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On Other Blogs Today: Light Rail Moves Forward, Housing Prices Jump, and More

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By Erica C. Barnett September 27, 2013


1. Despite staunch opposition from the Republicans (and two conservative Democrats) who control the Washington state senate, the board of the Vancouver transit agency, C-Tran, voted 5-4 yesterday to move forward with a financing plan for light rail on the proposed I-5 bridge replacement between Washington and Oregon, the Columbian reports. A plan to fund Washington state's $450 million portion of the bridge itself failed this year due to anti-light rail and anti-tax, Republican opposition in the senate. 

The controversial proposal would pay for light rail operations across the new bridge—estimated at $2.3 million a year, after fares—primarily by cutting bus trips across the bridge and by using sales tax revenues from bridge construction. The new plan would not pay for any freeway improvements north of the Oregon-Washington border.

2. In a Seattle Times op/ed co-written with child sex-abuse researcher Debra Boyer, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) says she expects to introduce legislation next session to redefine the term "victims" when referring to prostituted children, to ensure that child victims of prostitution aren't prosecuted as prostitutes. "Children are not prostitutes." 

Nonetheless, since 2008, they write, "210 children have been arrested as prostitutes" in the state—a status that puts them into the criminal justice system and creates mistrust between victims and those trying to help them, driv[ing] them back to pimps and traffickers."

3. Three timely pieces on Seattle housing prices: 

First, Seattle Bubble reports that as fast as rents have risen in Seattle, the price of buying a home has risen even faster: While rents have increased five percent in the last year, home prices have gone up 12.5 percent. That's probably cold comfort to folks paying an average of $1,438 for a one-bedroom, though. 

Image via Seattle Bubble.


So what's the solution? Here are a couple of different takes.

Over at Puget Sound Sage's blog, Sound Progress, the lefty group argues for stricter incentive zoning rules—regulations that require developers to pay for, or build, a certain amount of affordable housing in exchange for density greater than current zoning rules allow. Earlier this week, the city council moved toward bringing downtown fee-in-lieu charges (fees developers pay into an affordable housing fund, "in lieu" of building actual affordable housing in their new developments) in line with South Lake Union's rates, which were set high on the theory that higher fees would encourage developers to just build housing on-site.

Over at CityTank, Dan Bertolet strongly disagrees, arguing that increasing the supply of housing will, by itself, decrease housing prices.

But Sage says they should do more. "When you consider past research  on the question and compare Seattle to other cities ... the results suggest that the in-lieu fee will still be too low to make on-site construction of affordable units attractive to developers," they write. 

Over at CityTank, Dan Bertolet strongly disagrees, arguing that increasing the supply of housing will, by itself, decrease housing prices. "Exacting additional fees on new buildings discourages development and increases the cost of production, both of which run counter to the original intent of making housing more affordable. ... 

When housing demand is very high, it may not be possible to increase supply fast enough to completely turn around rising prices. But even in such cases, greater supply will keep prices lower than they would have been absent that increased supply, and that benefits everyone in the housing market, those on the lower end of the income spectrum in particular.

It's a long, much more complicated argument than I can lay out here, so I encourage you to go read the whole thing.

Although I'm skeptical that either policy (unrestricted new housing or massive affordable-housing incentives) will actually drive rents down in a booming city like Seattle (see: NYC, the densest city in America), he does make a strong case for, at the very least, balancing out incentives that will ultimately help a relative few with policies that encourage more density. 

4. Gizmodo thinks we should end Park(ing) Day—the national one-day event where citizens and organizations take over parking spaces and turn them into mini-parks.

Although some of their reasons are sensible—buying a bunch of Astroturf for a one-day park and then throwing it away is bad, sitting in an unprotected "parklet" next to moving traffic could be dangerous—most of the reasons "we don't need Park(ing) Day anymore" are variations on "you could be doing something real with your time." For example, fighting for permanent parks or working on "some of the bigger environmental, social and economic issues" facing cities. Which is kind of like saying, don't bother recycling because you could be lobbying your state legislature instead. How about both? 



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