1. Urbanists weren’t very happy with speaker of the house state representative Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) this past legislative session when he single-handedly killed a tax exemption designed for landlords if they preserved affordable housing.
The city of Seattle—and just about every member of the Seattle delegation (state representatives Noel Frame, Brady Walkinshaw, and Jessyn Farrrell, for example, and literally every single Seattle state senator, including hyper lefty Pramila Jayapal—backed the bill (it passed the senate 36-13.)
The legislation, a key piece of mayor Ed Murray’s HALA plan, would have given a property break to landlords (a taboo in Chopp’s Baby Boom iteration of liberalism) if they preserved 25 percent of their buildings for workforce housing (people making up to 60 percent of the median income, about $43,000 for a family of two.) Chopp wouldn’t let the bill come to the floor. His Baby Boom liberal colleague, state representative Gerry Pollet (D-46, North Seattle), was one house member who was with Chopp.
In its June 28 candidate survey with candidate Marcus Courtney, the AFL-CIO organizer who’s running for an open house seat in Chopp’s 43rd (the other 43rd rep, Walkinshaw, is giving up his seat to run for U.S. house), the Urbanist blog asked Courtney about the affordable housing policy that Chopp killed: “Do you support the preservation tax exemption as applied to both non-profit and private landlords?”
Courtney, who’s duking it out with fellow lefty, homeless advocate Nicole Macri to make it through the primary, told the urbanists at The Urbanist “yes.”
However, at the May 18 King County Young Democrats debate (on video tape, go to the 29 minute mark ) Courtney had the exact opposite position and said: “I would have agreed with speaker Chopp on that bill. I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors in Seattle and one of the things I hear continually is ‘we have concerns that too much is being given to developers, too much power is being given to landlords.’ I think he’s [Chopp] absolutely correct. I think he’s making the right decision.”
All the other candidates, including Macri, told the King County Young Democrats they disagreed with Chopp, though Macri wanted to eat her cake and have it too. She echoed Chopp’s arguments, saying the city was wrong to lead with “a giveaway to landlords” in Olympia this session; she blamed landlords for the affordability crisis and said, “I totally respect the speaker’s position on why he chose not to do that.”
A third main candidate in the race, trial attorney Daniel Shih, said the policy recommendation was “part of the consensus plan, and we’d need a pretty good reason to oppose that, and I don’t think there was a strong enough reason here. I would not have done what the speaker did. We need to deliver on the [city’s consensus] policy requests, and give the city the flexibility it needs to implement its housing plan. We had a city with a plan.” He did throw in for good measure, though, that he thought the policy was “a giveaway.”
Urbanists take note, though, one candidate totally got it. Sameer Ranade, a staffer at the Washington Environmental Council, was the only candidate who noted the broader view of the city’s housing plan, telling the King County Young Democrats: “Not only is more housing critical for equity to allow more people of all income levels to live in our city, but it’s also a very critical low-carbon solution. We won’t achieve the 21st Century clean energy, low-carbon economy we need, if we do not allow for denser housing.”
2. Speaking of demonizing landlords and developers: Earlier this week—after reporting on former Starbucks president Howard Behar’s boisterous ALL CAPS letter to city hall criticizing a secured scheduling proposal—I subsequently tweeted that people should notice something else about Behar’s letter. At the end of his letter, Behar slipped into a general critique of city hall and bashed them for “allowing developers free reign.”
Corporatist Behar’s overlap with lefty populists such as Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox with that type of rhetoric struck me as noteworthy.
So, I followed up with Behar to ask him what he meant; did he, like Seattle’s old guard, lesser-Seattle lefties, oppose HALA’s upzones?
It turns out Behar lives in the Escala, the Belltown condo building at 4th and Virginia, where residents are fighting a nearby development for crowding their building. (Heidi Groover at the Stranger wrote about the Escala group’s anti-density stand here.)
Behar tells me he doesn’t oppose density nor HALA nor developers.
“Yes I do live in Escala, and we are not at all against HALA, as a matter of fact we support it. What we are trying to do it get the city planners and politicians to understand that the city has to be livable. Build all the high rise residential that you want or need, but do it with thought and with human beings in mind. We are not talking about views…. No one that I know expects that to be protected. If you want that, live on the west side of first avenue and no guarantees there either. What we are talking about is spacing between residential towers. Would you really want to live 20 feet away from another building with people looking into your bedroom and living room windows….shades will be down all the time. Hell, with a long stick we could probably pass the cocktails across the alley. What is happening at Escala is that a developer wants to build a building 20 feet away that basically covers that whole east side of our building blocking all the light and airflow.”
He doesn’t like out of town developers, though. “We love developers…..particularly the good ones who really care about Seattle or the cities they build in, not the carpetbaggers that are coming to just make a buck and don’t give a damn about the city or its people,” Behar said.
Behar was at this week’s design review commission meeting on the new development and reports that when he pointed out, “not one committee member asked a question about about the effect of the new proposal on people… the chair of the commission said we are not here for that. Really since when have buildings not been about serving people. This town has lost its values.”
Certainly, more density will also serve more people, though.