Morning Fizz

Key Affordable Housing Legislation Moves Forward in Olympia

Murray bill makes cutoff, Murray makes snarky comments, GOP makes unions nervous, and Metro director makes it to Vancouver.

By Josh Feit February 10, 2016

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 1. Despite yesterday’s Fizz report about creeping opposition to mayor Ed Murray’s housing affordability bill in Olympia, the ways and means committee passed the bill 17-5 yesterday, the last day to pass bills out of ways and means, sending it to the senate floor.

The bill gives property owners a tax break if they make 25 percent of their current units affordable at 60 percent of the median income, about $43,000 for a family of two.

In the runup to the senate vote, Murray sent a scalding personal letter to Seattle state representative Gerry Pollet (D-46, North Seattle), one of the critics of the bill in the house, featuring fact checks like this one:

“Your email expresses a concern that the bill fails to include ‘strong auditing provisions’ to ensure that landlords using the tax incentives actually provide affordable housing. But that is simply incorrect. Section 15 of the bill includes significant auditing measures by requiring an annual report from landlords that would include annual income certification for tenants living in low-income units. Further, if property owners fail to comply with the certification and affordability provisions or health and safety requirements, section 16 of the bill allows cities to cancel a property's tax exemption and impose a substantial penalty of all back taxes owed (going back to the start of the exemption), interest, and a twenty percent penalty…”

The letter went above and beyond the fact check, though, with some curt digs, such as: "I am particularly confused because your email suggests that 'the King County Auditor's proposed bill has some strong language' on this subject, while you think the PTE bill does not. I assume that you mean the King County Assessor, not the Auditor, because to our knowledge the Auditor has made no proposal on this issue…

"You also expressed a concern about ensuring that landlords accept Section 8 vouchers. As you should know, the City of Seattle fully supports statewide legislation to prohibit Source of Income Discrimination, including discrimination based on the use of Section 8 vouchers. And, as you should also know, Seattle has had a local prohibition on Section 8 discrimination for many years. So adding such a provision to this bill will have no impact whatsoever in your district in Seattle."

Another fact check—or perhaps pithy gotcha—is also in order for another critic of the bill, affordable housing advocate John Fox. Fox sent a letter to the legislators condemning the legislation saying that making 25 percent of units affordable would be offset by the need to jack up rents in the majority the building—ultimately raising rents citywide.

But this was the very same point Fox’s archrivals, developers, made last year when they opposed Fox’s push for a blanket linkage fee on development. Developers argued that subsidizing units that way would trickle down in higher rents, a point lefty’s like Fox seemed to dismissed.

2. Most public employees would be required to recertify their union representation every four years under a GOP bill headed to the full Senate floor.

By a voice vote split along party lines yesterday, the senate ways and means committee approved Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-16, Walla Walla) legislation requiring all unionized state, local, state ferry, community and four-year college, and certified school district employees to conduct recertification elections of their union representation every four years.

At an earlier commerce and labor committee meeting, state senator Steve Conway (D-27, Tacoma) argued that the bill’s purpose is solely to pursue a GOP ideological agenda. He said no managers nor management groups pertaining to public employees have backed this bill. “It’s not broken,” Conway said of the current practices.

At that same earlier committee meeting, state senator John Braun (R-20, Centralia), countered: “This is about (union) members voting on the way they like to be represented… … There is an ideology at stake. It’s representative democracy.”

3. The next neck to watch in Olympia? Dorothy Teeter, executive director of the state Health Care Authority.

The GOP is unhappy that her Medicaid estimates have been off by a few hundred million dollars during the last few years. And despite being in her post for about three years, the Senate—ominously, given last Friday's sudden assault on department of transportation director Lynn Peterson, has not confirmed Teeter’s appointment yet.

On Tuesday at their weekly press session, GOP senate leaders were noncommittal on whether Teeter’s job is in danger, other than saying they have not discussed in in their caucus yet. They did mention unhappiness with the health care authority’s inaccurate Medicaid estimates. 

4. Seattle Transit Blog had the scoop last night that Metro bus director Kevin Desmond is leaving to take a job in Vancouver, B.C. to head up that city's transit agency TransLink.

Coming a few days after the Peterson news, Seattle transit advocates are certainly losing some standout leaders. 

5. Be sure to check out yesterday afternoon's guest editorial from Downtown Seattle Association head Jon Scholes who argues that the metro revolution will not be iterative.

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