Homeless encampments will continue

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If Seattle politicians think that campers like Ronnie are going to disappear, they are delusional. (Photo by Rex Hohlbein)

City Hall must stop harassing homeless campers and learn to help them

By George Howland Jr

Here’s the big news out of the 2017 One Night Count of the homeless: illegal encampments will continue. It’s a simple problem of numbers: too many homeless people and too little money to help and house them. Instead of harassing homeless campers, City Hall needs to figure out how to make the best of this tragic situation.

The first number: the best estimate of the number of homeless people in Seattle is 8,522. That figure comes from the chart on page 9 of All Home’s 2017 Count Us In report. Of those, 3,857 are living outside and 4,665 are living in shelters, safe havens and transitional housing.

The estimated cost of building a new studio apartment of affordable housing in Seattle is $250,000 (more for larger units). To build all of Seattle’s homeless persons an apartment would cost over $2 billion dollars. The city does not have that kind of money. The entire city’s general-fund budget is $1.2 billion. And it’s not like the city can stop paving streets, operating libraries, maintaining parks and paying police officers and firefighters.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, George Howland articles, Homelessness, Neighborhoods, Politics

Cramming more growth into Seattle does not prevent sprawl; quite the opposite

The urbanist vision of adding more density in Seattle and spending billions on light rail to move people into out of the core dooms the larger region to an auto-dependent future, longer commutes, more carbon emissions and more global warming

by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox, reprinted from June issues of City Living and other Pacific Publishing newspaper

In a recent New York Times column, “Seattle climbs but Austin sprawls: the myth of the return to the cities”, author Jed Kolko musters data indicating the country is “continuing to become more suburban, and at an accelerating pace.” Contrary to what many planners assume, he argues, the prevailing land use pattern is “growing out, not up,” with the average density falling in 41 of 51 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2016. However, among the ten exceptions, Seattle saw the highest rise in average density, up 3 percent over the period.

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While the City of Seattle indeed is growing up with a record increase in jobs, housing, and population (now over 700,000 and leading the nation in residential growth according to a recent Seattle Times story), Kolko communicates a false notion that somehow we here in the Northwest have overcome sprawl and all its trappings (longer commutes, auto-dependency, and increased carbon emissions). Nothing could be further from the truth.

For much of the Puget Sound basin we are sprawling even faster than Seattle is densifying. This is painfully obvious to those who live and work out there where traffic congestion is worse than even the I-5 corridor commute into and out of Seattle. For doubters, we dare you to take a drive at rush hour to Snohomish (as John does frequently to visit his sister), or any other smaller suburban city around the region.
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Posted in Uncategorized

Mayoral hopeful Hasegawa on neighborhood councils, density and a municipal bank

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Bob Hasegawa wants to bring “transformational change” to City Hall.

State Senator Bob Hasegawa, D-11th District, is running for Seattle mayor and critiques HALA, wants to empower neighborhoods and levy impact fees on new development

By Neil Powers

Since 2005, Bob Hasegawa, 64, has been a member of the Washington state Legislature, first as a state Representative then as a state Senator. Hasegawa is a lifelong resident of Beacon Hill and before joining the legislature, he was a leader of the reform wing of the Teamsters Union, locally and nationally. His signature campaign issue is creating the country’s first city owned bank.

How would a municipal bank build affordable housing?

Hasegawa says, “You have to get smart people who are familiar with public finance and banking and understand the politics too and just put them together.” He adds that he has the right people already lined up.

Hasegawa uses the example of the seven-year, $290 million housing levy approved by Seattle voters in August 2016. Instead of simply building housing with that money, he says, “we might do much better if we capitalized the public bank with that money and lent [the money] out.”

“The bank would be the depository for all of our tax revenues that are flowing. [Every] $100 million leverages about $1 billion in lending capacity. We could build a lot of [housing] units for $1 billion dollars. [The bank] will make revenue for the city without raising taxes and it drastically [increases] our financing capacity; that’s just what banks do. We can seriously kick start addressing the housing shortage.”

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Posted in Affordable Housing, Budget, City Hall, Density, Election 2017, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning

City Council candidate Pat Murakami wants to restore the voice of the neighborhoods.  Can she unseat incumbent Lorena Gonzalez?

Guest column:  Susanna Lin writes about the race for city council Seat 9

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Pat Murakami is running for City Council position 9.

Ah, it’s election time again.  For those of us who care about local politics (and you should too) it’s a buzz of excitement with numerous candidates who have entered the race (and at least one who has left it).  Every day, more possible futures unfold with some campaigns gaining steam and others struggling. 

The first interesting development in this year’s race to City Hall was an announcement by Councilmember Tim Burgess that he would not be seeking reelection for his at-large position 8 seat.  A laundry list of candidates then jumped into the race vying to replace him.  

And if you pay even the smallest attention to local politics, you know that next came a decision by Mayor Murray not to seek reelection with charges of alleged child sexual abuse hanging over his head.  Even though he stepped down just days before the filing deadline, it opened up the ‘big seat’ at City Hall to a dizzying list of candidates.

But I think another race also deserves our attention, and that is the less covered race to that other at-large City Council seat, position 9.  This seat is currently being held by incumbent Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez who is running for reelection and who is not embroiled in a headline-grabbing scandal.  Can she quietly walk her way to another term at City Hall?  Challenger and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami hopes the answer is no.

Gonzalez has shown a tendency to keep her head down and does not comment frequently on development and the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) upzones.  The key element of HALA is across the board upzones (bigger buildings, denser development) and all we get in return is 2-11 percent of the new units required at affordable rents or developers pay a fee to build affordable housing elsewhere.  That small affordable housing requirement would likely not even replace all of the naturally occurring affordable housing that would be lost to the bulldozer.  Not to mention that other cities with similar programs require developers set aside 10-30 percent of their units as affordable.  

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Posted in City Hall, Election 2017, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning

Market-based, mission-driven developer dramatically lowers costs of building affordable housing

D Street Salal

Justus built D Street Salal apartments without public money and at half the cost of government-funded development. (Relay Resources)

Portland homeless advocate and builder has a model that he wants Seattle to adopt

By George Howland Jr

From 1992-2007, Rob Justus worked to get homeless people off the streets of Portland and into housing. “I left when we were struggling more and more with finding places for people to live,” recalls Justus. He didn’t, however, walk away from the problem. Instead, he developed his own model for building affordable housing that he says cut costs from Portland City Hall Housing Bureau’s (like Seattle’s Office of Housing) estimate of $200,000 a unit to $100,000 a door. He is already working with people in Bellingham and Vancouver, Washington to replicate the model. Now he wants to crack the region’s big provider of low-income housing: Seattle.

Non-profit developers of low-income housing in Seattle and Portland have strong concerns about Justus’ approach. Martha McLennan, Executive Director of Northwest Housing Alternatives, doesn’t believe Justus’ projects will hold up over time. “Does it make sense to build things we are not going to be happy with in 30 to 40 years?”

Says Justus, “We build to a 50-year standard.”

In 2009, Justus started his company, Home First Developer Partners (Home First). He knew he wanted to provide housing for people who make 30 percent—60 percent of Portland’s median income or $15,400—$31,000 for individuals. He calculated the rents that people in that income range could pay: $385—$770 for an individual and worked backwards from there.

Since developing his formula, Justus has built 233 units of affordable housing at an average construction cost of $90,000 each. Home First has an additional 311 units either under construction or permitted. “If someone is willing to have a modest return, they can do this all day long,” says Justus.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, George Howland articles, Homelessness

Talking with Mayoral Candidate Cary Moon

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photo from KING-5 News

Neil Powers, writing for Outside City Hall, interviews Cary Moon: she won’t be talking about her signature anti-tunnel work

Outside City Hall met with Moon last week in a downtown café to talk about other pressing issues. She talks of addressing racism, homelessness, taking on zombie economics of the speculative housing boom, and needing four times as much affordable housing.

Take on Speculation–Push Varieties of Affordable Housing

Moon wants to take on housing speculation to make a dent in the affordability problem in Seattle. “I believe a lot of the problems in our housing market right now are speculators,” she says. We (Seattle housing) are the hottest investment around and we need to put disincentives, really firm in place immediately, like Vancouver (B.C.) did where you put a tax on corporate and non-resident ownership….a tax on vacant property (homes). She wants additional revenue via a luxury real estate excise tax.

Moon wants to see the city collect data including how many housing properties are vacant and are not used as a main home. “We could be measuring how many properties are being bought by Limited Liability Companies, shell companies, and Real Estate Investment Trusts,” Moon says.

Moon wants housing options. “Do more land trusts, co-ops, co-housing facilities where philanthropists partner and they secure the land and then somebody develops the housing,” she adds. Housing is affordable because the resident is only paying for the cost of the housing, not the cost of the land which is a big part of the price situation.

She wants to address the “missing middle”, people not below median income but also needing affordable homes. So what can we do to make it easier for folks to build backyard houses, apodments, duplexes, townhouses?” she asks.

Watch out for Zombie Economics

Moon is skeptical of the housing supply and demand model. We see neo-liberalism is a zombie form of economic thinking because we are living the impact of that way of thinking,” she says. We need to replace it with something better.

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Posted in Density, Election 2017, Politics

The parents of Bertha’s expensive journey

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The tunnel: $3.2 Billion and 30-40 percent less capacity

Seattle’s biggest boondoggle and two of the candidates for Mayor must shoulder some of the blame 

by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox, reprinted from Pacific Publishing newspapers 

In April, the world’s largest boring machine, ‘Bertha’, finally broke through just west of Aurora, completing its 1.7-mile underground journey. However, the tunnel itself won’t be carrying vehicles until 2019–four years after its scheduled 2015 completion date.

The State and City likely will be in court for years fighting contractors over who will pay the estimated half billion dollars in cost overruns associated with the delay and fixing the drill, but we bet taxpayers in the end will get stiffed. That will bring total costs of the project well over $3.2 billion, including boring, viaduct removal, and surrounding surface street improvements—perhaps the priciest single piece of city infrastructure ever.

To top it off, when completed the tunnel will have 30% less vehicle capacity than the current viaduct. And with tolling required to cover some of its costs, planners say half the 100,000 vehicles now using the viaduct will divert to I-5 and surface streets that are already in near gridlock.

Consider that a ‘retrofit’ of the viaduct would have cost about $1.2 billion–$2 billion less than the tunnel–and would have accommodated an equal or greater flow of traffic, allowed freight to continue move and effectively preserved the waterfront’s historic character. Perhaps best of all, it would all be in our rear view mirror, completed perhaps a decade ago.

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Posted in City Hall, Politics, Transportation