Morning Fizz

Housing, Bonding, Biking, Marrying, and Vaping

Caffeinated news featuring a call for $500 million in affordable housing bonds

By Josh Feit March 17, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. A coalition of low-income housing advocates calling themselves the Community Housing Caucus released a lengthy list of policy recommendations at a city hall press conference yesterday afternoon.

The laundry list—which includes in part a millionaires' tax, a freeze on upzones, rent control, building affordable housing on public land, and guaranteed one-for-one replacement of any demolished affordable housing—was all aimed at mayor Ed Murray's housing affordability task force. (Following the Murray method established during last year's $15 minimum wage negotiations of bringing everyone to the table, Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee of housing advocates, developers, land use attorneys, neighborhood representatives, and business interests is expected to make a batch of compromise recommendations in late May.)

Yesterday's set of recommendations came from a group on the populist side of the housing debate including longtime low-income advocate John Fox (the dense list of recommendations reads a lot like one of Fox's many community newspaper editorials), Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee, and Tenants Union leader Jonathan Grant, who's running for city council—and is on Murray's HALA task force.

Socialist city council member Kshama Sawant cohosted the city hall announcement with progressive city council member Nick Licata. (Licata aide and council candidate Lisa Herbold was also part of the group.)

Sawant told the crowd: "The list of recommendations is long because we are facing a housing emergency."

Identifying skyrocketing housing costs as "an emergency" was a central theme during yesterday's event—and it's germane to the group's headline-grabbing recommendation: a $500 million housing bond program.

The group's white paper explains:

The City of Seattle should issue at least $500 million in long term bonds; staying within the current bond cap for low income housing and housing for homeless families and individuals, at 0 to 30 percent and 30 percent to 50 percent of the area median income. The bonds can be issued in increments over multiple years and take advantage of low interest rates. The housing will be built on city-owned land and private property acquired by nonprofits.

The city is obligated to hold a minimum of $100 million of its general obligation debt capacity in reserve “for emergencies.” The city’s “emergency reserve” now contains about $228 million or $128 million above the minimum. Declare an emergency and authorize immediate issuance of $128 million for low income housing.

A group of developers, real estate and business interests, and urbanist progressives on the other side of this long-running and existential Seattle debate issued their own set of recommendations to Murray's HALA committee two weeks ago. There's actually overlap between the two sides. For example, both groups support using city money to build affordable housing and using public land for affordable housing.

A major disagreement persists, though. The populist Community Housing Caucus wants the so-called linkage fee—an across-the-board charge on new development to help pay for affordable housing—to be "maximized." (The city council has already called for a $22 linkage fee.) The Coalition for Housing Solutions, the developer-friendly group, is dead set against the linkage fee. They say it would be illogical for the city to tax housing when the city is simultaneously trying to provide more housing.

Yesterday, I explained the developers' critique this way: It's like taxing organic vegetables to pay for low-income health care. My characterization, while capturing the disconnect that developers see in the linkage-fee idea (a supposed link between new development and skyrocketing rents), also left room for the populist critique: Poor people don't buy organic vegetables, yuppies do.

To be fair to developers, though, the linkage fee—which would tax all new development, not just swank new digs in South Lake Union—would be like taxing vegetables in general for a low-income health care plan.

2. Speaking of housing: You might want to move outside of Seattle if you're looking for microhousing, aka, an aPodment. 

While the Seattle City Council cracked down on the popular space-age units last year by putting a 220-square-foot minimum requirement on them (plus a two-sink requirement), the state legislature is moving forward with a bill—it passed the house 91 to 7 and had a hearing in the senate government operations committee yesterday—that would allow much smaller units, 120 square feet. 

However, to avoid a fight with Seattle, the bill exempts cities with populations of more than 125,000. Bellevue would also be exempt from following the rule, but regional cities such as Kirkland, Redmond, and Renton would fit the bill.

4. Speaking of urbanism outside Seattle.

Bike advocacy group Washington Bikes kicked off its two-day bike summit in Olympia yesterday; the bike powwow features forums and workshops on bike infrastructure, bike advocacy (coinciding with today's transportation lobbying day), and specific issues like finding funding for Safe Routes to Schools programs.

Washington Bikes, which has successfully lobbied to fund approximately $100 million in state and federal investments for trails, walking, biking, and Safe Routes to School projects and programs statewide, reports that 75 percent of the 150 people who registered and participated in the summit were not from Seattle.

"So much for biking being all about Seattle, right?" says Washington Bikes statewide policy director Blake Trask.

4. U.S. senator Patty Murray is introducing legislation today that would allow spouses in same-sex couples to access social security benefits.

Currently, state's without marriage equality laws prevent legally married gay couples from accessing their spouse's benefits. Senator Murray's bill, which she's cosponsoring with U.S. senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), would amend the act so that all legally married couples who have moved to states without marriage equality to have access to the benefits.

5. E-cigarette advocates—entrepreneurs and smokers—showed up in full force yesterday to testify against a pair of bills that would put a 95 percent tax on vaping products.

The vapers argue that, unlike traditional cigarettes, their products don't contain "rat poison," Gig Harbor vape entrepreneur Greg Givens says.


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