Morning Fizz: Stating the Obvious
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring affordable housing, Metro funding, affordable artist housing, and a no-brainer.
1. This afternoon, the local branch of the Sierra Club will endorse a proposal by city council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant to replace part of Mayor Ed Murray's proposed plan to save Metro transit with a "head tax" on employers and an increase in the existing tax on commercial parking.
Murray's proposal, which he made in response to the failure of King County Proposition 1 (which would have preserved Metro service at current levels systemwide), includes a $60 vehicle license fee and a 0.1-cent sales tax; it would raise about $45 million a year, staving off 90 percent of Seattle bus cuts.
The local branch of the Sierra Club will endorse a Licata-Sawant proposal today to replace Mayor Ed Murray's sales tax proposal to save buses with a tax on business.
Sawant and Licata, however, argue that Murray's proposal (which mirrors the failed countywide Prop. 1) is regressive, and say Seattle voters are ready to adopt a more progressive head tax and commercial parking tax instead. The head tax would cost employers up to $18 per employee per year, and the parking tax would increase by five percentage points, to 17.5 cents per dollar. (Their proposal still includes the flat $60 vehicle license fee). In 2009, the city council voted 8-1 against a head tax similar to the Sawant-Licata proposal that would have raised $4.5 million a year for transportation.
2. There are lots of interesting stats in a recent workforce housing study commissioned by the city council (two, in particular: Did you know we have the second-highest median age of any city in the nation, 35.2, or that we have the lowest average household size, at 2.05 people per household?)
3. But the most interesting exchange during yesterday's meeting of the council's housing affordability committee came between city consultant Kurt Kreager and council member Sawant, who was unimpressed with the idea that the city should provide tax rebates for private developers who build housing affordable to lower-middle-class residents.
After Kreager explained the multifamily tax exemption program, which provides a temporary property-tax exemption to developers that promise to keep a certain number of units affordable to moderate-wage workers, Sawant summed the program up this way: "In other words, the working people are paying while the developers are getting a [giveaway]."
The multifamily tax exemption program has produced 2,563 affordable units over the last 12 years. In contrast, the incentive zoning program, which Sawant has told us she prefers because it makes the developers pay, has produced just 616.
She continued, "Is it best practice in terms of making sure that people have affordable housing available to them? Everything I hear about the multifamily tax exemption program is that it's not a good idea as far as ordinary people are concerned and that it's a gift to developers."
Cutting off Kreager's attempt to explain that some housing wouldn't get developed without the tax credit, Sawant continued, "So you mean that private development would not happen without it. ... We're always being told that this is the framework, whatever the private developers are willing to develop, we have to put everything down in order to make that actually possible, and whether the outcome in the balance is beneficial to the thousands of households that need housing, that is not the value that is being used."
(Editor's note: The MFTE program, one of three tools the city uses to create affordable housing—the other two are incentive zoning, essentially a fee on developers for letting them build beyond zoning limits, and the housing levy, a citywide property tax approved regularly by Seattle voters—has, according to the city's own data, produced 2,563 affordable units over the last 12 years. In contrast, the incentive zoning program, which Sawant has told us she prefers because it makes the developers pay, has produced just 616. The housing levy has produced 3,700 units over the same period.)
Sawant then went on to ask whether impact fees for development—which are currently barred under state law—weren't "low-hanging fruit" for the city to grab on to, prompting Kreager to respond, "You can work on the legislative environment, but I wouldn't rely on [getting] legislative authority" to charge impact fees.
4. Josh's latest installment of Urban Upgrade, the pro-density, pro-pro-ped, pro-city living column he writes for the magazine, is out. And it provides an interesting contrast to the "carpetbagger" rhetoric (against aPodments) at the Seattle Community Council Federation meeting earlier this week where one member used coded language against outsiders, asking how many people at the meeting were truly from Seattle.
Josh's column is about Capitol Hill Housing's meeting last month to preserve art spaces and artist housing in the youthful Capitol Hill neighborhood, where City Council member Nick Licata also talked about non-Seattleites, but in a good, Richard Florida kind of way.
Capitol Hill Housing is pushing the city to designate the neighborhood an arts district, which would make it easier to preserve arts spaces. At CHH’s kickoff meeting at Oddfellows in May, city council member Nick Licata, a proponent of the idea, asked the crowd how many people were born somewhere other than Seattle. Nearly every hand in the packed room went up. His point? Capitol Hill has traditionally been a magnet for nationwide talent.
As millennials flock to cities—and cities compete for them—Seattle would be smart to play to its strengths and find ways to preserve and hype Capitol Hill’s creative cachet.
5. We're not scheduled to do our Fizz Likes & Dislikes until Friday (and stay tuned for this week's, because we have a very special guest weighing in tomorrow morning).
But we have to say this morning: We liked Mayor Murray's proposal yesterday, during his public safety speech, to take the Office of Professional Accountability, the office that makes findings on complaints about police misconduct, out of the SPD. No-brainer, right? You'd think. But this is the first time a mayor has pushed the idea publicly.
It will face plenty of hurdles—the police union will certainly have a lot to say about it. But credit is certainly due to Murray for stating the obvious.
And extra credit for saying he wants to take something away from the chief on her first week in office. Welcome.