Transcript from Neil Power’s interview with Cary Moon

Seattle mayoral candidate Cary Moon chose Seattle Coffee Works to meet, a downtown independent café. Moon closes with a personal side of raising two children, a recent book that blew her away, and two renowned women who inspire her work.  Portions of the interview including Moon’s answers to key questions are included below:

Outside City Hall: You want to increase the percent of affordable housing stock in Seattle from its current six percent to 24 percent, while increasing city owned land to add affordable housing. How do you build momentum on those goals?

Cary Moon: I believe a lot of the problems in our housing market right now are speculators. We are the hottest investment around. 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). Then we can use the proceeds we generate from that (for housing), including a luxury real estate excise tax.

To do that we need the right data. The city has not been forthcoming with data. We could be measuring how many properties are vacant. We could be measuring how many properties are non-primary residents.

We could be measuring how many properties are being bought by LLC’s, shell companies, and Real Estate Investment Trusts.

Do more land trusts, co-ops, co-housing facilities where philanthropists partner and they secure the land and then somebody develops the housing. 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. I’m in the camp of we need to build enough housing for people that want to live here but let’s be sure we are not building housing just for parking money (investments) in.

Outside City Hall: Do you think that’s enough (to meet the demand)?

Cary Moon: No. We also need to address the missing middle as affordable housing will serve people under median income. But what about people with median income that still can’t afford housing in Seattle? So what can we do can we make it easier for folks to build backyard houses, apodments, duplexes, townhouses? There are some models of housing that the private sector will build that are affordable to middle income people that are really hard to do because of our zoning.

Outside City Hall: Many of your solutions in addressing homelessness focus on improving the shelter system. What do you think of the Mayor’s consultant Barbara Poppe, who recommended that shelters be open to people 24/7?

Cary Moon: Rather than a blanket decree I would work with the shelter operators and understand what are their obstacles. So yes we need more 24 hour shelters but we need to do it in a way that works with providers. We need more low barrier shelters that accommodates people as they are.

Outside City Hall: Homelessness in our region is not representative. For example, African Americans are over-represented about five times per-capita population. Indigenous people (Native Americans, Inuit and Metis) are over-represented about seven times their per-capita population. How does Seattle work with others to address racial disparities among people who are homeless?

Cary Moon: It makes me so furious. This gets to the heart of the racial equity and economic equity question. It is now time, it is decades past time but it is now time for Seattle to confront how racism works in our city. And yes we’re all progressives but look at our outcomes, we are not being great for anybody. We know the inequities in the education system. Let’s get that out in the open and talk about that as a city and talk about the truth.

We are on occupied land. Let’s talk about that. We redlined and used racial covenants for decades in the city. Let’s talk about the impact of that and how wealth inequality is completely aligned with racial inequality. Let’s get it out in the open. Let’s talk about it, across race class and gender. Let’s all commit to being a city that confronted that and did something about it. Because it’s on all of us. People of color have been clear. They’re doing their part. They’re raising issues. They’re demanding power. White people, it’s time to listen. Come on, let’s do this!

Outside City Hall: You say that the growing number of tech workers (such as Amazon) are not the problem with rising housing/rental costs. What’s your thinking here?

Cary Moon: I want to blame speculation and figure out a way to solve the problem so they (tech newcomers) are welcomed into our community and they can help solve the problem too. Building a better boom group ( https://www.thrivingcommunitiesnetwork.org/ ) and the “Seattle Tech 4 Housing” (https://www.seattletech4housing.org/ ) group, they want to be part of the solution, they want to help our city grow with them and they want to be more integrative.

Outside City Hall: You say a key misconception of the housing crisis is that it is a matter of “supply and demand.” What do you mean by that?

Cary Moon: Everything is the supply and demand model will make everything perfect in the long run. I think the world is ready to reject that. We see it failed. We see neo-liberalism is a zombie form of economic thinking because we are living the impact of that way of thinking. We need to replace it with something better. Regular wage earners and working class folks are up to their eyeballs in debt and there is too much money floating around in the global economy that then seizes opportunities like the housing market as a hot investment. It’s being driven by people who think of it as a commodity.

Outside City Hall: You’ve quoted Xochitl Maykovich, a community organizer with WA Community Action Network saying that Seattle renters are being pushed to lower rent areas further south, outside of Seattle. Seattle’s 2035 growth and Equity Report showed people in many neighborhoods at risk of displacement, including Rainier Beach, South Park, Northgate, 23rd and Union, North Beacon Hill, Bitter Lake and Othello. What do you do to stop displacement in communities of color?

Cary Moon: I think we should look at all the communities that are under threat, like the ones you just mentioned and sit down with those communities and understand what equitable growth would look like for them. Make community benefit agreements or make an agreement for what the neighborhood needs to help businesses thrive in place and help grow whatever benefits the community and these might be modeled after what we are doing at the Liberty Bank building which is hugely impressive.

Outside City Hall: Pray tell?

Cary Moon: So the development (site of the former Liberty Bank building at 23rd and Union) is coming in but they work closely with the community around how can the community have access to new affordable housing, how can commercial spaces be used for local business, how can cultural organizations have access to space for their use and how can we develop shared ownership with communities. Communities have got to be part of owning the wealth if they are going to survive long term. Those kind of agreements; how can we grow in a way that provides prosperity for the community instead of using the community as just consumers.

Outside City Hall: The City’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) allows developers some greater upzones in return for options leading to more affordable housing. You want to revisit HALA. What would you revisit?

Cary Moon: The Community Housing Caucus (https://sites.google.com/site/communityhousingcaucus/ ) did a great report in the early part of the HALA process saying here are all the solution we have. I think there are a lot of really good solutions in that report that did not get included in HALA so let’s go back and relook at those. There were some things that did make it into HALA that got immediately set aside which is the relooking at backyard cottages and townhouses and the missing middle sort of solutions that they were proposing we need to do. Then all the other stuff I talked about i.e., speculation. The up zones that are being pursued, are fine. They are a good first step but they are never going to get us there. I think the data point is, if we do all the up zones and develop all the housing that HALA predicts we can develop through all the up zones and compare that to the total housing we have in our city we’ll be at 6 percent of our housing that is affordable, when we need four times that. (Note: Interviewer was a member of Community Housing Caucus.)

Outside City Hall: What are the roles of land in the matter of speculative investments and the role of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s) impacting affordability?

Cary Moon: I think all the commercial entities that are participating in speculation include Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s). I don’t have any more specific knowledge than that. I think part of the mix are corporations, LLC’s, outside investors, REIT’s all from this category of who is doing this? What are the entities driving this?

Outside City Hall: There about 80 cities in Washington State, including Bellevue that have “impact fees” (where developers contribute to the cost of paying for new infrastructure) related to new growth. Seattle has no impact fees. It has a 2015 report looking at it. Talk about your read on Seattle having developer impact fees to help pay for growth.

Cary Moon: We definitely need to invest in infrastructure to keep up. Just not sure what is the best mechanism. If you look purely at impact fees, it just adds to the cost of housing which makes the problem worse. I think we’ve got to find the right balance so that we get the funding for infrastructure that we need without raising the prices on the new housing. So I don’t think it’s a panacea. What’s the best thing to do for the public interest?

Outside City Hall: Would you pick up on the City’s 2015 study on impact fees?

Cary Moon: Yes, I think it would be worth looking at that, what did they discover, and what more information do they need?

Outside City Hall: You’re raising your two kids in downtown Seattle. How would you describe the kind of parent you are?

Cary Moon: I hope I’m fun. I am committed to my kids being in society, mixing it up with everybody. We’ve lived car free. I haven’t had a car since 1994. My kids have always been car free. They know how to take the bus. They know how to be on the street. They are in Pike Place Market every single day. I am the kind of Mom who wants my kids to be really integrated in the city. We love people.

Outside City Hall: Are you strict?

Cary Moon: No. It’s funny, we all like to get along with one another. We have really easy trusting relationships and never really tangle. So I haven’t needed to be strict because I lay out what’s the right thing to do and they are like, life will go easy if I do that. We haven’t really had a lot of friction. I give them a lot of freedom and trust and respect. It seems to be working. It’s pretty nice at my home. I feel really lucky.

Outside City Hall: Have you read a good book recently? 

Cary Moon: I read Underground Railroad recently. It kind of blew me away.

Outside City Hall: How come?

Cary Moon: It makes the grotesqueness of white superiority so visceral and so completely visible. The use of magical realism, to make the points more powerful, is really skilled.

Outside City Hall: Who was a big influence on you in your role as an activist and person working for community change?

Cary Moon: I think Angela Davis because her clarity of thought and her commitment to the greater good is so clear. The power of her presence and her conviction is irrefutable. Elizabeth Warren, because she is fearless and calling out the bad behavior of folks who are used to having cover.

Outside City Hall: Thanks for making the time to talk today!

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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