Grand Bargain? Grand Con!

lisa herbold

Councilmember Herbold is fighting displacement. (seattle.gov)

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold will create an opening to fix Mayor’s flawed housing plan

Mayor Ed Murray had a stunning first year in office. He advanced social justice in many ways: the $15-an-hour minimum wage, preschool for poor kids and the expansion of tent cities.

Sadly, in his second year, Murray badly bungled his next major social-justice initiative: HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda). First, he put together a task force on housing affordability that did not adequately represent a range of views. His task force was overwhelmingly dominated by developers and their allies: commercial developers, low-income housing developers, a building and trades union, an urbanist think tank, an architect, big philanthropy, a major law firm, the Downtown Seattle Association and more.

These folks all share a common agenda: get the bulldozers going and then build bigger and taller buildings.

Is it unfair to lump low-income housing developers in with this group? Not the ones that the mayor chose. Conspicuously absent were developers like the Low Income Housing Institute’s Sharon Lee, who has a demonstrated history of fighting hard for poor people.

The HALA task force included too few advocates for poor people, tenants, neighborhoods and communities of color. As a result, HALA’s key recommendations were terribly flawed.

It was as if the mayor had conveyed the $15-an-hour task force without Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her allies.

Now the city council has a chance to fix HALA.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District One, West Seattle) will offer an anti-displacement package as amendments to the heart of HALA’s social-justice provision.

Herbold has been a star in her first term in office. She has carried on the tradition of her mentor and former boss, retired Councilmember Nick Licata. She has acted in the interest of her district and Seattle as a whole; she taken stands on important matters of symbol and substance; she has paid attention to the important details in new legislation; and whether she wins or loses, she is back at work on the next issue immediately. Throughout Herbold’s tenure at City Hall, first as a legislative aide and now as a councilmember in her own right, she has never lost sight of the need for government to serve the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the taxpayers.

Herbold understands that HALA’s key flaw is its failure to address displacement. The HALA task force did make a recommendation to “make strategic investments to minimize displacement,” but it is not part of Murray’s “Grand Bargain.” In fact, the mayor has not even proposed any new laws about displacement.

Murray’s “Grand Bargain” is that developers get to build bigger and taller buildings (upzones) and are required to include housing for poor and working-class people in their projects (inclusionary zoning) or pay into a low-income housing fund. To make things more technical, opaque and confusing, the mayor calls his inclusionary zoning program the MHA-R (residential mandatory housing affordability).

Have your eyes glazed over? I hope not because displacement matters. Bigger, taller buildings either tear down cheap, old buildings or raise the rent on surrounding buildings by creating new “hot” neighborhoods. Displacement is one of the ways that poor people end up homeless.

Herbold’s office says she is considering two specific anti-displacement strategies in her package: 1) requiring a displacement analysis in neighborhoods where developers will get to build bigger, taller buildings and 2) one-to-one replacement of all low-income housing lost in neighborhoods impacted by HALA’s upzones. She is also exploring other means of helping neighborhoods that become particularly distressed by HALA’s displacement.

A displacement analysis is a very necessary first step. City Hall must figure out who will be displaced before developers tear down and replace buildings.

Then City Hall has to decide how to help the poor and working-class people who are hurt by its actions. One-to-one replacement of lost housing would be fantastic. It would also be expensive. I don’t know how Herbold will propose to pay for it, but the most logical source would be the people who make money in the “Grand Bargain”: the developers.

Unfortunately, developers are also the most powerful lobby at City Hall. They fight for every nickel, reward politicians who play ball and punish those who don’t. In fact, in the 2015 city council election, business interests spent over $200,000 trying to defeat Herbold.

Herbold needs people power to help fix HALA. Don’t let her down.

Councilmember Herbold will offer her anti-displacement amendments at the next meeting of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee on Tuesday, July 19 at 9:30 a.m. at Seattle City Hall, Council Chambers.

Questions, tips, comments: 206-877-2952 or georgehowlandjr@gmail.com

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About George Howland Jr

For many years, George Howland Jr has been a Seattle-based journalist.
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