1. City council candidate and Tenants Union executive director Jonathan Grant is running on a populist platform with a focus on housing affordability issues.
One of Grant's main campaign platforms is getting the city to help homeowners who are facing foreclosure. The city, Grant recommends, should buy mortgages from homeowners who are underwater thanks to market crashes and then sell the house back to the owner at a better rate. It's a public policy known as "principal reduction."
Under the header of "principal reduction program," Grant's campaign website says: "Over 16,500 Seattle families have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2008. The city has been dragging its feet to implement this crucial program, meanwhile more homeowners face impending foreclosure. This should have been instituted years ago, and must be fully funded before any more Seattle families lose their home."
Perhaps a bit of a gotcha, but King County real estate records show that Grant lives in a southeast Seattle house off Rainier Avenue South that his parents purchased from a foreclosure company soon after another couple that had been living there for 10 years lost the home.
King County real estate records show that Grant lives in a southeast Seattle house off Rainier Avenue South that his parents purchased from a foreclosure company soon after another family that had been living there for 10 years lost the home.
"I would not have bought a house if it would have displaced anyone," Grant explains. "The house had been vacant. I bought an empty house. It's not like I booted anybody out by buying the house."
Grant's parents bought the house for $150,000 in July 2013 from HSBC Bank. The bank bought the house on the foreclosure market in February 2013 from foreclosure company Northwest Trustee Services Inc. for $141,000. The couple that lost the house bought it in 2002 for $185,000 and was nearly $90,000 in arrears according to the foreclosure document from October 2012.
Grant, who is now paying off the mortgage himself, explains that when rent increases priced him out of his rental in Georgetown, he began looking for a house in south-end Seattle neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill, but couldn't find anything he could afford. "I was fortunate to have my family support me in buying a home, so I could continue to live in the city." He adds: "I make about $45,000 a year. The market was so hot at the time, we had to act quickly."
Grant, who hasn't declared which council position he's running for, but is presumed to be going for the at-large position against city council member Tim Burgess in district eight, says the housing dilemma he faced—"I couldn't afford anything"—is precisely why he's running for office. "I'm in the affordable housing fight, so that people have more affordable housing options. People are faced with crappy options when they try to find something that's affordable so they can live in the city. And that's what I was facing," he says.
In addition to leading campaigns at the Tenants Union for rental inspections and against the Seattle Housing Authority's plan to raise rents, the TU also does a lot of work around foreclosure prevention. In a 2012 TU letter to Washington state attorney general Rob McKenna, Grant said, "Foreclosure threatens many families across the state with the devastating threat of eviction or displacement."
Grant's lefty platform also includes police accountability and pushing for public financing of elections; Grant says he's not taking contributions from real estate developers.
2. The city council's land use committee unanimously passed mayor Ed Murray's legislation yesterday to authorize three new tent cities. In addition to providing shelter for about 300 people, the legislation requires that social service providers, such as social workers, can access the sites—a provision intended to jump-start long-term solutions as opposed to simply providing emergency relief.
One controversial aspect of the legislation denounced by homeless people during the public hearing on the bill a month ago is a regulation keeping tent cities out of residential zones, both single-family zones and multifamily zones.
Council member Kshama Sawant cued up an amendment that called for a study to look into the possibility of expanding encampments into residential zones later on. The amendment was defeated with Sawant, committee chair Mike O'Brien, and Nick Licata supporting it and Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, and surprise guest Jean Godden voting no. An amendment doesn't fly without a majority.
Godden, not a member of the committee, showed up following a long discussion about Sawant's compromise proposal (Sawant's amendment didn't alter the zoning, but merely called for a study).
Up until that point, the committee was set to pass it with only Burgess and Clark on the no side present. (Burgess asked that a vote on the amendment be held and also asked to take single-family zones out of consideration). Godden, whose fourth district includes wealthier single-family neighborhoods such as Laurelhurst and View Ridge, added a third no, deadlocking the vote and killing the amendment altogether.
Before the vote, O'Brien made a point of noting that "everyone's had a chance to discuss this except for council member Godden," adding, "you weren't here [for the earlier discussion]; I don't know if you want to say anything."
Godden said she had "nothing in particular" to say, but she "just wanted to be part of the decision making."
3. The Democrats passed a minimum wage bill out of the house yesterday afternoon along party lines, 51 to 46.
The $12 minimum wage bill, sponsored by state representative Jessyn Farrell (D-46, North Seattle), will increase the minimum wage from the current $9.47 an hour to $10 an hour in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018, and $12 in 2019. The minimum wage will be adjusted to the CPI year to year starting in 2020.
"There’s no starker contrast between Democrats and Republicans than on [wages and working conditions]."
The Democrats also passed a paid sick leave bill yesterday. That bill, which will not overwrite Seattle's own paid sick leave bill, was sponsored by representative Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) and mandates that businesses with four full-time employees or more must provide employees paid leave for health reasons (including caring for family members) and for reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Seattle's paid sick leave rules are tiered, requiring five days' leave for employers with between 5 and 49 employees, seven days for employers with between 50 and 249 employees, and nine days for employers with more than 250 employees.
Both "middle class prosperity" measures, as the Democrats are calling them, are now headed to the Republican-controlled state senate where state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-36, Southeast Seattle) is sponsoring the minimum wage bill and senator Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) is sponsoring the paid sick leave bill.
“While the house works to make life better for more of our friends and neighbors," state senate minority leader Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle) said, "Republicans continue to work against them. Republican-sponsored bills that create subminimum wages, roll back protections for sick or injured working people and legislation to make it difficult for working folks to have a say in wages and working conditions are all being considered in the senate. There’s no starker contrast between Democrats and Republicans than on these issues."