Morning Fizz

Advocates Push City to Fund Affordable Housing

Caffeinated news featuring disagreements, agreements, and another big endorsement for Sawant

By Josh Feit March 16, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a letter that a group of developers, real estate interests, and business groups sent to the mayor's housing affordability task force. The group, called the Coalition for Housing Solutions, outlined a list of policy recommendations to increase affordable housing.

The group, which also included urbanist attorney Chuck Wolfe, called for: renewing and expanding Seattle's voter-approved housing levy (a property tax on everybody, generating about $21 million a year for affordable housing and costing a median-value Seattle home about $60 per year); dedicating a portion of the general fund to affordable housing; expanding programs for infill density like attached dwelling units and microhousing (the council put restrictions on microhousing in 2014); buying and preserving existing affordable housing; and using publicly owned land for affordable housing.

The letter also trashed a council proposal called the linkage fee which would pay for an affordable housing fund with a charge as high as $22 per square foot on new development. Developers complain that taxing new supply is like funding a low-income health care program by taxing organic vegetables; of course, affordable housing advocates could argue that only yuppies can afford organic vegetables—and therefore the tax is justified.

Affordable housing advocates could argue that only yuppies can afford organic vegetables.Today, a group of housing advocates calling itself the Community Housing Caucus is issuing a set of its own recommendations. They're holding a press conference at city hall that's being sponsored by council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant.

The group, which includes veteran housing activists such as Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox, city council candidate and Nick Licata aide Lisa Herbold, Low Income Housing Institute leader Sharon Lee, council candidate and Tenants Union leader Jonathan Grant, and lefty church leader Alice Woldt issued a statement saying the "new policy and program recommendations call for a major investment in city funds to alleviate the housing shortage, preservation of existing affordable housing, tenant protections, zoning changes, and ending homelessness."

It's hard to imagine that the group won't take the exact opposition position on the linkage fee than the developers. (I polled both sides in the linkage fee debate for an article in the magazine late last year.)

But there's also likely to be an area of agreement: using public land to build subsidized housing.

2. Indeed, complaining that the city is converting housing land that was specifically rezoned at the behest of Roosevelt neighborhood YIMBYs ("Yes in my backyard) to accommodate increased density around the light rail station just two blocks away into a park instead of housing, developer lobbyists sent a letter to the city yesterday condemning the decision.

Many people were surprised and disappointed to learn—only at the 11th hour, literally—that the city intends to turn key property zoned for housing, in the Roosevelt neighborhood, into a park... While the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee has been earnestly and seriously looking at housing issues, you have been in a different silo...turning prime land zoned for transit oriented housing into a park.

(I talked to city attorney Pete Holmes about the decision on Friday—he's largely behind the move and is using eminent domain to seize the housing property from a delinquent landlord. Holmes told me the play was purposefully kept quiet to prevent the landlord from getting the jump on the city's legal strategy.)


Image: Mike Kane

3. Socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant scored a major endorsement today. State senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle), a major ally of mayor Ed Murray, announced today that she's backing Sawant for reelection. (Murray's consultant Christian Sinderman is working for Urban League head Pamela Banks, a Sawant opponent who is widely seen as the establishment's PC choice to challenge Sawant.)

Jayapal, who founded the influential civil rights group OneAmerica and now as a freshman state senator has been making her mark fighting payday loans and pushing a more transit friendly transportation package, said in a statement:

"Kshama has been a powerful and unwavering progressive voice in city hall for Seattle's working families - from minimum wage to women's empowerment to housing justice," Jayapal said in a statement. "I was proud to work with Kshama to fight for a $15 minimum wage. She combines a principled approach, a willingness to listen, and the ability to move critical legislation that affects our most vulnerable communities."


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