Morning Fizz

With 7 Council Members on His Side, Murray Reaches New Bargain on Original Developer Grand Bargain

Murray saves HALA, council delays Sawant legislation, and O'Brien caught in housing irony.

By Josh Feit October 18, 2016

Fizz ya6qpo


1. Mayor Ed Murray’s housing affordability and livability agenda  “grand bargain” between affordable housing advocates and developers—where developers get extra height in return for building and/or funding affordable housing—was on shaky ground during the last month when the lefty side of the deal started making new demands to ratchet up the specific rates developers would have to pay.

However, Murray has evidently reached a new bargain on the bargain, getting seven council members, including the head of the special HALA committee (and a close ally to the lefty side) Mike O’Brien, to sign off on HALA 2.0.

The new deal 1) creates more payment tiers in spots like the U. District where developers are actually getting more height…and 2) puts development in neighborhoods such as the Rainier Valley that are more at risk of being upended by displacement into higher payment tiers to reflect rising rents of pending gentrification. The re-bargain also adds 200-300 affordable units to the original 6,000-unit mandate that developers are supposed to make good on.

Per the original HALA deal, the payments or on-site performance are mandated whether the developers take the height bonuses or not.

The two council members who didn't sign off on Murray's grand update? Developer antagonists Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant.

2. The city council voted yesterday to delay Sawant legislation that would cap tenant move in fees; the legislation caps nonrefundable move-in fees (namely, background checks) at 10 percent of first month’s rent while also saying the total cost of a tenant’s security deposit plus the move-in fee may not exceed first month’s rent. Additionally, landlords must offer tenants a six-month plan to pay the security deposit, the move-in fees, and last month’s rent.

Sawant condemned her colleagues for being in thrall to landlord contributors and lobbyists— and singled out council member Debora Juarez by name for orchestrating the delay behind her back. Juarez told the small crowd of Sawant supporters heckling her in the chamber that she had talked to council member Lisa Herbold, the co-sponsor, and that she considers Sawant a friend.

Those on the 7-2 side of the vote to delay (only Mike O’Brien voted with Sawant against the delay) said they supported the legislation, but wanted to make sure department funding was locked in place. Council member Lorena Gonzalez also said she wanted to add some provisions to further protect tenants such as putting in safeguards against landlord retaliation and making sure interest on move in deposits goes to the tenant; currently it doesn’t.

Council president Bruce Harrell, citing Sawant as a leader on tenant issues, sent the legislation back to Sawant’s energy and environment committee.

Herbold, the main target of landlord PAC money against her during last year’s election, by the way, voted to support the delay herself after being assured it was headed back to Sawant's committee be shored up and then sent back to full council for a vote. No specific date was given, though it will happen during the next month.

Herbold tells Fizz: “In exchange for my vote, the supporters of the motion agreed to send it back to Sawant's committee—instead of [land use] or [civil rights]—two [original] options suggested to me. And that [budget chair Tim] Burgess would allow a non-budget committee meeting to be scheduled during the budget process.”

This second point is important because the law was set to go into effect in January. That’s still possible if the bill gets taken up during November's process and there’s "no true delay for renters,” Herbold says.  

Bottom line, the delay doesn’t have practical implications yet

My sense is that it was more optical: Sawant had been criticized for letting activists from the Washington Community Action Network, who support the bill, sit at the table during a council hearing on the legislation. I think this was payback. The Seattle Times went as far as to say Washington CAN had written the bill for Sawant. This isn’t true, and I had an opportunity to debunk that claim last week on KUOW.  

3. I’ve been praising council member Mike O’Brien lately for his stance on homeless encampments.

Now, here’s a criticism: It’s hard to miss the irony that his central argument for limiting sweeps is that there just isn’t enough space in the city for homeless people to sleep if all park land is taken off the table. However, isn’t O’Brien the same council member who’s helped exacerbate the affordable housing crisis by limiting development space, by putting the brakes on pod apartments and small-lot development?

Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez takes O’Brien to task on that very point over on his Smart Growth Seattle blog.  

Show Comments