Morning Fizz

New Housing Data Challenges Conventional Liberal Wisdom in Seattle

New rental market data, a new approach to drug addiction, and a new cause for labor.

By Josh Feit March 22, 2016

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1. A new report from Dupre + Scott, the go-to source for rent information in Seattle, has some counter-intuitive news: new development is slowing rent growth.

Actually, that’s not counter-intuitive. Econ 101 says: as producers increase supply, costs go down. However, this bit of elementary economics jars conventional wisdom in Seattle about housing. Developers are seen as bad guys who are driving up costs.

But despite, the ideological bias against developers, Dupre + Scott have data showing that Econ 101 holds and increased development is slowing rents.

They write:

Typically low vacancies come with increasing rents. However, there is evidence to suggest that new construction may be having some impact on slowing rent growth. Despite vacancies in Downtown remaining at a low 4.4 percent (slightly higher than the previous year), apartment rent growth for Downtown moderated somewhat, with 4 percent growth since March 2015. This compares to 9 percent rent growth regionally. As Downtown apartment construction began to take-off in 2012-2013, the rent increases on Downtown units began slowing from 9 percent to 4 percent per year.

Another surprise: The report also found that the increasing production rates—more than 6,000 new units are queued up in the next two years—vacancy rates are also low.

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2. Speaking of counter-intuitive (but backed up by the data): Allowing drug use, lowers crime rates. That was one of the points made by Liz Evans, the founder and former director of InSite, the safe injection site in Vancouver, who presented to enthusiastic city council members during yesterday’s human services committee meeting.

Evans noted that drug related crime has dropped dramatically in the drug epicenter where the site is located in the Downtown Eastside.  

Council member Mike O’Brien asked the key question to getting something like this up and running in Seattle: “When it gets to which neighborhood [it] will be in, I imagine we will hear concerns from that neighborhood…do you have thoughts on what’s an appropriate place to locate it and the process you went through for finding your location?”

Evans said it makes most sense to site the facility—which she stressed should not be combined with a separate health facility, but should be specifically designed for injecting or smoking drugs—“I think you need to focus your efforts where people are…you need to have these programs where people are using now.” Allen noted that Vancouver has a major drug epicenter, but that in Seattle (sorry, Mike) “maybe you need two or three different little smaller sites.”

Evans's presentation to council is required viewing.

3. Speaking of council briefings worth checking out: The council’s civil rights committee is taking up another cutting edge issue today: “secured scheduling.”

Labor group Working Washington will be presenting about an issue that’s being billed as the next $15—passing laws to prevent fast food restaurants and other service industry businesses from upending workers’ lives with fluctuating and scaled back schedules.

“A living wage is wonderful,” Starbucks worker Darrion Sjoquist told Fizz in advance of today’s hearing, “if you’re working enough hours to make a living wage.”

Also presenting at today’s meeting—David Jones, who runs two Seattle Subway franchises. From his POV, it’s the workers who demand flexible scheduling, not the businesses.

However, as Working Washington is likely to point out: right now only employers have the power to make the call on last-minute scheduling even though flexibility doesn’t just mean late-breaking changes in business—it means changes in employees’ lives too. The regulations council is considering would presumably still allow workers to make schedule changes, but it would rejigger the balance of power by making employers pay part-time wages on hours lost when management forces random schedule changes.

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