Morning Fizz

Chopp Has Amendments to Murray Housing Bill

Chopp only wants tax breaks for affordable housing nonprofits, Republicans want to exclude nonprofits from pregnancy worker fairness act, and Republicans have to dismiss independent investigator for over-the-top email.

By Josh Feit February 25, 2016

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 1. State representative Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) says he wants to amend mayor Ed Murray’s affordable housing bill by refocusing the bill to prioritize nonprofit developers; Murray is seeking tax breaks for property owners who set aside 25 percent of their units for affordable housing.

Yesterday, I reported that despite overwhelming support from senate liberals, who helped pass Murray’s original bill out of the Republican senate 26-13, with only right wing Republicans voting no, Chopp was against the bill.

Murray’s bill, viewed as a component of his housing affordability and livability agenda, also has support from Seattle progressive advocacy groups such as Puget Sound Sage. The bill is being sponsored in the house by freshman Seattle state representative Noel Frame (D-36, Ballard), who told me yesterday she’s “doing everything I can to move this bill.” (Chopp and Frame did not get along, by the way, when Frame was the director of Progressive Majority, the liberal advocacy group she ran before becoming a state representative this year.)

Chopp told me late yesterday: “I’ve spent the last 35 years fighting on behalf of the homeless and have a long record of creating affordable housing in Seattle and the region.”

He went on to explain that he doesn’t like that Murray’s bill applies to profit property owners (rather than just exclusively focusing on nonprofits), nor does he like that Murray extends eligibility for the tax break to units available up to 60 percent of the median income, rather than putting the ceiling at 50 percent of median income—about $43,000 for a family of two versus about $35,000 for a family of two. Murray’s bill goes to the 60 percent in “high property value areas”; 30 to 60 percent is considered “workforce housing” under Seattle’s affordable housing policies.

Chopp told me:

“I support an amendment to the bill to focus the tool on non-profit community housing organizations, which will ensure the public investment builds public equity in the property and ensures that the housing stays affordable for the long-term."

The problem with tailoring the bill to nonprofit developers, though, is that it could limit the policy  to a “minuscule” impact on the market, city sources say. According to the city, limiting the break to nonprofits only covers about 300 units—while broadening it to the whole market could create 3,000 to 4,000 units. Additionally, nonprofit units are already tax exempt, so Chopp's change wouldn't create any new units in the first place.

Murray's bill is also supported by a parade of nonprofit developers who are part of his HALA coalition, including: the Housing Development Consortium, Plymouth Housing Group, Homestead, HomeSight, and Mercy Housing. The Tenants' Union has also signed a letter supporting the original bill.

This bill has a hearing in the housing committee this morning.

2. Women's rights advocates are nervous that legislation to guarantee the rights of pregnant workers is getting amended by Republicans to abort its effectiveness. 

The amended legislation would exclude nonprofits as well as businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Nonprofit employees make up 9.5 percent of the state's workforce, and nonprofits include huge institutions like hospitals. Supporters of the original legislation complain that there is no precedent for excluding nonprofits from antidiscrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The scaled back proposal also limits the possible accommodations that must be given to pregnant workers mandated in the original version by limiting accommodations to a specific list rather than allowing flexibility for on-the-ground exemptions determined by the workplace and by requiring a doctor's note for accommodations, for example.

3. The state senate GOP's concomitant investigation into the department of corrections eff-up (they don't trust the governor's own independent investigation) is running into embarrassing snafus of its own. The GOP dismissed one of their own investigators today saying he sent an inappropriate email to the DOC that accused the governor of "throwing [people] under the bus."

The investigator, Monty Gray of Davis Wright Tremaine, said he had "strong opinions about the fairness" of that.

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