#MissingMiddle

Y'all had to see this coming, right? Right?!?!?!?

Folks who know me know about my love for missing-middle housing. While there are some in the urbanist world who would eliminate zoning altogether, I just cannot support that mentality. That might look good on paper, but the reality is that the areas that would see significant and devastating change to communities are the historically neglected, black and brown neighborhoods in Seattle. With institutional racism causing wage stagnation, I-200 leaving out women and minority owned businesses from equitable contracts with governments, it's much more likely we would see continued whitening of places like the Central District and Rainier Valley. If that's where the people will sell, that's where development would go. Zoning can (and should) be used as a social justice and racial equity tool. 

At the same time, there's the political realities with which we are faced. In 2015 and 2016, I spent a lot of time talking about housing, zoning, affordable housing, and homelessness with communities all across Seattle. The folks that some would call "NIMBY" were often concerned more with lot-line construction, and less with SF protectionism (mostly). And I can't say I don't share that same concern. The notion that the market alone, or that a libertarian style zoning and design system will not only help address the affordability crisis, but will also keep Seattle great, is, frankly, bullshit 

Missing Middle in Everett. SF, Duplexes, and Triplexes, mixed with buildings like these, near Everett and Rucker are affordable, near transit and jobs. Fact: I used to live in this 15-unit building.

Missing Middle in Everett. SF, Duplexes, and Triplexes, mixed with buildings like these, near Everett and Rucker are affordable, near transit and jobs. Fact: I used to live in this 15-unit building.

Enter missing middle. If you didn't click on the link above, briefly missing middle is the type of housing that historically has been a mixture of affordable rentals and entry-level homeownership opportunities. Courtyard apartment buildings with a dozen units, rowhouses, town houses, backyard cottages, mother-in-law units. 

Based on how these function, most missing-middle housing is pretty low-intensity on the density level (RHYMES!). At the same time, it allows for more families to live near great schools, parks, and transit lines in places that are affordable, while maintaining tree canopy, having shared "yards" in many cases for kids to play or adults to read a book during the summer, and, best of all, typically very affordable compared to most other new construction. 

A big part of this is because it's just cheaper to build. Two and three story buildings can be built with wood over a concrete foundation. This is opposed to mid-rise and taller, which often have higher costs due to the need for steel-reinforced concrete, or steel itself, to meet building safety codes. 

Aesthetically, missing middle fits in very well outside of urban villages. While urban centers are meant to see density, and often are clustered around transit lines and small businesses, missing middle affords an opportunity to be within a reasonable walking distance of an urban village. Currently, zoning in Seattle tends to lead to a cliff, if you will, from mid-rise to single family. Expanded missing middle creates a buffer, while creating more affordable homeownership and renting opportunities. 

That is where the problem lies in Seattle. To allow for missing middle, we would have to have the political courage to significantly change our zoning rules. Currently, most of the city is zoned in a way that only allows detached single-family homes to be built. While, in theory, the Lowrise Zones are supposed to cover the need of missing middle, they really just are catching the small apartment building aspect. Missing still: courtyard apartments, duplexes, triplexes, etc. etc. 

Some of the arguments I've heard against allowing more of this type of housing - especially in the homeownership style - goes something like this: if they tear down that house that they pay $700,000 for, and build two townhouses, they're just going to charge $700,000 for each of them. 

And that may be true. But what happens when they tear it down and build one house? Then you're looking at a seven-figure house, and only one family is allowed to live there.

If we try to deny that there are market forces, it's middle-income and poor folks that will continue to lose out. While our treatment of housing as a commodity rather than a right as a state and nation is not something I support, I'm in the extreme minority. So instead of fighting for the perfect, we must be fighting for the actionable. Because if we wait for the perfect, more families will become homeless, which means more people will die. If we wait for the perfect, more workers will have to rely on cars to get to work, which means more toxic emissions will continue to degrade our environment. 

The funny thing is: missing middle is already co-existing phenomenally in Seattle. Look at this, for instance:

This set of homes in Wallingford are all in an area zoned SF 5000. On the left is a small apartment complex with 5 units, if I remember right (I doorbelled this precinct a couple times personally in 2015). Most of the rest of these are stacked duplexes. So the zoning laws today would only allow 9 families to live on this block. But the actual homes allow for 18-20. You'll see plenty of available street parking. There's a corner store, dentist, and dry cleaner just up the street - and having 18-20 families means more business for these small businesses than 9 would. They are all within walking distance of a great park and playground (and tennis courts!), transit, and a grocery store (maybe a 20 minute walk). Yet this is illegal in most of Seattle

By legalizing more housing options, we create more housing options. And this doesn't just mean rentals. Duplexes can be two home-owners with a co-operative land agreement, for instance. In an urban center that is growing, yet geographically constrained, this creates that opportunity to keep much of the aesthetic, help small businesses thrive (which is good for neighborhoods and good for workers), and ensure all families have access to the great amenities in our city, like our parks and community centers. 

At the same time, it helps "spread the love" of growth. Instead of focusing 1,000 people per week into urban villages - 11% of the city - we can take pressure off of neighborhoods like Wallingford, and decrease gentrification in areas like the Central District, by having Laurelhurst and View Ridge allow for a few more families per block. To keep the tree canopy and walkability, we simply need to work out what the setbacks might look like. Or what steps the city can take to encourage courtyard apartment development where it makes sense (over block style, which makes sense in more dense parts of the city). 

But it all comes back to political will. Will politicians be willing to have the tough conversations in the 55-65% of Seattle - a major city - that is zoned for 5,000 square foot plus lots that can only have one family living on them? These are questions that I believe we should be asking. MHA, MFTE, IZ, etc. - these are all fun. But sustainable affordability, and the ability to produce more homeownership opportunities, is going to require more diverse housing options. Look up at that block in Wallingford again. Is there any reason that couldn't co-exist here:

SF 5000.PNG

Within walking distance of transit, great parks, and small businesses. Yet only 9 families can live here. 

Today is the last day of filing week. Lots of folks are talking about affordability. But I continue to wonder who will be brave enough to offer proposals to allow more affordability all across Seattle, not just in our urban villages. And I continue to wonder who really cares. 

 

#Homelessness

Apparently there are some new readers to #Hashtag. Welcome aboard! If you're introduction was #CliffMass, and you are looking for the same kind of snark...well, you're in for some disappointment. The fact is that most of what you read here is going to be pretty dry. 

With that said, the #CliffMass post was about homelessness. And it's true: I've written a lot on the topic. One might go so far as to say it's a top issue for me, and something I would like our city to continue to push forward on. 

Of course, there remains no single "silver bullet," if you will, to solving the crisis. While I wholeheartedly reject proposals that would criminalize poverty (and you should, too), or ideas that begin fledgling as a result of the aesthetics of seeing extreme poverty, there are a lot of plans in place, coming online, and ideas coming out that will be crucial. And they don't all specifically touch on intervention. 

Preventing homelessness in the first place is a key part. As the data shows, for every $100 per month average increase in rent, we see a corresponding increase in homelessness. The top reasons people experience homelessness are all economic - loss of a job, bills too high, rent too high. So how do we address this with the policy options available? 

For one, ensuring that there is quick access to rent support for families who are on the cusp of losing housing due to any of the economic reasons. While this may well require additional funding, the long-term benefits are significant. The cost of re-housing someone is much higher than providing short term support, after all. The benefits to the community are also significant. Kids who have stability in housing and food access do better in schools, with fewer behavioral disruptions. 

But we must also look for policy changes to streamline this process. It should be easy to find - and easy to access - for qualified families in Seattle. Yet, one complaint I hear from people is the coordinated entry system that puts up so many roadblocks and hurdles to accessing services, that it becomes a full-time job in and of itself. And I think this is something a lot of folks aren't aware of: the sheer amount of time associated with accessing the social safety net is daunting. Coupled with barriers to access, this itself accounts for some of the chronic homelessness populations we see around the country. 

This readily extends to intervention programs. The idea that people experiencing homelessness should have to change to meet what you or I perceive a social norm to be clearly isn't working. This is why we are seeing more low-barrier shelter options, and why the federal government moved toward a housing first policy during the Obama administration. Because whether or not someone is intoxicated should not preclude them from having access to safe housing. 

If you don't buy the moral argument, there's also the fiscal argument. Data shows that the cost associated with low-barrier housing is much lower than just leaving people outdoors. Fewer ambulance rides, fewer ER visits, fewer utilization of resources. What's better (for those who believe that people should have to get sober to obtain government services), data also shows that folks are more likely to take advantage of treatment services once the trauma associated with experiencing homelessness is alleviated. 

Ultimately, much of this comes down to the capital costs. Building more housing. Of course we are addressing this in Seattle, and also looking at different types of housing and materials, and different approaches. The BLOCK program, for instance, is a great opportunity for people to share their wealth of land with a community member in need. My friend My Tam Nguyen is partnering to expand the use of modular pre-fabricated buildings as a means to provide quick, and relatively cheap, housing that is also high-quality and built to last. 

One thing that is also important in all of this: what are we doing to the community that people experiencing homelessness build. If you have had the opportunity to meet the folks living in the encampments in Seattle, for instance, you'll see a community that has been built, where people help each other, and spend time with each other. I was talking with a provider recently who told me about a man who was given a key to an apartment, and gave it back after a short while. He was alone, and missed his friends. 

This is where we can innovate in what we are doing. Microhousing, for instance, provides a model of privacy in an efficiency unit, while also having the community space that brings people together. Identifying, with providers, where group placements could work is an option that I believe is worth exploring. Tearing communities apart because one person won the housing lottery is not exactly ideal. 

That we are moving forward with multiple navigation centers is a very positive step, as well. Along with having them throughout the city. Someone sleeping outdoors in Lake City should have access to safe shelter and services, and the easiest way to provide that, and ensure that shelter and services is used, is by providing support near where people are living outdoors now. While there is an argument to be made that it is more cost-effective to cluster social services in one area, I'm not convinced it is if the end result is fewer people taking advantage of the available programs. 

As we look at our council and mayoral candidates in 2017, one other thing should be considered: are we willing to do an in-depth review of contracts, and invest in technological upgrades to better connect providers across the region? It's politically unpopular to question whether funds are being spent well, but that is the job of elected officials. I do not believe that we need to continually throw money at problems without ensuring that the money is being spent well. Some things are just expensive (housing, for instance). And other things should cost more (so that they come with living wages for the folks doing this important work). 

It's a bit of a crazy year in Seattle politics. But I believe that we can continue to push a conversation that ends with policies that will provide housing and services to those in need. Sweeping people around isn't working. If our city is willing to make the capital investment, and the structural changes, I do believe we can have an approach that provides safe and stable shelter for people - and that's a win for everyone involved. 

#CliffMass

Dear Cliff,

I hope you don't mind if I call you Cliff. I figure we could probably be friendly, and it's a good place to start. Might make this whole conversation a little easier. 

This guy thinks we should corral the poors into South Seattle industrial areas. I disagree. Photo Credit: Deep Green Resistance Seattle. Used without permission. 

This guy thinks we should corral the poors into South Seattle industrial areas. I disagree. Photo Credit: Deep Green Resistance Seattle. Used without permission. 

I recently read something you wrote regarding homelessness. Now, I get it - your interest in politics and public policy have been...well, they've existed. The whole math education bit that led to your termination from KUOW - that was rough for a lot of people. And your support for the Viaduct Park proposal that voters soundly rejected in 2016 must have been tough. The "NO" party was in the same building as Nicole Macri and Yes for Homes, and the amount of people that came to celebrate the loss of I-123 was actually pretty significant. 

But just because we make some questionable decisions doesn't mean we should just stop trying. And I always applaud people who want to come to the table with meaningful solutions. Folks who are willing to do the background work to better understand a problem, and then work with people impacted on what that solution might look like. 

But you didn't do that. So, as politely as I can say it - shut the fuck up on homelessness. 

The thing is that there are people who read your blog and trust you. The damage bad ideas can do is huge. Clearly you're not a regular reader of this blog (I still maintain we have five readers [and yes, I just referred to myself as "we"]). My regular readers would never write such drivel. But because you did, I want to go over your "ideas." 

1. Build large amounts of very low cost housing. Of course we need to do this. And Seattle has been doing this since the 1980's. The Seattle Housing Levy - which we doubled last year - has produced over 13,000 units of permanently affordable housing, with the majority set-aside for folks making 30% and below Area Median Income. Partnerships between the Office of Housing, the Human Services Department, and non-profit housing providers, have created "thousands" of units, and will continue to do so. 

But then you go on to qualify it, proposing the city build housing in "industrial south Seattle not far from a light rail line or bus service." This followed your attack on scatter-housing. I highly recommend reading "Show Me A Hero," or watching the mini-series on HBO. Scatter-housing is actually very good for improving health and education outcomes for all people impacted. What really hurts poor families: clustering them away from the rest of the community in an area with poor air quality (and probably some poisoning in the ground). 

And here's the rub - I'm not sure if you actually understand what it's like to have unstable housing, or if you know much about the populations we're talking about. I don't pretend to be an expert on homelessness, but my hot-takes come from extensive reading, talking with providers of housing and services and also (wait for it): listening to people experiencing homelessness. Folks who have jobs, but can't afford a place to live. Or aren't allowed in because of bad credit or a criminal conviction many years ago. People who lost a job, lost their home, and struggled with addiction because to cope, they did what everyone else does: enjoyed  vice. Your beer after a hard day - multiply your hard day by 1,000, and have that be every second of your life. I wrote about the trauma here (and that has links to a bunch of other in-depth writing on the subject).

You want us to cluster the very poor? How about Tolaris? It's near light rail, two hospitals, a grocery store. Or maybe in your neighborhood, which has fantastic bus-lines to necessary services, with fantastic parks and other amenities. Then kids who are transitioning from a tent to a "inexpensive modular unit" could come to you for help with their math and science homework. 

I am with you on the lack of need for "luxurious" housing. Because there is nothing I hate more than knowing that the units in Plaza Roberto Maestes are incredibly up-scale. They have insulation, windows to see outside, doors, working toilets. It's goddamn embarrassing that we are spending money on poor people to let them live in this luxury. Why the city isn't utilizing Hugh Sisley to help better manage our funds is beyond me. WE COULD CREATE SO MANY AFFORDABLE HOMES AND SAVE SO MUCH MUNNY!!!

That isn't to say there shouldn't be strong oversight of how dollars are being spent. But homelessness isn't a chart or graph. It's people, and each person has unique needs. So it's hard to quantify something that really is qualitative in nature. (I think I'm using those terms right. I'm no researcher, though, so probably not. But I'm also a white dude, so I'm assuming you'll give me a pass.)

2. Make it unlawful for any individual to sleep in public places such as under roadways or bridges, on sidewalks, parks, or other outdoor spaces. 

Go. Fuck. Yourself. 

Making extreme poverty illegal is about the most classist thing in the world. And even if we assume your premise that such an action could only happen "once sufficient housing is available," there's nothing to say when that will be. In fact, this mirrors language used by the Safe Seattle folks, who seem to believe we should put a wall around Seattle to keep the extremely poor out of our city. We got ours, so y'all don't need yours. 

But people are going to lose jobs. The economy will crash. People will find themselves experiencing homelessness, and some may end up finding safe shelter under a bridge. I'm not sure if you're aware, but all people need some basic things in life: sleep, food, drink, peeing, pooping. By your logic, if they do one of these in any publicly owned space (which, as taxpayers, they own, too), they should be arrested and hauled off to jail. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? 

I get it. You don't want to see extreme poverty while riding your bike from your nice, white, wealthy neighborhood to your job at the nice university. It is aesthetically displeasing. And we are in agreement that a city like ours should never let this just happen. 

But it did. We're making progress on low-barrier shelter options, and with Navigation Centers, hopefully moving away from expecting religious missions to handle emergency shelter needs. Moving toward more humane ways of addressing extreme poverty. You may not like Tiny House Villages, but what I'm seeing in them - when I am physically there, not just thinking about things - is folks quickly transitioning into the thousands of units of housing we have built in Seattle. Like the Marion West in the University District - close to health care, services, amenities, parks, a library. It's also near middle-income folks, and within walking distance of very wealthy folks. And it works

Homelessness is a very complex issue, Cliff. Clearly you don't really get that. My homies at Seattlish have a point - if you want to pop off, buy a domain and do it on your own blog. Clearly you're doing that. Unfortunately, you are calling for class segregation in Seattle, and worse, saying that the poors should be in an unhealthy part of the city, and poverty should be illegal. All because you bike to work and don't like what you see. 

Respectfully, you can go ahead and fuck right off. 

All of My Best,

Michael

 

#RentStabilization

One fact that everyone can admit: the cost of renting in Seattle is increasing at a pace that is unsustainable for moderate-income families. With the developer contribution to affordable housing brought by commercial linkage fees, incentive zoning, Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE), we're on the right track to produce more housing that will, ostensibly, be affordable to preschool teachers, social workers, and nursing assistants. And while we can have the debate (and should continue to move forward with solutions) around income inequality, that does nothing to address the current housing crisis. 

Small apartments and detached single-family homes - living together in harmony; illegal in mots of Seattle

Small apartments and detached single-family homes - living together in harmony; illegal in mots of Seattle

What's missing from all of our discussions: what about the current "naturally affordable" housing that is quickly disappearing - not from redevelopment, but from lack of competition. Regular readers are very aware that I believe we must build more housing, and in particular more housing types, throughout the city. More missing-middle, legalize and encourage backyard cottages and mother-in-law units, allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family areas. These are all things that will help produce the future of naturally affordable housing. Forcing all development changes into already dense neighborhoods is not going to produce sustainability in the market for non-subsidized homes.

Further, focusing significant changes in neighborhoods that created community in the face of redlining exacerbates institutional racism in housing and access to necessary neighborhood amenities. This is one of the topics that Nikkita Oliver speaks to that is so incredibly important to hear, and work to understand. If we don't equitably develop our city, we'll simply whiten it, and create, as Ms. Oliver has stated, a "museum of us that isn't really safe for us to visit..." We see this in the LGBTQ community, as well, with the significant gentrification of Capitol Hill. More and more families are being pushed from where we were once safe, and when we come back to visit, find bigotry alive and well in Seattle. 

While new construction creates housing that is unaffordable, what has been driving the exodus from neighborhoods throughout Seattle is rising rents in existing buildings. As I've bemoaned many times before, my annual rent increase was about 8% for years - and then 10% this year. While the letter with the rent increase cites property tax increases, the actual reason: the building can get more for its units because new construction prices are so much higher, and while the building is already profitable, it can be even more profitable, without the need for investment in units or community spaces, just because. 

That's not to say that I blame new construction for the increase in my rent. The other part has everything to do with available housing throughout Seattle. There just isn't enough that will accommodate the folks moving to Seattle for high-paying jobs, and the folks who live in Seattle who don't have access to those same high-paying jobs. This isn't developers fault - this is due to strict rules that limit the ability to produce housing, and spread the love around. We have parts of the city with declining populations that still have great access to grocery stores, parks, and bus lines, but allowing for two more families to live on a block is 100% illegal. That's a problem. 

But there remains this festering issue: what do we do now. Lord knows if anyone dares to suggest rent control in Seattle, they will be tarred and feathered by white dudes who know better. By pointing to cities where rent control exists, or charts and graphs that they believe prove that the market alone can solve the housing crisis, if you say it, they will come. (I admit, I've been known to just @ people on the Twitter with the words "rent control," and just watch what happens for the next ten minutes. Bees to honey, y'all). 

So let's contemplate rent control in other cities, and how it impacts affordability. The big one, of course, is New York City. Their RC scheme is complex, but one basic tenet: it applies to old buildings. Only 1.8% of housing units in NYC are actually rent controlled. 34.2% of units fall under the rent stabilization laws because they were built before 1947. 11.2% fall under a different set of rent stabilization rules because they were built after 1946, but before before 1974. 47.2% of rental units in NYC are 43+ years old. Of the remaining units, about 13.7% opt-in to stabilization measures in exchange for tax benefits. Ignoring rent-controlled units - 1.8% is not having a meaningful impact on rents overall - the stabilized units can have rent increases, but they are set annually by a separate board based on inflation. There is also a requirement for lease renewal. There is also a limitation on increases in vacant units between tenants. 

In San Francisco, rent control applies to rental units built prior to June 13, 1979 (except for single-family homes). Rent increases are allowed, and limited to inflation as determined by a board. Landlords can petition for an increase of up to 10% based on capital improvements, or up to 7% if they can show an increase in maintenance and operations costs, however a tenant can petition for a hardship exception from these passthroughs. There is also a just-cause eviction system. However, the system in San Francisco hasn't necessarily meant that rents have stabilized. Instead, combined with extremely restrictive zoning laws, folks moving into the city that make more than folks living their currently are routinely able to outbid existing residents. 

So what can this mean for Seattle? It's no secret that I am a fan of identifying a rent stabilization policy that would work. While folks like to point to San Francisco and New York as proof that it can't work, these are two cities with wildly different systems, neither of which we would have to adopt. The fine art of public policy is re-inventing the wheel. While economists postulate that rent control measures don't work, the options they are given to study are poor options. Even then, economists agree that rent stabilization doesn't have a huge adverse impact on rents or development

I believe there is an opportunity for the city to work with tenants and landlords to better understand the economics of rent. Any proposals to provide stability in housing costs to renters, after all, must be done thoughtfully, and in a way that does not make being a landlord impossible. If tenants can better understand the costs associated with owning a rental unit - and the public at large - we can have better policy. But we have to start somewhere. 

For one, any rent stabilization measures should be accompanied by greater flexibility to build more missing-middle housing. From there - what is the actual year-over-year cost? What comes to mind for me: tax increases (levies, yay!), increases in cost of maintenance and staff (as expected with needed minimum wage and benefit improvements), utility rate increases for common areas (or actual units if your landlord's paying that), and insurance premium increases (particularly if a building does not require renters to carry their own policies). 

Combined, these can all lead to a reasonable expectation of rent increases year-over-year. And, frankly, landlords should be passing these on. I've heard stories of people having the same rent for 3-5 years, and then being shocked when it goes up by $400 per month. Had the landlord just kept pace with increasing taxes and costs each year, it likely would have ended up to be $400, but more manageable being eased in. 

What I think we should look to do in Seattle: limit increases to one per 12 month cycle, require 60 days' notice, and allow increases to be no more than 5% or inflation plus tax increases, whichever is higher, with an exception for capital improvements. Require landlords offer a lease renewal (unless there is just cause), and maybe even require landlords to increase rent by at least tax increases year over year. Tie the stabilization to the lease, allow more building that is appropriate throughout the city, and once someone moves out, the property owner can assess what the move-in rent for the next tenant should be. 

Of course, some have said that this system would discourage people from moving. Once they find an apartment or townhouse they can afford, they'll sit on it for as long as possible. And? Having stability in housing shouldn't be considered a bad thing. It's good for families, good for neighborhoods, and good for our city as a whole when people know they will have a safe place to sleep tonight. 

Additionally, there is no reasonable conclusion that such a plan would discourage development or preservation of existing housing units. You either believe that people are going to build here, or they're not. Sure, ideally this would be a statewide program, but it's worth starting somewhere. What is pushing more and more people out of their homes isn't new construction - it's lack of available housing, leading to increase in cost for existing housing, and then a lack of housing to be found when rents are increased so much as to economically evict middle-income families. 

So while the MFTE and MHA program are dope af, we have to continue to identify what we are going to do for the folks who don't qualify for those new units, and are also being pushed out of the old units that were once "naturally affordable." And I believe we can do that as a city, if we're willing to do the work. 

 

#Parks & #Libraries

Watching the evolving campaigns for office in Seattle this year has been fascinating. One of the candidates in particular, Nikkita Oliver, made some extensive comments during a live Q&A, and her push-back on housing was interesting. Going further to cite policies in other cities that are apples to oranges comparisons with Seattle, and not providing full context of housing policy informs me that she either doesn't know, or doesn't care to be honest with voters. 

So imagine my surprise when, in a South Seattle Emerald interview, my name was brought up. Apparently Ms. Oliver is one of the five readers of this blog. Hi!!!! Specifically, Ms. Oliver stated that I "took [her] comments drastically out of context." I'm assuming that is a reference to my #RunningForMayor post, where I noted that "she called for a 'pause on development.'" Not relying solely on my memory, I was also relying on the transcript that Ms. Oliver encourages people to read. 

The context was a question about whether she would support allowing more homeownership opportunities through allowing more housing types in the detached single-family zoned parts of the city. Her response:

And so, I think—so, the Seattle Times put up a really great article today—I don’t say that often, but they did today—they were talking about the need to maybe put a pause on development and reassess. And I think what needs to happen is going back into communities and having conversations about what does Seattle actually want and who do we actually want to be.

I will concede that Ms. Oliver didn't flat-out say "we need to put a pause on development." Instead, she explicitly praised a Seattle Times editorial that called for putting a "pause on development." So, the totality of her statement, I believe, would lead reasonable people to believe that she, too, supported the Seattle Times' position of a pause on development - except for public housing. That said, if she's now in support of duplexes and triplexes in SF zones - AWESOME!

But even in her response to the South Seattle Emerald, she states that we need to build housing "right now," but also that we need to go back to the process, and aim for consensus before moving forward with any zoning changes. I wonder how much more time we will sit idly by as people with high-paying jobs continue to out-bid middle-income families for housing in Seattle before we have the right kind of consensus. 

Regardless, it is troubling that Ms. Oliver seems intent on not just correcting the record, or saying that she misspoke, but instead that she never said what she said. Perhaps the impact of her words is not what she intending them to be, but impact > intent. 

Late last week, there was also the Twitter reporting from Heidi Groover of a letter sent to council members:

This Tweet got me thinking about development in Seattle. As noted by Dan Bertolet over at Sightline, many neighborhoods in Seattle have seen their populations decline since the 1970s. What I wish Mr. Bertolet would have included: parks, libraries, and schools as they associate with population increases and decreases. 

A common theme around development in Seattle is what to do about some of these amenities that are vital to a city, and extraordinarily important for equity. Yet if you tour Seattle parks, you'll find most of the large ones are surrounded primarily by single-family zoned areas. So folks with a 5,000 square foot lot and, ostensibly, both a front and back yard, also have the easiest access to taxpayer funded parks and community centers. We create a system where folks who want to access our parks are often forced to drive or bus if they live in some of our more dense parts of the city. 

Some say that the lack of readily accessible park space in denser areas is a reason for developer impact fees to pay for parks, or community planning to include publicly accessible open space as part of construction plans. 

But wouldn't it also make sense to have more housing options - missing middle, especially - near the great parks we currently have? While some of our parks in Seattle are often full (especially in the summer), there remains ample space in many for all people to enjoy them. 

Yet our development plans in Seattle continue to center on placing folks in the 11% of Seattle that is our urban villages. We are purposely keeping kids away from libraries - unless their parents can afford the astronomically increasing housing prices in Seattle. 

It's no wonder to me that some neighborhoods (*cough* Wallingford *cough*) have residents that are highly distressed about the planned growth in their area. Particularly when we are not asking, equitably, neighborhoods across Seattle that are near transit, grocery stores, schools, libraries, and parks to also absorb growth through low-density housing alternatives. We are, through our zoning that limits 65% of the city to single-family on 5,000 square foot-plus lots, denying opportunities for multi-generational housing. 

Realistically, much of Ms. Oliver's platform aligns with my policy positions. I agree with John Colby that she is a very impressive candidate, and her social justice lens is so needed in this campaign. 

That said, her and her supporters' response to the slightest of criticism appears to be to go on the attack. First over her voting record, and now with her asserting that praising the Seattle Times' call for a "pause on development" was not a call for a "pause on development." I'm a paralegal by trade, and I've had my fair share of attorneys not liking it when I point out something they said that they didn't care for. But for someone seeking a leadership position, I continue to believe it's perfectly acceptable to admit when you said something wrong, and move on. 

We have a housing crisis in Seattle. To address it without looking through an equity lens will lead to more gentrification, and pushing more black and brown families out of our city. We can do better, and I continue to look forward to proposed solutions. However, if Ms. Oliver's proposed solutions are to assert that the right approach is "consensus governing," I'm not convinced that this is the right position. Consensus governing takes longer, and that means more people will be left without shelter, more people will be subject to the suburbanization of poverty, and more families will not have access to the amenities enjoyed in the wealthy, white parts of the city.

Leadership, Apologies, and When to Step Down (or #April6 Part 3)

The city is still reeling from the bombshell in politics that occurred April 6, 2017.  Worse still, was the second bombshell that went off April 14th.  It has now been three weeks. I wrote about the response to the sexual assault allegations here. Danni Askini published her own op-ed in response, putting forth the idea that the mayor should resign: not because of his accusations, but because of the way he handled them.

The final paragraph of Jonathan Martin's Seattle Times editorial

The final paragraph of Jonathan Martin's Seattle Times editorial

Since then, we are beginning to see more media outlets acknowledge and address this issue. Crosscut acknowledged these responses in a piece by David Kroman. Jonathan Martin wrote an excellent piece on this aspect for the Seattle Times. Just yesterday, the Seattle Weekly published a piece on this issue from Casey Jaywork. It is safe to say that Mayor Murray has had ample opportunity to think about the impact of his op-ed in the Stranger.

Also yesterday - Heidi Groover published a long piece about the impact of the Mayor’s words, and his defense team’s strategy for the Stranger. It’s good, and includes some harrowing data regarding the likelihood of criminal activity following childhood sexual assault. Also highlighted: the known impacts of the vicious and offensive tactics currently being used by the Mayor. These tactics are employed not only by Murray, but are all too common. This is a problem.

I can’t stop coming back to the fact that in the three weeks since the Mayor’s original op-ed, we have not heard anything from him apologizing for the way that he cast a wide net attacking all survivors of sexual assault. While acknowledging with the City Council that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Ed didn’t think to acknowledge that he fucked up when he put forward the idea that a lack of prosecution counts as proof that no sexual assault occurred. Or the idea that people who have criminal histories can’t be trusted when they report sexual assault.

We know that 1 in 5 women have been the victims of sexual assault, and 1 in 20 men. For women, only about 31% of sexual assaults are reported. For men, the reporting rate is much lower. Of those that are reported, just 3% actually result in prosecution.

We also have data on why people don’t report.

·         20% because of fear of retaliation.

·         13% because fear that law enforcement won’t believe the reporter.

·         13% because as a culture we have trained people that rape is a personal matter.

·         8% did report – but the person they reported to did nothing about it.

·         8% because we have trained people that some rape isn’t important enough to report.

Is it any wonder that so few people report their crimes when they see a powerful elected official publicly attacking victims of sexual assault?

The mayor has had three weeks to apologize. Three weeks to reframe his statements, and set a stronger example about how to talk about sexual assault. It seems increasingly unlikely he’ll do so.

Lincoln Beauregard, the victim’s attorney, is also at fault. His tactics show that he is not being an advocate for his clients or survivors of sexual assault. He is being an advocate for Lincoln Beauregard. The initial Complaint was poorly written, and includes details best left to discovery. Now that those details are in the public realm, doubt is necessarily cast on future accusers who tell the same story. Filing discovery with the Court (which is highly unusual) is simply a way for Mr. Beauregard to fan the flames of histrionics surrounding this case. Thankfully, Judge Galvan has seen this, and hit him with a personal fine of $5,000 for his conduct. He is equally to blame for the adverse effect this will have on victims of sexual assault in Seattle.

I would even go so far as to fault some of the media coverage. Notably the continued focus on the Mayor and his attorneys and the politics of this whole thing. Missing: the experts on sexual abuse and assault to counter the message that if you don’t report immediately, it didn’t happen; to counter the message that if it isn’t prosecuted, it didn’t happen; to counter the message that if you’re a troubled youth, you are not to be believed. The Seattle Times, the Stranger, Crosscut, the Seattle Weekly – they’re doing this work. But for the kids who are being abused right now – I fear they are more likely to see the scandalous portrayal from TV news rather than read such thoughtful print journalism.

The thing is – I want to believe Ed. As the first LGBTQ mayor in Seattle history, with a long track record of success on things I care about, I don’t want to believe that he could commit these horrible acts 30 years ago that might besmirch the good work he has done. As the only LGBTQ candidate in the 2015 general election, he provided some great advice. Having worked with him and his team on parks and the Housing Levy, I know that he truly cares about equity (even if it doesn’t always show it). So I am conflicted on my initial “trust survivors” mentality with these accusations against an LGBTQ civil rights hero.

But the buck has to stop somewhere. The willingness to attack the perceived shortcomings of the accusers in this case (drug addiction, homelessness, and criminal activity to survive) is disgusting. The unwillingness to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings of narcissism and putting one’s self before everyone else – the city, the LGBTQ community, the 12.5% of Seattleites who have experienced sexual assault – is heartbreaking. Like Sen. Ed Murray, I believe in giving people opportunities to right wrongs, and I desperately want that to happen.

I believe in the law and civil procedure. We have a system in place so that people can defend themselves against accusations through a system of discovery, and occasionally a trial. It disgusts me when people abuse that system for their own personal gain – which I believe Mr. Beauregard is doing. And I believe that Mayor Murray can and should utilize that system to defend himself on the specific charges.

But if he is unable to do that without dragging down victims of sexual assault, the community, and everyone  else – if he is willing to risk not only his everything, but our everything – then it may well be time for self-reflection. It may well be time for him to consider the impact of his words and actions, and whether his continued public battle is truly in the best interest of Seattle, or instead solely in the best interest of Ed Murray. If it is the latter, then he is no better than Mr. Beauregard, and it may well be time for him to show leadership, apologize for his behavior, and if that is not an option, then maybe it is time to step down.

 

#Accomplice (or - #Allies Part 3)

Folks who have seen me out and about have heard me toss out the word "accomplice" instead of "ally." I use the term because I'm not always convinced being an ally is enough. Casting good votes, sharing good articles, maybe showing up to a march - these are good things, and people should continue to do the same. This builds community. Bringing your friends along will help open more minds to the challenges facing historically marginalized communities. Keep doing these things

But being an accomplice puts some skin in the game. Taking a personal risk to advance a greater good. Recognizing the voices in that community that you have discovered through allyship that have not been lifted, and giving up your space and your voice so that they might be heard. Giving written testimony to elected officials to ensure women and people of color have space for public testimony. Calling out your friends, and working with them to connect folks to organizations that might otherwise not have that connection, bringing new perspectives that make organizations function better. Do this, too

It begins, of course, with being a good ally. I'm immediately reminded of a piece by The Oatmeal. Give it a read. 

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See, the path to being a good ally begins with a willingness to be challenged - and accept it. While we have an innate desire to be right, and to have our frame of reference be left untouched, that can lead to harmful reactions to those who have a different experience, particularly if theirs challenges core beliefs that we hold. Statistics and data are great, but the fact is that they do not trump real-life experiences. 

We see this often in urbanist circles, and in conversations around property taxes. The data shows that property taxes in Seattle aren't that bad compared to other major metropolitan cities. The refrain about people being "taxed out of their homes" is not supported by data. While there is information to suggest some people may have to leave as a result of increasing property taxes, we ignore that figure because it's so low. 

And then we reject it when brought up by communities of color. 

The problem: my lived experience tells me I'll be OK and can survive these tax increases. My wages have gone up over the years, and as a white dude, I can find employment. But people who I talk with in black and brown communities have a different experience. Stagnant wages, a more difficult path to employment, and housing that is held tight because housing mobility is much more difficult thanks to systemic racism. 

So sure, the data shows that the impact of property tax increases is marginal. But it's the people on the margins who are getting the brunt. Outright rejecting their argument means not hearing it, means refusing to acknowledge that experience because it doesn't match our own. That's not being a very good ally. And if you're having trouble being an ally, you'll have even more trouble being an accomplice. 

Aside from my own experience (which includes a lot of fucking up, being told I fucked up, listening, learning, and changing), I am given to thought by so many others in our community. From the Lynda Foster model of not attacking motives, to a phenomenal presentation by Akua Asare-Konadu, Cecilia Jeong, and Elissa Goss on self-reflection and not projecting white perspective on lived experience of people of color, and so many more conversations. Personally, I try to use these to better myself, and I hope that others take them and do the same. 

With that, some pointers and things to think about when you are trying to be an ally:

Think before you speak (and then think about not speaking). I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. When I hear or see something that I believe is factually wrong, I want to correct it. But that's not always the right answer. There are some pure fact issues, but if person x explains their lived experience, and you want to respond with, "Yeah, but (data) and (this article I read once) say otherwise, so you're wrong," maybe don't do that. Think about it. And if you're still so fired up you have to respond, think about acknowledging the different space you come from, and try to learn more about why there appears to be a difference of opinion. 

Actively break down barriers to participation. We all have our clubs that are trying to do good things. And sometimes we want to romanticize the rules to keep other people out. (Of note: I'm hella guilty of this). So when you get called out - think about it, and maybe don't persist. Winning is fun, but sustainable winning is better. And that happens when we keep people engaged. 

Help new folks master the process. There will always be people using the process. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. One of the complaints I hear from a lot of people about it is that they don't understand it, so feel they don't get to participate. On point. So if you know it well, help folks use it. Share your skill. Find allies who support the idea you want, work with them on the how it will be implemented, and let them take lead on presenting it. I can't tell you how many meetings I go to that are dominated by white men debating - and how many times women and men of color have asked me to help ensure they get their voice heard. If you're calling on people, consider calling on people who aren't being heard, and help ensure they keep coming back. 

No #AllMalePanels. If you are putting panels together, actively seek folks who aren't white men to be on your panels. If you get invited to panels, ask who the other participants are. Especially if you're on an #AllMalePanel, be willing to not be on it. Offer up a list of women you know who will be just as good (or, more likely, better) than you. It works. Every time I've done this, one of the women I offer gets on the panel, and she always crushes it. 

Go to events that take you out of your comfort zone. That's not to say crash parties, but if you're invited to Black Pride - GO. Be present, listen to folks, enjoy the food and music. You'll make good friends, you'll have a good time, and you'll have an opportunity to learn. 

It's not about you. By taking any slight against a white politician, or "white people" personally, and then reacting as such, you're not doing anyone any favors. One plus one does not, in fact, equal tacos. But if you want to believe it does, great - do it to yourself, but consider that maybe - just maybe - it equals two. 

Be prepared to do it wrong - and apologize if you're called out. If you get called out for doing something racially insensitive, you probably did something racially insensitive. My gut reaction when that happens: No, you don't understand! But impact > intent. When we immediately react defensively, we create a space that is unsafe for others to call us out. Instead, acknowledge the impact - even if that's the best you can do immediately - and be willing to hear why if the person is willing to tell you. But remember - it's on us to be less shitty, not on marginalized communities to babysit us. So also don't get (visibly) upset if the person doesn't want to talk about it right now. Sometimes we all need time to process things. 

I'm sure there is a ton more - I know there is. But ultimately, it comes down to this: be okay with being wrong, if only so you can have more knowledge to do even more when you're doing right. Find your white friend who gets it and is willing to let you know when you're being a douche. And when your black and brown friends do the same, thank them for their honesty, learn, and grown. When we're better allies, we'll be better accomplices, and can continue to grow a progressive movement that gets even more shit done, while taking care to ensure we are doing so equitably with the lens of social and racial justice in the front of our action.