story written by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox (reprinted from August editions of Pacific Publishing Newspapers )
Earlier this year, Mayor Murray joined other mayors from across the county in declaring homelessness a national emergency. While the joint effort was explicitly aimed at drawing the federal government into playing a larger role in addressing the issue, Murray also promised another $5 million in city funds for shelter and services, so it wasn’t just a symbolic gesture.
Let’s give him credit for that and his earlier role (along with Councilmember Sawant) in raising Seattle’s minimum wage, an enormous step that has helped catalyze a movement for better wages across the country. But do these actions earn him the title, the nation’s most progressive mayor, as some national publications now are suggesting? The answer is an unqualified no.
Consider his stance on growth and redevelopment that have caused the displacement of hundreds from their homes, perhaps thousands since he took office. He’s offered nothing to mitigate these market forces sweeping across our city. Instead he has vigorously pushed for still more runaway development.
Murray’s so called Housing Affordability and LIvability Agenda (HALA) is centered around upzoning Seattle quite literally from one end to the other under the assumption that by adding more market rate units (meaning more expensive housing) this will lead to more affordable housing (somewhere at some time) ‘trickling down’ to the poor.
Such supply-side thinking is a delusion. Our record levels of new residential construction have been accompanied by even lower vacancy rates, unprecedented levels of demolition of existing unsubsidized lower priced rentals, more speculative buying and selling of formerly lower-rent properties, and the highest rate of rent increases in the nation.
Yes, the Mayor’s ‘Grand Bargain’ calls on developers to set aside some low-income units in their projects or pay an in–lieu of fee in exchange for upzones. But the requirement is relatively small both in terms of how much affordable housing it would create and in relation to the millions developers will reap from the upzones. And the requirement would produce only a tiny fraction of the thousands of existing low cost housing units we’ll lose due to the upzones he’s advocating.
Mayor Murray essentially has embraced the market, not just letting it take its course but incentivizing it. He’s filled his inner circle of advisors almost exclusively from downtown corporate and development interests. For example, 18 of his 28-member HALA advisory committee had ties to the development business. Only one member could be called a neighborhood advocate.
Murray has outright slammed the door on neighborhood groups struggling to cope with runaway growth. He marginalizes them by suggesting they’re exclusionary or worse, racist, simply because they speak out against his pro–developer HALA upzone agenda.
His latest move – to eliminate the Neighborhood District Council system – demonstrates how far he’ll go to silence opposition to his plans. As one neighborhood advocate said, folks in her community have taken to calling him, “Mayor Putin”.
Although there are 65 housing recommendations in HALA, Murray is aggressively pursuing those elements that directly or indirectly subsidize the development sector–upzones, relief from permitting requirements like parking, and more tax breaks. Housing preservation is only mentioned, with no specific strategies identified to achieve this. There’s no one-for-one replacement policy to require developers to replace units they remove. No “no net loss” policy. No developer impact fees.
His plan is all about giving away the farm to developers in hopes sometime somewhere housing will trickle down to the poor. This is far from a progressive or even liberal ideology—actually rather Reaganesque
Moreover, the Mayor has ignored proposals from advocates and people with years of nonprofit development to dedicate a portion of the city’s billion-dollar bonding and debt capacity–50 million a year for ten years or 100 million for 5 years–to dramatically expand production of subsidized housing for formerly homeless people. The Community Housing Caucus, of which we were a part, brought other proposals that really could have made a dent in the problem, e.g. a comprehensive strategy to utilize surplus public land for affordable housing production, but he’s never responded.
If you think we’ve got a homeless problem now, brace yourself. The HALA upzones effectively target the areas of our city where it just so happens that there are thousands of older affordable apartment rentals and yes, a lot of rented single family homes that lower income families depend upon, especially families of color. Without any mitigation or preservation plan put in place first, upzones here spell massive displacement and even more homelessness to unprecedented levels.
At best we‘d call our Mayor a limousine liberal. He’ll give a little more from the city’s budget for homeless services and shelter, but his pro-growth supply-side land use and housing policies benefit the rich.
Mayor Murray may talk a good game and may even genuinely care about moving Seattle towards greater equity and social justice. But his words stand in direct contrast to his deeds that are driving a deeper wedge between rich and poor and black and white in our city.