We're not going to be doing a lot of editorializing here. Some. But not a lot.
That's not going to stop us from linking editorials we agree with, though. Like this recent set from PubliCola Blog-Rola favorite, hugeasscity, where blogger Dan Bertolet lays out why Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox has his facts wrong on Rep. Sharon Nelson's (D-34, West Seattle) transit oriented development bill:
This is what density looks like
There He Goes Again
Meanwhile, I covered the contentious House hearing on this bill a few weeks ago—when Fox and bill co-sponsor Rep. Geoff Simpson (D-47, Covington, Kiss Song) ended up arguing in the hallway afterwards.
But that report was sabotaged by computer difficulties. At the time, I rewrote the lost post as best I could, but I left out the "some editorializing."
Miraculously, I recovered the original post last night.
The majority of Fox's traditional allies, advocates from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (LIHA) and the Housing Development Consortium, testified in support of the bill at this morning's hearing because they believe the very opposite of Fox: They say the bill will guarantee affordable housing and also protect it from the sky rocketing property values that will come with light rail—which may explain why Fox finds himself on the same side of this debate as well-off homeowners who don't want apartments with low-income housing nearby.
The recovered, original post in its entirety is below the jump.
I promised there'd be a fight, and oh boy, was there a fight: Outside in the hallway—after this morning's committee hearing about state Rep. Sharon Nelson's (D-34, W. Seattle, Vashon) density bill. The hallway brawl—between bill co-sponsor Rep. Geoff Simpson (D-47, Covington, Kiss Song and the lead opponent of the bill, John Fox, head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition—was actually a follow-up fight to the tense back-and-forth between the two during the hearing itself when Fox testified against the bill. During his testimony, Fox repeatedly pushed the point that the process to craft the bill didn't include the communities that would be affected by the bill's new zoning rules (true). In response, Rep. Simpson kept warning Fox to stick to the substance of the bill not the process behind it.
Tempers escalated in the hallway afterward when Rep. Simpson, chest puffed and sporting his fire fighters pin, came up and confronted Fox (while I was in the middle of interviewing him) telling Fox he was only willing to work with him on the bill if his input was "constructive and not inflammatory." Simpson added that he thought what Fox had said about the bill was "untrue." "Did you send out those pictures of cities in India?" Simpson demanded. "That's inflammatory and untrue."
Fox's ally, Mount Baker homeowner Pat Murakami (who also testified), is spreading the word that Rep. Nelson's bill will, as Murakami told the committee, turn Mount Baker into Mumbai, pointing out that average density of Mumbai supported fewer people than the 50-units per acre number in Nelson's bill. (Fact check: An entire city's average density includes large areas of low housing density, which makes the comparison to one planned density hub around a transit center unfair.)
Rep. Nelson's bill mandates what's known as "transit-oriented development"—which means building compact, user-friendly communities (i.e., housing, sidewalks, bike accessibility, and retail) built around mass transit hubs. Co-sponsors include Seattle legislators Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) and Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36, Ballard), and nearby green-liberals, Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-33, Burien) and Simpson.
Specifically, Nelson's bill authorizes 50-dwelling units per-acre average in areas around the 30 transit hubs that are coming with light rail. (To get a sense of what that means: Belltown has allowed densities in the 250-500 units per acre). The central goal of this bill is to decrease automobile-dependency. For example, the bill gets rid of parking requirements for the developments. The Mumbai imagery is intended to drive home Fox's central point: Density, with its urban problems, is out of whack for Seattle's neighborhoods. (Although, there is a slight disconnect here, the Mumbai imagery also conjures up low-income housing and Fox's point is that low-income housing is going away.)
Nonetheless, Fox called the bill a "blueprint for gentrification," connecting gentrification to numbers on increased density. Density in neighborhoods around the Othello station, for example, stand at about 5.2 units per acre as opposed to the 50 that the bill allows, he says. There's a difference of opinion about measuring density, however, and proponents of the bill contend that Fox's numbers are way off base, which I explained here.
The majority of Fox's allies, advocates from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (LIHA) and the Housing Development Consortium, testified in support of the bill at this morning's hearing because they believe the very opposite of Fox: They say the bill will guarantee affordable housing and also protect it from the sky rocketing property values that will come with light rail—which may explain why Fox finds himself on the same side of this debate as well-off homeowners who don't want apartments with low-income housing nearby. (Indeed, the crowded Mumbai imagery comes from one of those homeowners.)
Sarah Nikolic, from the environmental group that's pushing the bill, Futurewise, testified about this point: "We can't allow these station areas to become low density affluent neighborhoods that displace current residents and offer no housing options for half the income spectrum," she said. "Yet that is the risk. We need station areas to have a range of densities affordable to a full range of incomes so that they can truly be a home for everyone."
Nick Federici, of WLIHA, seconded the point with some specifics about the bill's affordable housing guidelines: "This legislation includes some of the strongest affordable housing provisions in the country," he told the committee, "inclusionary zoning [mandates for affordable housing rather than incentives], one-for-one replacement of lost affordable units, mandatory net gain of affordable units, and relocation assistance."
The low-income housing advocates, however, did concede one point to Fox (a point actually made by Bill Kirlin-Hacket of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness during his testimony with Fox against the bill): Affordable housing is defined in the bill at 80 percent of the median income: $45,600 for a single person, or able to afford $1221 for a one-bedroom apt. Uh? Fox points out that roughly 50 percent of the people in the neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle are at 40 percent of the median ($22,800 or able to afford $610 a month for a 1-bedroom).
Again, while the bill does guarantee one-for-one replacement on lost units, they aren't necessarily in the neighborhood, and more important, transit oriented communities are going to have a hard time being affordable communities when affordable is defined 80 percent of the median income.