CM Herbold releases her anti-displacement plan: require developers to replace low cost housing they remove while Mayor’s just announced strategy takes small step

Seattle Displacement Coalition responds today to CM Herbold’s and Mayor Durkan’s anti-displacement strategies 

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Lisa Herbold wants developers to replace low cost units they destroy

The Seattle Displacement Coalition is a 42-year-old housing and homeless advocacy group and for the better part of those years we’ve been pushing especially our locally elected leaders to do more to combat displacement.  No agency or organization has so consistently fought to address the on-going loss of our city’s existing  unsubsidized affordable housing stock. And we’ve had many successes along the way, but one thing has eluded us – securing passage of a effective measure that holds developers accountable to replace the hundreds of existing affordable units they demolish each year “one for one” and at comparable price.

In a just released five page press statement, Mayor Durkan announced she was launching a new anti-displacement effort in the form of an “Executive Order”to stabilize low income and minority communities in the face of runaway displacement in our city.  But despite the five pages of verbiage which essentially repeats current inadequate efforts, there is only one new initiative she is proposing: a “community preference policy” giving preference and access to displaced neighborhood residents into publicly subsidized low income housing built in neighborhoods where they were displaced.

While this is a small step in the right direction to ensure at least a small fraction of those displaced in Seattle have first priority for the city’s limited supply of subsidized low cost units, it will do nothing to stop the dramatic loss of existing unsubsidized older lower income rentals due to runaway development and market forces here in Seattle. Every year, over 500-1000 existing unsubsidized units are destroyed each year by developers demolishing to make way for luxury and market rate development.  And when an area is upzoned, speculation and turnover of lower priced existing rentals by developers drives rents up forcing out another 1000-2000 existing low cost units each year, forcing these households from their homes.

Our City Council and Mayor are on the verge of substantially upzoning all our neighborhoods which will set in motion – further encouraging these trends – and an even more dramatic loss of existing naturally occurring unsubsidized units in our city.  These losses – are destroying 3-4 times the number of subsidized units we are creating in this city causing even more displacement.   It cannot be offset by simply guaranteeing a few of these folks priority for the few subsidized units that become available each year in their neighborhood.  Many more times that number are being forced out by developers.

There is a tool we should have implemented a long time ago that could stem displacement – require developers to replace 1 for 1 any low cost units they remove and at comparable price.  CM Herbold is proposing such a policy and if implemented now – before upzoning our neighborhoods with the HALA-MHA plan.  It would be groundbreaking and the first real solution to the problem of displacement proposed in years and it would truly and fundamentally make a dent in displacement and gentrification sweeping our city.  It would hold developers responsible to replace what they destroy “and one for one”.

Here are excerpts directly from CM Herbold’s recently released press statement describing her proposal and responding to Durkan’s press event (all the follows are quotes of hers):

Councilmember Lisa Herbold to Introduce Anti-Displacement Ordinance

SEATTLE – Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle, South Park) will introduce an anti-displacement ordinance that would authorize additional displacement Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Your only chance to tell councilmembers to require developers to replace, 1 for 1, low income housing they destroy: public hearing on MHA upzones, Thurs. Feb 21st, 5:30pm in Council Chambers

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The city-wide MHA upzone plan right now is a blueprint for massive displacement and gentrification of our city and a growing divide between rich and poor and people of color in our city! 

Call or write your councilmembers and come to the hearing to demand they first implement measures that prevent massive loss of our existing low cost housing stock (and more homelessness).  A ‘1 for 1’ developer low income housing replacement requirement can accomplish this goal.

Save the Date: Please plan to attend the only Public Hearing for the MHA legislation on Thursday February 21, 5:30 PM at Seattle City Hall in Council Chambers. Come early to sign up to testify.

And tell them they must also remove an upzone for the ‘Ave’. 

It wasn’t in the plan they studied in the EIS.  And as we explained in this story, by secretly adding an upzone for University Way later, it violates state law and takes away due process for over 150 racially diverse and historic small businesses.  All those businesses and over 200 low income housing units along the ‘Ave’ are threatened!  Councilmembers also promised measures to preserve ‘legacy businesses’ and the Ave’s character before considering any further upzones – a promise not yet fulfilled.

Here’s some more background for you:

The city-wide HALA-MHA upzones, first proposed by Mayor Murray have wound their way to City Council for a final vote.  But after countless hours and hours of testimony at hearings and forums by literally thousands of citizens, very little of their upzone plan has changed since it was proposed over three years ago.  It has been since day one, more of an attempt by two Mayors, Rob Johnson, now also Teresa Mosqueda, and most of the city’s planning staff, to ram as much density as possible into our neighborhoods without regard for its impacts on open space, trees, and our existing affordable housing.

Time to Email (and then call them to make sure they got it) our Mayor and the City Council (their emails are below) and come to the hearing on the 21st and testify.

And still more background

This is how community leaders in Wallingford described the impacts of the plan upzones affecting every neighborhood of our city:

“The City’s propaganda paints a story that the MHA Legislation is the only way to increase affordable housing in Seattle. What they not tell you is that it displaces as much Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

What missing middle? More than 110,000 rentals are affordable to 28,000 middle income households in Seattle

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28,025 households in the ‘middle’ but over 110,365 rentals  they can afford (source: Seattle Comprehensive Plan Housing Appendix)

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Mayor Durkan’s middle income task force is more deja vu than ‘first ever’, like many past attempts aimed at giving developers a free hand and handing them more of our tax dollars.  

written by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox (reprinted from our monthly column appearing in Pacific Publishing Newspapers)

Last week, Mayor Durkan, in a press release announced establishment of the City’s “first ever” Affordable Middle-Income Housing Advisory Council. Her statement proclaimed those she’d selected to address our “missing middle” had “years of experience and vast knowledge of development” and would advise her on next steps the city must take to “increase housing choices affordable to middle income individuals”.

In reality, she’s found an excuse to bring together in one room a who’s who of the city’s pro-downtown, pro-density, and developer elite and, like every Mayor we’ve observed over the last 45 years, given them a formal role (not just their usual behind the scenes role) in shaping policies that affect them.  

It’s a foregone conclusion what they’ll recommend: give us more tax breaks, more upzoning, more freedom to build what we want and where we want. As a former councilmember once remarked, “Every developer who lobbies me has really only one underlying message: ‘Give us more, anything that doesn’t is bad.’”

Some neighborhood advocates astutely pointed out that the new advisory group could be dubbed “HALA II,” with many of the same faces that crafted the now infamous “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.” That’s the body Mayor Murray created for ramming upzones and increased density into our neighborhoods regardless of impacts on our existing affordable housing stock.

At least the original HALA task force also came up with a few ideas to address our city’s low-income housing shortage, and four of its 28 members were plain old citizens. Durkan’s new “middle income” group, however, lacks even one of its 25 members without a direct financial interest in promoting runaway density. And speaking of the “missing middle”, how about selecting someone who actually is “middle income”?

In spite of Durkan’s “first ever” claim, there have been a number of “middle income affordable housing” efforts over the years.  A little over a decade ago, pushed by a “Middle Income Housing Alliance” of developers, Mayor Nickels attempted to shift the Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation

Mayor Durkan’s ‘first ever’ middle income task force is deja vu all over again

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Mayor Durkan gives us one more ‘first ever’ developer driven task force

It’s a foregone conclusion what to expect from this developer dominated advisory group and a long ways from ‘first ever’

This is a Quote from Mayor Durkan’s recent press announcement: Today, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced the establishment of the City’s first-ever Affordable Middle-Income Housing Advisory Council.”   

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one noticing this, but I could swear the Mayor declares just about everything she does as “the first ever”.   A couple of neighborhood advocates astutely pointed out that Mayor Durkan’s newly created middle income advisory group could be dubbed “HALA II” made up of many of the same faces that crafted the now infamous “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda”.  You know, the body Mayor Murray created primarily for the purpose of ramming upzones and increased density into all our neighborhoods.

At least this earlier task force also included a few good ideas to address our city’s low income housing shortage and three or four real citizens (out of its 28 members) were invited to participate.  Durkan’s new “middle income” group, however, lacks even one person (out of its 25 members) without a vested and direct financial interest in promoting runaway density.

And, more to my point, there have been a number of “middle income”, “missing middle” and “affordable housing” efforts over the years – every decade or so they pop up in one form or another.  Mayor Nickels made it a priority a little more than a decade ago and we all feared his administration, backed by some city councilmembers, were laying the groundwork to shift the bulk of the city’s housing levy dollars away from serving the very poor to production of middle income Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, Politics, Upzoning

New state law allows gifting of public land to developers for “affordable housing” but is it just another developer giveaway?

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The Mercer “Mega Block”.  Advocates are asking the city to ‘gift’ the land to a nonprofit provided that 40% or 500 of 1300 units allowed on site are offered at affordable rates – why not all of it?

Definition of “affordable housing” allows public entities to gift or sell their public land to developers in return for units priced above the going rate – over $1800 a month

  • By Carolee Colter and John V. Fox reprinted from our column posted in Pacific Publishing newspapers

In recent weeks, a controversy has emerged over what to do with three blocks of city-owned land dubbed the “Mercer Mega Block” in South Lake Union.  The site has an interesting history.

In 2002, the city sold land along Mercer at bargain basement prices to City Investors, Paul Allen’s development arm.  Then in 2007, the City turned right around and re-acquired a large chunk of that same land – portions not redeveloped by Allen – and of course at a much higher price, earning Allen a hefty return in the process.  This land and other properties along Mercer (including those acquired from other owners using the threat of eminent domain), would be needed, we were told, to make way for a $250 million reworking of Mercer.

It turns out that much of that land re-acquired from Allen in 2007 was not needed for the Mercer project winding up fallow for over a decade or used as a staging area for construction equipment.  Now, the unused portions are going to be resold back to a developer along with a strip of city land from a street vacation.   Mayor Durkan is in negotiations with developers and has set a condition that 175, or 13 percent, of the 1300 units that zoning will allow there must be offered at “affordable” rents.

Meanwhile an alliance of labor, homeless, and housing groups are calling instead for all or a portion of the land to be “gifted” to a nonprofit so that as many as 500, or 40 percent, of the units could be offered at “affordable” rents.

We’re very wary of both options and here’s why. No one has made explicit what they mean by “affordable housing”. Nor has it been made clear where any proceeds from sale would go or for what purpose.  

The state legislature last year passed a new law allowing gifting or sale of public land at below-market value to “a public, private,  or nongovernmental body” provided the land is used for a “public benefit”, meaning affordable housing. But the language of the finally approved bill allows a developer to offer all the so-called “affordable” units at rents priced all the way up to 80 percent of area median income (AMI).  

There’s a heck of a difference between rents affordable to those earning at 30 percent of median, estimated to be about $600 per month for a 2-bedroom unit, and those at 80 Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Politics

Durkan joins past Seattle mayors willing to spend millions in overruns on near empty streetcars

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The city funds a lobbying group to promote streetcars – here’s their home page

At $286 million and $150 million above original cost estimates, the Center City Streetcar project receives Durkan’s blessing;  will our City Council buy this piece of underwater beachfront?

Last week, Mayor Durkan announced her support of what now is the $286 million dollar downtown streetcar project – $150 million over original estimates and climbing. Despite a backlog of real transit needs, Durkan’s first priority apparently is accommodating real estate and downtown development interests and finding the additional funding to cover the streetcar’s ballooning budget “shortfall”. Cost overruns would be the proper term.  (As I write this, what do you bet she’ll propose a raid on the 2015 transportation levy and/or tolling cars on downtown streets to cover this cost?)

So it’s full speed ahead with a streetcar – full speed by the way is about 4-5 miles an hour and a brisk walk can outpace it – all at a cost of $200 million per mile of track. Our regional, local, and neighborhood bus transit service languishes, and our road, bridge, and sidewalk infrastructure continue to deteriorate but Durkan has prioritized extending a streetcar line in downtown.   And keep in mind, we’ve just learned that the 2015 voter approved nine-year $930 million transportation levy has promised “more projects than the agency (SDOT) can now deliver” .

As Seattle Times editors were quoted, echoed even more recently by Times columnist Danny Westneat, the streetcar is not a real transportation solution but a developer’s “bauble” used to drive up real estate values along its route.  They putt along in traffic with no more than a few riders on a lavishly expensive fixed rail, cost 30-40 percent more than buses to operate, and at a cost to build for the proposed addition of about $200 million per mile of track.

Ridership on the existing South Lake Union (SLU) and First Hill streetcar system has fallen well below expectations – all of 32 riders per hour for the First Hill streetcar and only covering 18 percent of operating costs.  The the SLU Streetcar – ridership also lags Continue reading

Posted in Budget, Politics, Transportation

Microsoft’s $500 million “contribution” for housing looks more like political arm-twisting

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Only 5 percent would go to homeless programs; the rest for interest-earning market rate or near market rate loans to developers

As more information comes in on the details of Microsoft’s $500 million “donation”, a better name for it might be well-calculated political bribe; a form in this case that is legal but no less an attempt to buy support among politicians in Olympia and cities around the region for a pro-developer pro-density driven agenda.

The initial motivation appears to have been aimed at making an “investment” in “workforce housing”; near market and market rate opportunities for their upper-middle income workforce and, from details provided to date, one that likely would yield them a reasonable return in the process.  With the exception of $25 million, or 5 percent of the total,  $475 million will be in the form of market and near market rate loans. One portion, $225 million would be in the form of below market rate loans for those earning between 60 percent and 120 percent of area median or an annual income of $62,000 to $124,000.

The remaining $250 million would towards a kind of revolving ‘market rate’ loan fund for housing serving those with incomes at or below 60 percent of area median.  In practice, without deep public subsidies, these loans likely would assist those earning right up to that 60 percent income threshold, rarely below it. In effect, all this appears to resemble what the banks often do – direct some of their assets into a local portfolio of loans to qualified customers.

“Workforce” and the term “affordable” housing these days generally are used as euphemisms for construction of units that are in reality priced very close to the Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Politics, Uncategorized