Why Alex Pedersen is the best choice for the District 4 Council seat

Many progressives are skipping over the avowed socialist and labor anointed candidate “because unlike those two, Alex Pedersen has chosen to work with anti-displacement, historic preservation, neighborhood, and small businesses groups fighting runaway growth and gentrification.”

Alex_Pedersen

Alex Pedersen

In terms of fighting to ensure developers won’t continue to run roughshod over the historic, social, and physical character or our communities (and drive a deeper wedge between rich and poor, and people of color in our city) – only Alex Pedersen among those running in District 4 has stepped up.  As he has said to us and in forums, his priority will be addressing the impacts of growth on our communities and being a leading voice in the battle against displacement.

And it’s not just talk. Pedersen has actively demonstrated a willingness over many years, attending and participating in neighborhood meetings, calling electeds and staff, testifying, even hosting his own neighborhood blog featuring the impacts of growth on District 4 neighborhoods, and in other ways backing community efforts to rein in and manage growth.  He openly backs developer impact fees and creation of a historic district for University Way, aka “the Ave” and backs a strong tree preservation ordinance, and a requirement that developers replace 1 for 1 any low cost housing they remove.  For Pedersen, these things must come first, not after, still more displacement inducing upzones.

By contrast, Shaun Scott, the “Socialist” in the District 4 race,  has chosen to use his candidacy to launch a new wing of socialism: the pro-density supply-side and trickle-down wing.  How someone can subscribe to any brand of socialism while backing policies that literally hand over our communities to developers and speculators escapes us; a weird mash-up of Karl Marx and Milton Friedman.  Worse, anyone who doesn’t align with his laissez-faire notions on growth and the housing market, including folks simply looking for tools to preserve the affordability and character of their communities while growth occurs, Scott either avoids or ‘hint hint’ they must either be NIMBY’s or racists.  Put literally, his stance is anti-existing low cost housing, anti-small business and anti-neighborhood.

Scott recently told a large crowd attending a candidate’s forum in the UDistrict that he supports another round of upzones for the neighborhood including areas along University Way (The Ave) and north of 52nd.  That’s despite the fact that only two and a half years ago, over half of the UDistrict was upzoned for hi-rise development and now is drowning in runaway displacement inducing growth.  These newest upzones threaten loss of a dozen or more historic buildings, displacement of many of the 100-150 small businesses (most immigrant and minority-owned) and 400-500 units of existing low cost housing.

The future of the University District – its character, affordability, and rich history – all will depend on who is elected this time to fill the 4th District Seat. When attempting to defend his indefensible stance, Scott blurted out to one of the Ave small businesses following the UDistrict candidate forum: “we’re going to upzone every inch of Seattle”. 

The same can be said about Emily Myers, supposedly labor’s candidate, who got up and left the UDistrict candidate’s forum before she was required to state her position on the UDistrict upzones.  But when cornered earlier by the President of the UDistrict Small Business Association, and asked whether she would back their efforts to preserve historic buildings and legacy businesses, Myers sidestepped the question.  And this was just before she held an unannounced fundraiser at his bar.  She too has riffed off the tawdry meme that anyone standing in the way of upzones (guilty only of caring about what happens to their community) is racist.

Pedersen draws support from some of the city’s most progressive leaders like Nick Licata, Gerry Pollett, and Peter Steinbrueck, and was endorsed by the 46th District Dem’s (one of the city’s most progressive Democratic Party organizations), and he’s bringing down a few endorsements from labor unions as well.

And yes, Pedersen has also been endorsed by the Downtown Chamber crowd – making this the first (and likely our  last) time backing someone drawing their support. So what’s going on? Put simply, the downtown business crowd is so freaked out at the thought of electing another avowed “Socialist” or “the labor candidate” they’ve failed to look beneath the surface – to see the degree to which both Scott and Myers – by signing on to a developer driven agenda – have warped what it truly means to be progressive.

Posted in City Hall, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Politics, University District, Upzoning

The UN says residential displacement undermines human rights: so are city leaders guilty of human rights violations?

UN2

“From mass forced evictions to make way for luxury developments, to nameless corporations purchasing real estate from remote boardrooms, to empty homes and people pushed out of their communities because they simply could not afford to live there…” United Nations Human Rights Office of High Commissioner

The United Nations Human Rights Office could very well have been writing about Seattle’s housing market and locally elected leaders pushing displacement inducing upzones for our neighborhoods. In a recent press statement two UN agencies including it’s Human Rights Office announced release of a special report outlining the process whereby “existing neighborhoods located in ‘prime land’ are subject to evictions and displacement to make way for speculative investment. Residents are often rendered homeless, replaced by luxury housing…”  They went on to warn that governments have “human rights obligations to regulate investment in residential real estate so that it supports the right to adequate housing and in no way undermines it”.

As we’ve recently reported, according to the city’s own data, the great majority of sites subject to the recent ‘MHA’ city-wide upzoning and identified as “likely to be redeveloped” are concentrated in low income and minority neighborhoods.  Meanwhile, the most vocal supporters of those upzones, such as councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda have resisted attempts even to mitigate the effect of these upzones on existing low cost housing. Mosqueda has said in committee she doubts residential displacement even exists (see March 6th council land use committee video – begins about 35 minutes in).  Given their influence over several other councilmembers, Councilmember Herbold’s anti-displacement legislation requiring developers to replace “one-for-one” low cost housing they destroy currently has been placed on hold.

Meanwhile, Mosqueda and a few other councilmembers are rushing forward with still more upzones – this time for the University District.  The District 4 interim councilmember Pacheco also seems to be going along with the flow. These upzones threaten to displace dozens of small businesses and cause the loss several hundred units of low cost housing.  This is in a city where already there is a homeless crisis – directly attributable to displacement inducing redevelopment.

Since 2016 , over 2900 housing units – most lower density affordable rentals – have been torn down for market rate and luxury homes.  An even greater number of low cost rentals have been lost of speculative redevelopment – the buying and selling of residential properties and flipping by investors – driving up rents and forcing mass evictions.  Upzones simply encourage these trends and pour fuel on the fire. For every one unit of public or “social” housing the city produces, we lose 2-3 times that number to demolition and speculation; a direct by-product of conscious decisions by our electeds to upzone without any measures taken to prevent the displacement it causes.

So we’ll let you be the judge.  Read the attached summary of the UN’s press statement and if you have time read their full report: “Access to justice for the right to housing”.  Then tell us if the following statement is true or not:  By failing to regulate and instead turning our housing market into a haven for real estate investors, flippers, and developers…  our locally elected leaders are guilty of human rights violations.

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, University District, Upzoning

City Council plans changes to Seattle’s “intent to sell” law giving tenants (and nonprofits) more time to buy their low income apartments before owners can sell to developers

zillowforsaleapt

Instead of sale to developers for demolition, dozens of privately owned apartments like these could be purchased for tenant ownership if “intent to sell” law is strengthened

Housing Committee may vote as early as July 11th; if strengthened, this little known law passed in 2015 could help save many valued low income apartments when they are put up for sale and allow conversion to tenant owned co-ops and land trusts.  To date, however, only nine property owners have complied with the current law

On June 11th, 9:30AM in the morning in the City Council Chambers, there’s a good chance the City Council will approve legislation strengthening the city’s “notice of intent to sell” or “right of first notice” law.   The changes, if implemented, hold out a real possibility that for the first time since it was passed in 2015, the law might actually be enforced and have it’s intended effect – to facilitate acquisition of older affordable apartment buildings by nonprofit housing developers, the housing authority, or even the tenants themselves.  If the right changes are made, in effect, there is a potential to acquire and place literally hundreds of existing lower cost apartment buildings into public ownership for such things as tenant owned cooperative, land trusts, and other forms of tenant ownership.

Currently, dozens of these buildings are being sold to developers each year.  Then most are likely to be demolished for newer, denser, and very expensive market rate and luxury housing. Or the new owners – an “LLC” or groups of investors – buy the buildings and then raise rents well above low income thresholds in order to finance and make their profit from their purchase.  We lose literally hundreds of low cost units each year to these speculative forces with countless numbers kicked out of their homes displaced to the four winds.

The current “notice of intent law” approved in 2015 was designed to intervene in this process by requiring the owner of a low income apartment building to notify the city of their intent to sell.  These pending sales then were to be placed on a list for nonprofits and the housing authority to review.  Then the owner was supposed to wait 60 days before closing any deal with a private developer or speculator, theoretically giving time for a nonprofit or the housing authority to make their own competitive offer and perhaps outbidding the other buyers.

Unfortunately, as advocates warned four years ago that doesn’t give nearly enough time for these public entities to assemble the dollars needed to make a bona fide offer.  To top it off, the law, as drawn up. lacks enforcement or meaningful penalties when owners don’t comply.  And the city dedicated zero dollars for staffing to make owners aware of the law. As result a ‘grand total’ of nine owners – out of what likely was easily over 100-200 buildings put up for sale over the last 4 years – who ever met the law’s requirements.

Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning

Our take on Amazon and Microsoft’s recent “gift” to help address Seattle’s homeless crisis

Companies donate $48 million to Plymouth Housing Group: act of generosity or smart move to buy elected leaders’ cooperation?

amazonbubble

Amazon HQ: The Blob takes over

We’re betting you saw the hoopla surrounding recent contributions some of Seattle’s biggest companies made to address our homeless crisis.  Amazon and Microsoft each gave $5 million, plus Amazon has pledged up to another $5 million as a match in contributions from their employees.  So far about $48 million has been raised by Plymouth Housing Group for construction of 800 units in eight new housing developments serving the chronically homeless.

The Mayor, Times editors, and several other elected leaders heaped mountains of praise on these companies and their partnership with Plymouth Housing, an agency that hopes to raise $75 million total from large private donors.  They say this will enable them to ‘leverage’ another $250 million needed to complete their eight developments.

This is all well and good – the dollars will help assist more of those most in need – but let’s not lose perspective here.  It would be naive to think these companies simply make such contributions out of the goodness of their heart.  

It’s no coincidence that these companies are ‘donating’ $48 million for the homeless in the wake of protests in Seattle and across the country from the grassroots in response to how these companies especially Amazon can warp the urban environment – including driving up housing costs, impacting overburdened infrastructure that taxpayers end up paying for, while sucking taxpayer subsidies indirect and direct out of local governments by the tens of millions and even in the billions at the national level.  They paid almost nothing in federal taxes in fact last year.  And their recent contributions are peanuts – about .44 percent – of their yearly profits. 

amazonchart

Recent grassroots organizing efforts turned back Amazon plans to locate offices in New York killing a plan that included an estimated $3.4 billion in direct and indirect subsidies offered by local governments. In San Francisco and elsewhere, cities have adopted forms of office head taxes and nearly all charge impact fees to ensure developers (and companies like Amazon and Microsoft who benefit from new developments) help share in the costs they impose on a community.  But not here in Seattle and these companies certainly want to keep it that way.

The cost of 800 units of housing with wrap around services will run easily over $400,000 per unit or $320 million.  So the contribution from these companies by itself is a little over one tenth of the total cost of these developments.  The rest will be covered by the taxpayer from sources including the housing levy, state trust fund, federal Section 8 dollars, and other finite pots of money.  These are public dollars that of course would have been spent anyway, if not in Seattle, then elsewhere helping other communities address their housing crisis.  

Yes it’s still something what these companies are paying.  By itself, their $48 million could produce about 188 units serving the chronically homeless.  It makes a small dent in the problem, but it’s big in terms of how far it will go to cheaply buy off local leadership – the fawning from our Mayor and County Executive and other bigshots already has been profuse. 

The question is – will this be all that it takes to ensure political acquiescence in the future from our local political leaders and that there will be no consideration of a head tax in the future or even impact fees or, god forbid, a corporate profits tax to ensure big companies pay their share of the cost of public infrastructure their projects demand? Goodness, we wouldn’t want to move towards a progressive tax structure and away from one that may be the most regressive in the country.

There’s an irony here too.  Amazon bankrolled opposition to the head tax and combined its forces with angry anti-homeless residents, most from a group called “Safe Seattle”, whose members are primarily interested in ramping up sweeps and jails rather than Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Displacement, Neighborhoods, Politics

In memory: three who made inestimable contributions in the fight for equity and social justice in our city

We wanted to let you know of the passing of three great individuals recently who I was honored to get to know and whose contributions to Seattle, region, and state, in their own unique way, can only be described as extraordinary.

Dick Nelson, former state legislator and lifelong civic activist passed away on June 3rd at the age of 83.  For a time in the 80’s, Dick chaired the State House Housing Committee pioneering support for a dramatically expanded commitment to fund low income housing.  He also was a staunch supporter of measures aimed at stopping the loss of existing housing to demolition, condominium conversion, and increased rents.  He was our  “go to” guy in fact during an era when renters, and low income people had only a few friends down in Olympia.  He laid the groundwork, in fact, for many of the advances in tenant rights, and levels of funding for housing and human services we see today at the state level and local level.  After his retirement from the House in the early 90’s, he remained a strong supporter of ours.   I’ll never forget a huge democratic fundraiser held at his house in Fremont.  Streets were blocked off and secret service were everywhere.  The Vice President Walter Mondale and Congressman Don Bonker attended and probably 200 other party faithful.   I got terribly drunk and shook Mondale’s hand in Dick’s kitchen.  More can be read here about Dick’s life.

Gene Lux, former state legislator from the 11th District passed away at age 92 on June 21st.  Serving in the legislature for for 15 years, he stepped away from that job in 1988 but remained a dedicated social justice activist, active Democrat and advocate for seniors often appearing and speaking forcefully at senior, union, and housing events (including some of ours) inveighing against big corporations and downtown developers that warp the political process.  Whenever we brought a resolution to the County and District Democrats calling for their backing whether rent control, blocking tax increment financing, passing condo conversion laws, and demolition controls, Gene was always one of the first (along with Dick Nelson) to stand up and urge his fellow D’s to back our proposals. His district included a large chunk of Southeast Seattle and was routinely elected by wide margins with heavy support from low income and minority communities.  It always was a joy to see him when he’d show up at our events because he brought with him such high credibility and respect as a tireless fighter for racial and economic justice.  More can be read here about Gene’s life.

Bob Simmons, former KING TV reporter and news analyst from 1977 until 1991 passed away on June 15th at age 89.  In my 42 plus years as a housing and homeless advocate, I can list perhaps a dozen great journalists to grace Seattle’s radio, tv, and print circles and Bob is one of them.  I had the great honor to interact with him on numerous occasions because he took a special interest in housing issues and the cause of tenant rights and relished, like his friend and fellow journalist Don McGaffin, uncovering dirt on local developers and the poobahs down at City Hall.

I have indelible memories of him on the evening local news in his role as an analyst and “tv columnist” politely but firmly upbraiding city leaders for their refusal to take stronger steps to stop demolition of low income housing and conversion of low income rentals to condominiums.  Later when the Council finally got around to voting yea or nay on a “Housing Preservation Law” requiring developers to replace a portion of the housing they removed, he’d heard from his sources that it was not going to pass.  He spoke to me minutes before the vote telling me he was about to go on the air and get after them for voting it down.  Shocking us all, it passed 5-4 thanks to Councilmember George Benson’s last minute epiphany reversing his no to yes.  No time for celebration. I raced to the nearest phone (this was long before cell phones)- the council’s front desk person was a friend of ours – borrowed hers and called Bob only seconds before he was about to go on the air.  He had to do an impromptu from blasting to praising the Council for their actions.

More can be found here about Bob’s amazing life and career.

Posted in City Hall, Politics, Uncategorized

Two new studies challenge notion that upzoning leads to more affordable housing

“The trickle-down and ‘housing-as-opportunity’ school of thought are fundamentally flawed and lead to simplistic and misguided public policy recommendations”Michael Storper, UCLA and London School of Economics

Storper, Michael 2 203x_0

Michael Storper

We thought we’d share with you some information about a couple of recent academic studies affirming what your own eyes likely have been telling you anyway; that upzoning doesn’t work, not at least as a panacea for our affordable housing shortage.  But in the battle for the hearts and minds of Seattle and especially needed for our healthy crop of entrenched pro-growth politicians, it never hurts to call in the “experts”.

With this new research, (there are other studies cited in these studies but nothing as current or robust as these), we’ve now got some groundbreaking analysis affirming that blanket upzoning doesn’t miraculously free up a stock of additional affordable housing units and in fact can do the opposite driving up the value of properties within the upzoned areas leading to higher home sale prices (and increased rents).  As the Chicago study indicates, it may not even substantially increase the amount of new market rate construction over the long haul.

Michael Storper, a professor of Economic Geography from the London School of Economics and UCLA and one of the most cited social scientists in the world”, recently summarized the results of his research here in an interview with “The Planning Report”. We’ll let you read the full interview, but what was especially notable were his comments on cities that upzone in high transit corridors including those like Seattle that accompany these changes with “affordable set-asides”.  Storper says there is little or no ‘trickle down’ effect.  Upzones don’t generally increase housing production except perhaps in already highly desirable areas and at best would ‘only marginally’ benefit higher income groups.

Even when accompanied by a requirement that developers set-aside 15-25 percent of their units at affordable levels, Storper says the effect likely would still be negative especially if the price of the set asides is “lower, or the income threshholds higher, than the current pattern of lower-income, lower-cost housing in those areas when compared to the new housing profile. ”  He goes on to say that “skilled people with high incomes—those who would benefit most from upzoning—are going to move into upzoned neighborhoods and crowd out the middle- and lower-income people who are living there. This displacement is exactly the opposite consequence of what the authors of upzoning bills claim they want to produce.”  (In Seattle, developers can fulfill their relatively wimpy set-aside requirement of 3-11 percent by offering their ‘set-asides’ at rents affordable to those earning at 60 percent of area median when the real need is down below 40 percent of median.)

The second of these studies by Yonah Freemarka doctoral candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, undertakes a statistical study of upzoning to rates of new residential construction in Chicago neighborhoods.  Here we’ll let his analysis and methodology speak for itself, except to offer you this quote of Freemark’s buried in his study that pretty much sums it up: 

I find statistically significant, robust evidence that a byproduct of upzoning is growth in property values on affected parcels. I specifically find some evidence for an increase in transaction prices of already-existing individual residential units affected by the change, offering evidence for higher housing prices in the short term on the properties where zoning is executed.  These impacts occurred within two years of the zoning changes, suggesting a relatively rapid capitalization by landowners and developers. Second, I find no evidence for short- or medium-term increases in housing-unit construction, potentially a product of the relatively slow financing and approvals processes for new projects, but indicating that upzoning does not produce a supply response within five years after policy implementation.

Posted in Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Upzoning

District 4 City Council Candidate Forum, Tuesday June 11th 6:00pm University Heights School, 5031 University Way NE

You’re invited to hear the candidates take a stand on issues of growth and development of the U-District and surrounding community and what they propose to do to address small business needs, the loss of existing affordable housing stock, and preservation of historic buildings now threatened by redevelopment.  One of the first votes likely taken by the newly elected will be to decide whether to upzone the ‘Ave’ and areas north of 52nd, where hundreds of low cost units are located and over 150 small businesses.  The fate of this historic community hangs in the balance.   Come to Room 209A of UHeights School for the fun.

Candidates committed to attending right now are Sasha Anderson, Ethan Hunter, Frank Krueger, Beth Mountsier, Emily Myers, Joshua Newman, Alex Pedersen, Shaun Scott, Heidi Stuber and Cathy Tuttle.

Co-hosted by: U District Small Businesses, University District Community Council, University Park Community Club, Seattle Displacement Coalition, and University District Advocates

Posted in Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, University District