures fall short of “stopping the sweeps”, new layers of oversight are likely to significantly improve the situation on the ground for our homeless brothers and sisters. With continued monitoring by the Office of Civil Rights, the Housing for All Coalition, and other allies, we are setting the stage for further-reaching reform next year.

More Budget Victories!

A number of additional goals of the Housing For All Coalition were achieved this fall:

  1. $450,000 to support authorized encampments. This funding will provide more adequate support to existing authorized encampments and tiny house villages, and make possible the establishment of two new sites.
  2. $500,000 for a Homeless Youth and/or Young Adults Opportunity Center and Housing Project at Broadway & Pine on Capitol Hill.
  3. $150,000 to fund exploration of community ownership housing models.
  4. Passage of a tax on short-term rentals such as AirBnB, with at least $5M per year going to fund the Equitable Development Initiative to support community-driven projects.
  5. $750,000 to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to north Seattle.
  6. $1.3 million for Seattle’s first safe consumption site.

Now is the time for HOMES – Take Action!

October 14, 2017

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley speak to reporters in the Sam Smith room at City Hall on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 12. Photo by Casey JayworkOn October 12th, Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley held a press conference calling for a massively stepped-up response to the homelessness and housing crises, and proposing a big business tax to raise over $20 million per year in new revenue to tackle these twin crises. The plan is called HOMES – housing, outreach, and mass-entry shelter.

Although this is still not nearly enough to create all the housing and shelter that’s needed, it is a solid start. And it’s about time. The Transit Riders Union has been pushing the City to use this progressive tax authority for years, but the answer we’ve gotten from our elected officials is always: it’s not the right time. Nearly two years into an officially-declared Homelessness State of Emergency, the City has yet to act like we’re in an emergency. It’s time for all hands on deck, and that means everyone, including large businesses that are benefiting from Seattle’s booming economy while so many of us are left behind.

Here are three things you can do to make sure the HOMES plan succeeds this fall:

The HOMES tax is just one of eleven things the Housing For All Coalition hopes to accomplish during the city budget process this fall. Take a look, and if you agree, please tell the Councilmembers that you support the Housing For All campaign’s budget priorities!

Help Our Homeless Friends in Nickelsville

September 23, 2017

Help Nickelsville Ballard secure a new location with enough space to keep their community together and shelter more people. Send a quick email here!