Morning Fizz

Council Candidates Reintroduce Blanket Linkage Fee on Developers

A handful of council candidates urge council to revisit linkage fee; plus another campaign mailer award

By Josh Feit July 30, 2015

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1. A group of city council candidates joined Position Eight at-large candidate Jon Grant yesterday to back his alternative plan to mayor Ed Murray's HALA committee recommendations; Grant, a tenants’ rights advocate, was on the HALA committee and says he supports the plan’s call for inclusionary zoning fees (a mandatory fee on development for affordable housing in exchange for upzones), but he says any affordable housing funding plan should also include a “linkage fee.” A linkage fee charges developers without including an upzone on the grounds that development itself is raising housing prices. Grant and council member Kshama Sawant unveiled this plan several weeks ago.

Yesterday, as the August 4 primary drew closer, several council candidates—Lisa Herbold in West Seattle’s District One (the only frontrunner among the group), Tammy Morales and Josh Farris in Southeast Seattle’s District Two, Michael Maddux in District Four (Eastlake northeast to Sand Point up to 85th), Mercedes Elizalde in North Seattle’s District Five—announced their support for the plan.

The linkage fee idea was dropped early on in the HALA committee discussions because members believed adding a blanket fee on development would actually stall the very development that’s supposed to help fund affordable housing in the first place.

There were actually divergent commitments to the idea yesterday. At-large Position Nine candidate Bill Bradburd (who was at yesterday’s press conference after also joining Grant two weeks ago) was all-in, for example, and said there was “enough momentum in new development” that there was room “to skim some off to pay for affordable housing.” Grant estimates the linkage fee would bring in an extra $1 billion adding to the inclusionary zoning plan’s estimated $541 million.

Maddux, however, saw the linkage fee as perhaps more of a stop gap emergency measure until the inclusionary mandate could be formalized, which the council says could take up to two years.

Other elements of Grant’s proposal include: lifting the ban on rent control (Herbold said lifting the ban would simply allow Seattle to have its own discussion on the issue); a batch of tenant protections such as protecting deposits and increasing relocation assistance; a city-funded principal reduction program for strapped homeowners; a municipal bond for low-income housing; and one-for-one replacement guarantees for affordable housing.

What the press really wanted to know, though, was the candidates’ positions on HALA’s most controversial proposal: allowing multi-family housing in single-family zones. However, the question became irrelevant a few hours later when Mayor Murray himself shot down his committee’s own near unanimous 21-1 vote for that idea.

Sawant is hoping the council will now override HALA’s rejection of the linkage fee, telling the press yesterday there was “a need to pass a robust linkage fee…to help generate funds for affordable housing,” adding: “we need to have developers share the cost to mitigate the increased demand for affordable housing created by the job growth and development.” (Frankly, the HALA committee’s commercial-only linkage fee—recommended in combo with the inclusionary charge—actually seems more on point when it comes to the idea that there’s a link between new jobs and housing costs.) “We can do this now and not put it off,” Sawant concluded. “This year a new linkage fee could be passed.”

The council actually passed a resolution for a linkage fee (7-2) late last year, but HALA’s inclusionary zoning idea replaced it in a “grand bargain” between affordable housing advocates and for-profit developers that gave both sides a win: the mandate for affordable housing for the housing advocates (the inclusionary zoning requirement calls for 5 to 7 percent of a project to include affordable housing at 60 percent of median income or the equivalent payment into a housing fund) and the default upzone for developers.

With Murray pulling the plug on HALA’s recommendation to add flexibility to single family zones in the face of populist pressure, however, there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll stand by the inclusionary zoning recommendation in the face of loud voices like Sawant’s and Bradburd’s.

2. In another installment of Fizz’s campaign mailer awards, this season’s Misfire Award goes to Tim Burgess.

A target practice icon for “Public Safety?”

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