#Democrats

The Democratic Party is an interesting club (and make no mistake - it is a club). While, as an organization, we follow a grassroots system (PCOs elect LD leaders and County leaders, who elect other leaders that elect State leaders and DNC members, who ultimately elect the National Party Chair), we have a separate habit of making ourselves inaccessible and insular. Personally, I often joke about Robert's Rules of Order being the one thing Party insiders will support above all else...and then will find myself being "that asshole" using the rules to "win" when I don't have the votes. 

Ostensibly, the Party serves a few distinct purposes: Organize Democratic activists to elect Democrats to all levels of government; provide support and training for activists; act as a conduit for ideas to flow from the Party to elected officials. Depending on the organization, there may also be informational panels, events that are designed for fun, or community service. 

Quite possibly, however, the most important thing that we do as a Party is endorse candidates and educate our community about those endorsements. While the importance of these endorsements ebbs and flows, and is really dependent on which office is being sought, at the end of the day, an LD endorsement comes with a sample ballot delivered to voters based on data in the VoteBuilder system. Decades of work by Democrats to create this system to target likely voters 

I am excited about the influx of people interested in being part of the Democratic Party. However, I remain concerned about a rejection of the history of how we got to where we are. Without the decades of work by those considered "establishment," all of these toys we are using to contact voters wouldn't exist. Email lists, social media follows, mail lists, VoteBuilder, bank accounts, PCO lists, etc. etc. 

Historically, the "cost" to candidates seeking endorsement by Democratic Party organizations has been one request: declare yourself a Democrat. To get the club's endorsement, you have to be part of the club (except for judicial races). While some discuss certain offices as being "nonpartisan," the reality is every person is a partisan. 

Currently there is a growing movement in the Democratic Party in Seattle to no longer ask candidates to publicly declare themselves to be a "Democrat" before receiving an endorsement and the resources that come along with that. The VoteBuilder database, for all of its flaws, has been built from years of work from Democratic activists, and Democratic candidates entering information into the system. By removing that requirement that you be part of the club, folks then get a free ride. It seems similar to an "open" shop, where members of the union pay dues, and people who opt out and don't pay dues still reap all of the rewards. 

Conversely, I wonder if now is the time for strict adherence to this principal. Is sharing values enough? Would it make more sense for us to work alongside those with whom we generally agree, but have separate organizations thanks to barriers we have put up around our club over the years? Are fights between left and left the best use of resources? I confess myself conflicted on this issue. Hell, do we even know if the People's Party, for instance, would endorse someone running as a Democrat? Do we care? (we know that Socialist Alternative won't - they have made that clear, and I appreciate their clarity). 

(Side note: my Party friends from outside Seattle, even the hard left ones, don't understand why the hell Seattle Democrats are even having a conversation about allowing non-Democrats to be endorsed and have access to our resources.)

Throughout all of these conversations, one name continues to pop up: Nikkita Oliver. For those who haven't heard, Ms. Oliver is running for Mayor, and has opted to run as a member of a new political party, the People's Party. I confess I don't know much about this Party, their platform, their bylaws, how they function, etc. From what I can gather, Ms. Oliver is choosing this path, because she believes it is more in line with her values than the Democratic Party. To the extent there is alignment of values, this should be read as another example of how we as Democrats need to change our processes to be more accessible and less racist. 

The idea during these conversations appears to be that people want the opportunity for Democratic Party organizations to endorse non-Democrats, specifically Nikkita Oliver. But one question seems to be missing: Is this what Nikkita wants? By choosing to run as a People's Party candidate, she made a choice to eschew the Democratic Party. In changing our bylaws to endorse her because we want to feel better about ourselves, aren't we forcing our Party on her?

The Democratic Party remains an overwhelmingly white Party. And I wholly understand the desire to be less racist. But I can't help but question whether forcing a black woman to change her course, or throwing an endorsement in her direction that she specifically is running against, is inherently racist. By knowing better than Ms. Oliver, and making choices for her so we feel better, are we not indicating that she can't make her own choices? 

I want the Democratic Party to be a place where people from all of our various factions feel comfortable. And when I am an obstacle to that, I enjoy being informed as such so I can check myself. But if people make a conscious choice to not be part of our organization - as Kshama Sawant has done - I don't think that means we change our organization to force them in. I expect that most people engaged in this level of political discourse are smart enough to make up their own minds and fully weigh the consequences of their choices. 

#HALAYes!

Following the vote on the U District rezone, a friend asked if it's difficult for me to be an observer while CM Johnson leads on this important issue. It was something I had never thought of prior to that, and I responded: Nope. I would love to have had the salary and be paid to think about these things, but at the end of the day, implementation of MIZ (or MHA as we call it), and a plan in place to address pending massive displacement in the U District is what mattered to me. And, frankly, were our positions reversed, I'm pretty sure PLUZ would not be where I would be. Parks, Finance, Human Services - those were more my bailiwick. But what I found to be of particular importance - the leadership and willingness to push back against a loud but vocal minority that we have seen, particularly over the last year, from my council member. I promise there is a point to this. 

Our city - Seattle - continues to attract jobs and the people to fill those jobs. This is a good thing. While it may have seemed ideal at the time, the long-term ecological impacts of things like the Microsoft campus in Redmond are a real thing. Climate change is happening, and a major driving force that we as a society can have a meaningful impact on is where jobs and people go. Car-based planning means more CO2 emissions, with suburban and exurban sprawl leading to more deforestation and damaging wetlands, all while encouraging more car-centric lifestyles. 

The economic reality for many, however, is worsening as a result of skyrocketing rents, with homeownership removed as an option for so many families. All while populations in SF zoned parts of the city decline. Rents are rising faster than wages for many moderate- and low-wage workers, and while we continue to fight for greater economic justice, not having adequate housing supply is causing greater displacement and gentrification as folks who can't afford to live in Fremont or Capitol Hill are moving further north and south. 

As all three readers of this blog are acutely aware, I have read the entire HALA Report, as well as the Community Housing Caucus report. At the end of the day, what I can say is this: I am in full support of all 65 recommendations from the HALA committee. What is clear is that attempting to only adopt some pieces while rejecting others throws off much of the balance. While there are assertions made (often) that HALA is a developer driven product, those are just not well rooted in fact. Further, by rejecting community members as community members simply because they also work in design and development is a very troubling values call against people trying to come up with solutions that will work in our real-life economic and legal environment. 

The 65 recommendations have so much interplay that the importance of them together cannot be understated. Developer-funded affordable housing doesn't work without the minor height and FAR changes. Mitigating parking construction cost through more lax off-street parking requirements doesn't work without stronger on-street parking policy. What is the point of leveraging Seattle's credit rating to maximize production and preservation of affordable housing if we are disallowing folks exiting incarceration the opportunity to rebuild their life outside of prison walls? 

Conversely, much of the Community Housing Caucus recommendations actual necessitate the zoning changes proposed in HALA. It sounds great on paper to spend over $700,000,000 on rent-restricted and income-limited housing, but if we don't allow it to be built anywhere, or only in a small part of the city, the total units that could be produced will be dramatically decreased as the city competes with the private market. Rent stabilization is awesome, but without more housing options, will lead to a city bifurcated into the very rich and the very poor.

What much of this all comes down to: our city needs a zoning overhaul that, while minor on aesthetic impact and feel, can be major on providing more housing options for working-class families throughout Seattle. 

A terrifying newer Seattle Duplex

A terrifying newer Seattle Duplex

An older Seattle Duplex

An older Seattle Duplex

In order to do so, however, political courage is required. At the risk of an angry phone call (who am I kidding - I'm not important enough for those), Ansel Herz was absolutely correct when he called out Mayor Ed Murray, stating that he "[lost his] spine" in July, 2015. One of the more equitable portions of HALA is the proposed change to ultimately allow for low-density attached single family housing in the SF zones in Seattle (a/k/a Duplexes and Triplexes). While the city is proposing zoning changes in many neighborhoods, these still amount to a tiny fraction of all residential land in Seattle. Why it is that Laurelhurst, most of West Seattle, and almost all of Magnolia don't have to participate in being a welcoming city through this change is beyond me. 

These apartments just opened near my building, offering 1BR apartments with prices low enough to stop the rapid increases in my apartment building. 

These apartments just opened near my building, offering 1BR apartments with prices low enough to stop the rapid increases in my apartment building. 

Absent all of the city participating in methods to address affordability - whether for tenants or those seeking to enter homeownership - we will continue to see more gentrification and displacement, with particular risk in the Central District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, and the ID. In defense of Wallingford - it is not, in fact, fair to make all of the changes in just a few neighborhoods, while making no changes to neighborhoods that are within walking distance of the Husky Stadium Light Rail station. The city has a chance to rectify this lack of leadership and piss-poor communication of an idea, and I hope that we have more than just a couple leaders willing to explore this change further, and listen to the voters that overwhelmingly have rejected exclusionary detached-SF protectionism at the ballot box. This does not necessarily mean hostility toward those with a differing opinion, but it does require a willingness to, once all information is available, make a decision that might get you yelled at. I am proud that my council member is willing to do just that. 

Throughout this all, however, there must also be continued outreach and expanding the ability for people in Seattle to have their voices heard. Without casting aside the Community Council system entirely, by adding on the Community Involvement Commission and Renters Commission, more people who might otherwise find barriers to participation in decisions in the city - other than voting - can have their voices heard. And hopefully this allows for more courage from our elected officials. 

Is HALA a silver bullet and the be all and end all? Of course not. And supporting HALA does not necessarily mean opposing other attempts to address affordability in Seattle. From revenue reform to rent stabilization, broadband access to equitable transit investment, there is a lot more on the periphery that must be considered and tracked alongside HALA. Many, however, are long-term fights with the Legislature, or in the courts, that, if left solely to those ideas, will mean more people end up without stable shelter, or pushed further away from jobs, increasing CO2 emissions and toxic storm water runoff in our region, at a time when we should be leaders on protecting the environment for future generations. 

This doesn't mean we as residents of Seattle should sit back and leave our elected officials without accountability. But by refusing to acknowledge that, in the present and near-future world we live in, there is a serious supply element to affordability, we condemn future generations for our own comfort. I am not convinced that my nostalgia should necessarily dictate whether my child has an opportunity to raise his family in our city if he so chooses. And that is why I say #HALAYes. 

 

 

A Quickie on the #CHC Report (I Guess #HALA Part 9?)

During the #HALA series, I found myself engaged in many conversations with folks who are less than enthused about HALA. In one instance, I was pointed to the Community Housing Caucus report. So I looked it over, saw some stuff that was similar to HALA, but promised to do a more in-depth look at this "alternative" to HALA. While the HALA committee included people who work in private development (along with nonprofit developers, community members, tenant activists, and so on and so on), this committee did not. Instead, the CHC included staff from two City Council member offices, and various advocates from various organizations, along with two nonprofit developers. 

This goes to an important question - who are the appropriate people to have engaged in a group discussing affordable housing (or any issue, for that matter)? I think it is important to have representatives from many points of view. And while that does not necessarily mean representatives from a trade organization or lobby group, having folks who experience the day-to-day of building a city are important for information that folks who advocate for more affordable housing might not have. 

But enough yammering - 

1. Financing

This starts with a call to dive into Seattle's bonding capacity to build more housing for folks at 0-50% of AMI. I love this idea. However, so far there is nothing to say where that housing (and there's a lot of potential) would go. With many folks who say "look to CHC instead!" opposing zoning changes, there is a concern about doing these great ideas, but having nowhere to put the housing or, worse, having to cluster it all in already poor parts of the city that have jobs and can't constantly take time off of work and family to argue against zoning changes. 

Next is a call for a "Growth Related Housing Fund." This is in HALA. 

Following is a call to dedicated 20% of REET revenue to housing production for folks exiting homelessness (again, with no recommendation of where to put the housing). This would be about $0.106 more than the HALA plan (which is $0.25 additional REET). 

"Dedicate an amount from the City's General Fund" for low-income housing, in addition to the housing levy. Again, no ideas of where to put the housing, or which programs should be cut in order to pay for this. However, there are also calls in HALA to use some general fund dollars on staffing and other purposes, but I believe there it all pays for itself with fee recovery later. 

"Millionaires' Tax" - Anyone who knows me knows I'm all-in on a high-earner income tax in Seattle. I would support a lower number than income of $1,000,000.00 per year, but none of that really matters, because this is a long-term strategy that will do nothing in the immediate term to actually impact affordability in the city due to multiple legal implications. 

"Launch a new private sector initiative to raise $50 million to end homelessness" I'm going to say a hard and unpopular truth: we'll never end homelessness. We can make significant and meaningful impacts, but "ending" is just not an option with the limited resources as a city. However, there is a similar call for private sector investment for more affordable housing, which has a direct impact on homelessness and housing availability for the very poor in HALA. 

"Housing Linkage Fees and Renewed Housing Levy" Housing Levy (doubling) was part of HALA (this just says renewal, nothing about how much to renew by, so I am led to believe that means at the previous rate). The Linkage Fee is also part of HALA, just with a different name (Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning). 

Other Ideas - 

"Limited Equity Cooperative" There is a lot in HALA to leverage the city's credit rating and other resources, along with the Housing Levy, to provide more options for folks to enter homeownership, and to support nonprofit developers. Whatever function this is seeking is already part of HALA, as I'm reading it. 

"Acquisition of significant units" This is part of HALA

"Bridge financing" This is part of HALA, and was part of the Housing Levy

"Prioritize serving the city's poorest households" While not explicit in HALA, this is pretty explicit in the Housing Levy. This does raise a separate question, though - what risk are we placing on folks in the 40-60% AMI range of falling into homelessness if we divert resources to 30% and below? What is the right balance? I don't have the answer, but I have heard from many providers that they see folks going from bad to worse because they weren't worse when they came for services, so were denied. Had they received services when things were "bad," it would have been shorter and much less expensive, with a better outcome. It's a tough balancing test. 

"Options for production of affordable housing" This asserts that nonprofit developers can only develop housing that has 50+ units. However, I don't believe that is accurate. Regardless, more types of housing is included in HALA. 

"Establish a Loan and Bond Guarantee Pool" Something similar is in HALA

"Seattle Housing Impact Note Program" Also known as "Impact Investing," this is part of HALA

2. Zoning and Housing Types

"1-for-1 replacement" I believe that the city should shoot for a 1-for-1 (or better) plan for replacement of affordable housing in areas seeking significant zoning changes. Through a combination of the MFTE, the PTE (if it is authorized), Housing Levy, Commercial Linkage Fee, and MHA, I think we have that ability. As I have written before, just because something is affordable now does not mean it will be forever (unless it is required as a result of public funding for the building). The combination of the programs noted above can create that 1-for-1 plan. This recommendation would amend SEPA to require all developers demolishing four or more units of housing priced as "affordable" to folks at 80% or below AMI to do a 1-for-1 replacement, along with similar requirements for any air or street or alley vacation. While functionally similar, I'm not sure if this plan would pass constitutional muster under the takings clause. 

"Place a hold on up-zones where low income housing is threatened" Earlier in this report, there is a call for massive funding of production of affordable housing units. However, with this portion, that would deny the ability to build that housing near light rail or high-capacity transit. The fact is low-income housing is threatened throughout the city because more people are moving here. Those people often have money and good paying jobs here. They are not the ones who will be turned away from the city - the folks who are low-income are the ones who will be economically evicted. This recommendation sounds good, but would have long-term impacts that would be disastrous for the environment and future generations ability to call Seattle home. 

"Zoning manufactured housing" There are five manufactured home communities in Seattle, with 270 units spread among them. Adding this zoning change would disallow anything else to be built on these properties. I agree that mobile homes are one affordable option, but so are condominiums, row houses, town houses, and co-operative duplex/triplex situations. Absent allowing for more of these options, I'm not 100% why we would set aside large swaths of urban areas for a separate housing type. I'm not opposed, either, but feel this misses other affordable housing options that have been killed in recent years. 

"Geographic spread of housing for all income levels throughout the City" This would change L2-L3 to "Family Housing" zones to encourage family type units, and calls for a buffer between SF and mid-rise NC and Commercial zones. This is basically in HALA, and many of the proposed zoning changes in Seattle create the buffer zones. There is also a lot in HALA to encourage more "family size" development (and actually define the term). Suffice it to say, this is, in effect, a part of HALA

"Expand Housing TDR Program" This would expand the TDR program city-wide. But, as noted above, there is a desire to block up-zones, so where the increased density in "designated areas" would be is unclear. 

3. Tenant Access/Protections

"Rent stabilization" Aside from lobbying the state to allow Seattle to implement a rent stabilization program, this would also require all developers who receive a discretionary land use decision in their favor to include rent stabilization (what type is unclear) in their building. I'm a fan of rent stabilization, depending on the specifics. I'm not sure that it would be the best policy, however, to include rent stabilization as a requirement for discretionary land-use decisions. I'd need to see more info, along with the impact of other programs already required by the city. 

"Tenant eligibility for receiving relation assistance" Mostly part of HALA. This would increase eligibility to 80% AMI, as well. 

"Support and seek State passage of a 90-day notice for all rent increases." I'm 100% in on this, and think most people should be. You either know that you're doing a rent increase or you don't. 90 days is not unreasonable. And it gives tenants who are going to be priced out the opportunity to save for moving costs. 

"Restore Just Cause Eviction Ordinance" This would require 90-days notice for a no-fault lease termination and non-renewal. Not unreasonable. 

"Deposit & Fee Reform" Not part of HALA, but a lot of these were recently passed by the Council as part of the move-in fee reform legislation. 

"Right to Organize (RTO) enforcement" A call for the city to enforce its RTO legislation. 

4. Preservation of Existing Subsidized Housing

"Preserving Subsidized Units" This basically calls for what it says. I don't believe this is explicitly in HALA. 

5. Preservation/Creation of Affordability in existing Market Rate Housing

"Pass a 'Right of First Notice' ordinance" An ROFN requires certain property owners to alert the city (and subsequently nonprofit developers) of an intent to sell before placing a property on the market, giving the nonprofit an opportunity to make an early offer before a bidding war begins, and potentially purchasing a property and maintaining affordability in the otherwise non-subsidized units (affordability that would ostensibly be lost with a profit-driven purchaser). Council Member Tim Burgess spearheaded something similar back in 2015. 

"Housing Preservation" Preservation is a pretty big part of HALA. This would simply add a commission (because we're Seattle) to inventory privately owned buildings that may be affordable without a subsidy. 

"Amend the City's Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE)" This is fascinating. This says we should either limit MFTE to nonprofit developers, or limit it to areas that are not experiencing significant growth. That would literally produce fewer affordable units of housing for folks around 80% AMI, making Seattle less affordable for many working families. I agree that MFTE needs some tweaks (some of which are proposed in HALA), but not allowing MFTE in high-growth areas near light rail and transit is classist af. 

"Future condominium conversion" This would limit the ability of rental properties to convert to condos. While I agree there should be some safeguards for tenants, if we are going to promote more homeownership opportunities (as called for above with mobile homes), then condo conversations are a natural way to look to create more affordable opportunities. I'm not sure how intellectually consistent this document is. 

"City authority over SHA" Seattle Housing Authority is an interesting thing, and it has its issues. This would require SHA to seek explicit city approval of any actions that would reduce its housing portfolio. Not part of HALA

6. New Affordable Housing Resources

"Public land availability" part of HALA

"Inventory low-income housing" This isn't part of HALA, but it's something that is already being done through the Office of Housing. 

"Develop strategy to identify and make use of suitable land and resources for low income housing" part of HALA

"Annual low-income housing targets" This is sort of part of HALA. HALA has a target for total units, and while not laid out on an annual basis as this calls for, the function is basically the same. But, again, with calls to limit where housing can be built throughout this document, it's difficult to understand how this document purports to meet these goals. 

"Land for encampments" This is not, and should not, be part of HALA. Encampments are an interesting and difficult conversation. With the influx of Tiny House Villages (THVs), I personally believe that we should set up city-sanctioned THVs throughout the city, and work to get people out of unsanctioned encampments into THVs and, ultimately, into permanent housing. Replacing tent encampments with THVs would provide more protection from the elements for folks, and is a direction I would like the city to move toward. I have heard there are some in Nicklesville and SHARE/WHEEL encampments who prefer to be in tents over THVs or permanent housing. I am hard pressed to support funding tent encampments further if/when there are sufficient THVs to replace tents in all of the city-sanctioned encampments. 

"Vehicle residency" I am supportive of RV and Car Camper lots, with access to services and toilets and trash collection and the like. We've tried this in Seattle, and it didn't go too well, but I think it is worth exploring how we can do it better, and cheaper, to help meet people where they are prior to providing people with permanent housing. 

7. Place Based Strategies (OH and DPD)

"Special Review Districts" This would create a zoning overlay that would have boards reviewing the impact on existing affordable housing of any new development, with veto power over any permit. This would add another layer to the review process, and necessarily slow all development in the city, raising the cost of development, and raising the cost of housing that is not rent or income restricted. This is a terrible idea. 

"Advisory groups" This would be "in lieu" of the above recommendation, and have neighborhood/tenant based advisory groups review the status of low-income housing and recommend ways to preserve and grow low-income housing stock. This is not part of HALA, but there are a series of commissions that will have similar tasks as part of their purview (CIC and Renters' Commission). 

"Take action to address 'Student Housing Needs'" Why they put quotes around student housing needs is unclear. It's a real thing. But basically this calls for OH to work with the colleges and universities to make suggestions to address the need for more affordable student housing throughout Seattle. Not part of HALA, not a bad idea. 

8. Sustainable Homeownership - OH

"A principal reduction program" This would have the city purchase underwater homes from the bank, and then re-sell them at an "affordable" market price to the people about to lose their house. There was foreclosure assistance funds added to the Housing Levy. I'm not sure how I feel about this specific idea, however. Absent turning over the property to a Land Trust and placing covenants around the future resale price, I'm not convinced it is good policy to use taxpayer dollars to benefit banks and individuals without a permanent benefit to affordable homeowership opportunities in the future. 

9. Additional Strategy Focus

"Work to End Homelessness" Build more housing for folks transitioning out of housing. But again - where???

"Homeless Families" Build more housing for homeless families - and with a regional approach. But again - where???

"Homeless Youth and Young Adults" Increasing resources for services and supportive housing for this often neglected population sounds like a fantastic idea, and I will always be on board! 

"Expand Shelter Capacity" We are already doing this. In addition, I think we should have more oversight of how the funds are being spent, a priority of funding for low-barrier shelters that have services to connect people with permanent supportive housing, day shelter options with storage lockers, and drop-in inspections of shelters to ensure that we are providing sanitary emergency places to sleep. 

"Purchase Hotels for Voucher Program" Basically, instead of funding hotel vouchers, just buy some damned hotels and save in the long-term. Not a terrible idea, especially if it could be combined with plans to re-develop the site to build permanent housing. 

"Shared housing" This is an interesting one. "Consider shared housing for people moving out of homelessness." Would this include microhousing developments? 

"Size of Units" While much of the HALA report (and some of this) focuses on more family size housing, this specifically says we should encourage building more studio apartments for singles. As I've noted before, microhousing is a great option, as well. Many singles that I know, and have met during my time volunteering in encampments and tent cities, aren't looking for a lot of space, and many have specifically stated they would love a micro unit. So just keep that in mind, I guess. But also - WE NEED MORE FAMILY SIZE UNITS.

"Small houses" Not the THVs, but Tiny Houses that include bathrooms and the like, are a hipster dream. This would allow for more of those to be built throughout Seattle. I'm guessing in RSL zones. Whatever. 

"Companion congregations" I think this calls for creating a program where a church can work with a landlord to place a church member in need of immediate housing for a year or less. I think. 

10. State Issues for Advocacy

"Housing Finance Reform" This is basically in HALA

"Utilize land at Fircrest" The Fircrest Residential Facility provides a home for about 200 adults with developmental disabilities. This recommendation would redevelop some of the property that is not being used for housing for housing for specific populations, "such as low-income seniors." Not part of HALA

"Basic standard for cities in developing homelessness remedies" Some cities restrict the ability of homeless shelters to be built, or services to be visible to those in need. This calls for the City to call on the State to intervene. 

"Regional housing plans" A call to require Metropolitan Planning Organizations to produce a housing plan with the currently mandating transportation plan, with the idea that we have a regional problem. 

And that's it. The Community Housing Caucus report has some good ideas that are not part of HALA, a lot of stuff that is explicitly in HALA, and a lot of stuff that HALA actually does. There isn't anything about livability in this report, though, and it doesn't touch on things like parking that have a direct impact on the cost of production of housing. Further, there are many places where it calls for pretty significant investment in production of new housing, while at the same time seeking to limit the ability to build any new housing. The amount of contradictions and lack of intellectual consistency is troubling and surprising. 

Also: I totally lied when I thought this would be quick. Regardless, this just about concludes the overall series on HALA! 

 

#HALA Part 8 - A Return to Parking

That this took eight parts to do shows that HALA is not an easy thing. Housing affordability is not an easy thing. There are so many different policies that come into play in order to do more than just place band-aids here and there. One thing that is pretty clear: HALA is not just zoning changes. It's financing, parking, tax policy, civil rights policy, and so much more. 

But I'm not ready to summarize my impression. Instead, I'm starting on page 37, where More Innovation kicks off with:

Reform the Review Process

RP.1 - Reform the Design Review and Historic Review Process

This could be called the "get shit done" proposal. This recommends changes to the processes by allowing for improved 2-way dialogue during board meetings, adding people with more technical expertise to the respective boards, more meetings to review more projects (but fewer meetings for individual projects), more training of board members, and limiting the discussions during design review meetings to the topic at hand - not tangential things that people want to just wax poetic about. So keeping Design Review, but putting in place procedures to keep board meetings focused and on track to make decisions. 

RP.2 - Reduce the number of housing projects subject to SEPA

Noting that the city adopted SEPA guidelines to address deficiencies in code requirements, this recommends eliminating an additional review beyond those the city already is doing in order to protect the environment for projects to a certain threshold. BUT, it recommends doing a thorough study to better map out how many projects at various thresholds actually have had to have additional conditions following SEPA before making any determination or changes to the SEPA process. 

RP.3 - Improve Interdepartmental Coordination

Seattle can be a city of department silos. This recommendation urges the city to address this on the permitting side, and recommends staffing pre-permitting meetings with representatives from all departments that will be involved in the permitting process for a project, ensuring more clarity in what's what, and avoiding unnecessary delays that increase the cost and timeline of completing a project. 

RP.4 - Increase the predictability of utility charges

Basically this calls on the city to make it clear what to expect for fees associated with connections done by City Light and SPU, and to have City Light and SPU implement timely deadlines to submit bills for these services. 

RP.5 - Provide Staffing Contingencies

Lots of staff involved in permitting are paid for by permit fees. The problem: permit fees come in after permits are submitted. So when there is a surge, departments are understaffed, and can't hire staff until the fees come in, typically toward the end of a cycle. This recommendation calls for using the general fund or contingent budgeting to hire staff when they're needed, not when the money comes in from permit fees, to avoid unnecessary lag in permitting. 

Well, that was an exciting section. Calls for a clearer and more transparent process, with adequate staffing. So if you don't like efficient, transparent processes, then HALA definitely is not for you. 

The next "section" is under "Create Efficiencies in Construction," and includes one recommendation:

E.1 - Pre-fabricated and Modular Construction

This calls for allowing Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) construction, and modular construction, of multifamily housing. Both can be cheaper, just as safe, better for the environment, and quicker to construct. 

But what I really was looking forward to today:

Explore Comprehensive Reform to On-street Parking Regulations

"On-street parking is often one of the most contentious topics when a new housing development is proposed in a neighborhood: residents do not want to compete for on-street spaces. Improving how on-street parking is managed could go a long way towards improving how new housing is welcomed."

OP.1 - Create a parking benefit district and "cap and trade" demonstration/pilot program

Two recommendations i one! A Parking Benefit District (PBD) creates paid parking in a heavily parked-in neighborhood, and returns the revenue from that parking to the neighborhood for improvements (sidewalks, etc.). A "cap and trade" system would work similar to an Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ), and allow the individuals who live in the neighborhood to "rent" their permit for extended use by visitors. Combined, these would discourage folks from leaving cars in public right-of-way for extended periods of tiem. 

OP.2 - Explore revising the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) program.

This is one of my favorites. This recommendation suggests using various methods to more equitably use the RPZ program. Aside from OP.1 programs, this could include pricing the RPZ stickers to be more in line with off-street parking lot costs, and limitations on the total number of RPZ permits in a given area to align with total spaces in said area. 

On this point, opining a bit, by limiting RPZ permits to one (1) per SF house, and using a calculation to determine how many would go to multifamily buildings, based on total off-street parking in the building, total off-street that is generally unused in the building, and total spaces available, the parking issues could be more readily solved. The question that regularly comes to my mind: is public right-of-way the best place for storage of personal property, particularly when there is available off-street options, and should the on-street options be priced so low as to discourage paying for off-street options? At the same time, would it ever be fair to continue to award nearly limitless permits to a single family house that does not have ample (or any) off-street parking, while seeking to limit or deny access to an RPZ program to Multifamily structures? 

OP.3 - Explore improving Right of Way (ROW) management of curb space

The final recommendation suggests that SDOT do a comprehensive review of ROW usage across the city, and implement strategies to better utilize public ROW for transportation purposes, while ensuring adequate parking is maintained (whether for residents or business visitors). 

And that is the end of the #HALA series wherein I review each piece line-by-line. It's complicated, it's long, it can be boring af. But overhauling the way we operate as a city to not only address the affordability crisis now, but in the future, while continuing to be a welcoming city, is complicated. 

Next up I'll be reviewing the Community Housing Caucus report, and then a final summary chock full of opinions that are sure to annoy all sides of the debate around affordability in Seattle. Should be fun. 

#HALA Part 7 - Sustainable Homeownership!

This year, the Young Democrats of Washington are holding the annual convention in Olympia. The theme: Resist and Persist. The vendor for buying tickets: PayPal. The same PayPal that gives us Peter Thiel, big booster for Donald Trump. One would think that a convention designed to fight against the Donald Trump administration could have found a different vendor to accept payment. It'd be like doing an event for #NoDAPL, and paying Wells Fargo to manage the cash. 

But that has nothing to do with where we are in the #HALA series, which is (thankfully) coming to a close. Today, starting on page 35, will be the second-to-last of the main series! And then I can get back to ignoring this website for weeks at a time. 

Promote Sustainable Homeownership

H.1 - Support Permanently Affordable Homeownership and Stewardship

By exploring more models, and expanding existing ones (like land trusts), this proposal suggests the city do more to preserve and expand affordable homeownership opportunities in Seattle that are permanently affordable opportunities into the future. 

H.2 - Explore the Development of a Sharia-compliant Financing Product

For Sharia complaint Muslims, payment of interest or fees on a loan is a no-go. HALA recommends working to identify other ways that the city and lenders might be able to provide Sharia-compliant financing options, so more members of our community can access home ownership. 

H.3 - Seek to Remove Barriers to Condo Development

Condo development is not exactly easy thanks to the implied warranty for construction in the State Condominium Act. Because of shoddy construction, this has led to numerous (successful) lawsuits against condo developers, increasing the cost of insurance policies and exposing assets, leading to condo developers to just not develop condos. The suggestion here is to work to make condo development - a more affordable homeownership option - kick back up on the moderate-price level through changes to regulations and additional measures to reduce risk in condo development. 

H.4 - Increase Impact of the Down Payment Assistance Program

Seattle has a program where folks at 80% or below AMI may qualify for down-payment assistance from the City. This recommends identifying ways to ensure more families who qualify can actually find a place to purchase, and that the total amount will ensure they qualify for the remaining loan. 

H.5 - Enhance Programs to Preserve Homeownership for Low-income Homeowners

One of the risks that low-income homeowners face is major repairs. This proposal recommends expanding the funding for repair loans for low-income households that would be consider higher risk for major lenders, and additional resources for low-income seniors at risk of displacement.

H.6 - Support Coordinated, Culturally Appropriate Homebuyer Education

Recognizing that the process of purchasing a home is not exactly simple, this recommendation would expand the existing program, providing counseling and support to ensure folks don't end up in a shit situation on their entry into homeownership. 

And that's that. Some controversial business right there. There are just nine sections left! Tomorrow (hopefully) I'll be covering the review processes, efficiencies in construction, and my personal favorite - On-Street Parking Regulations. Until then, I have paid work to do (fun fact: I am not paid to shill for HALA). 

#Enemies

This week, Mayor Ed Murray announced the formation of a committee, headed by local rich guy Nick Hanauer, to develop a ballot measure for local funding to combat homelessness. I met Nick once. He was shorter than I expected. 

More importantly, though, I've engaged in long conversations with people who work for his policy shop (Civic Ventures). Nick has done some phenomenal work for folks in Washington - through his own work, and that of Civic Ventures. He is a regular "go-to" when lefty issue campaigns need cash. He is also a critical thinker, and not of the tech-bro type. His commitment to reducing gun violence, increasing the minimum wage, and building more affordable housing and transit shows his commitment to our communities. Suffice it to say, I was excited when I heard he was going to head up this committee. 

Knowing about Nick's work, imagine my surprise when another friend of mine immediately tore into the choice because Nick is a "rich guy." And then, when presented with some defense of the "why," said friend continued to insist that because he's a "rich guy," and not a direct service provider, he doesn't have business in the creation of the committee. Notwithstanding my belief that allowing only providers to oversee themselves (outside perspective and questions help build stronger policy), the refusal to acknowledge the good work that Nick has really came down to one thing: the idea that rich people are "the enemy." 

We are seeing a similar trend within the Democratic Party. As someone who became more involved thanks to Howard Dean, I know a thing or two about being part of the "new blood." And I am excited to see so many folks joining the local Party organizations, looking for ways to make us stronger. While a part of me is annoyed that it took Donald Trump for a lot of folks to feel the need to get involved, I'm glad to see the new faces. 

Again, though, imagine my surprise when one of the board members of my local Legislative District organization took to the floor to assert that "now we (the org) will be responsive to your needs with our new leadership." At the same time, many of the new leaders admitted that they were dropping the ball because they didn't know what they were doing, or how the infrastructure worked. 

I held my tongue in order to think on things. Reflecting on my time on the Executive Board - Young Democrats Representative, Vice Chair for Events, KCDCC Representative, and Vice Chair for Communications - I could not think of a time that our organization was not responsive to our members. We continued to grow as an organization, and created events that became "musts" in the city, including Ballots & Bubbly and Pride Brunch. 

Our programming was reflective of the requests of our members. During a holiday party one year, someone asked what I thought, as a Board Member, of a separate "Environmental Caucus" for folks who really wanted to organize around environmental issues in advance of general membership meetings. My response: Hell Yes! And while we are two distinct groups, we have been supportive of their work ever since. Our communications strategy reflected the priorities of the organization, and we always kept an open-door policy as a Board. 

With that in mind, I cannot think of why this person would indicate that prior Board Members were not responsive to membership. This person is also new to the organization - like many other folks - and my guess is that they don't know because they were not around. These kinds of statements make me less than enthused to participate in the organization beyond my bare minimum duties as a PCO, and will surely affect my contribution level to the 43rd this year. 

In the push to purge long-time Party activists in favor of folks who believe they are more liberal, we are pushing people who have dedicated countless time to the organization, and also the folks who know how the infrastructure works. The institutional memory of what we've tried and haven't tried. What has worked, what hasn't worked. The assumption that the individuals' frustration with the National or State Party somehow is automatically equivalent with the local level shows the lack of engagement and involvement prior to now. 

Those of us who have been around are not enemies. If anything, we are natural allies. But people shouldn't be surprised when we decide to expend our time elsewhere following vilification of new leadership that is also new membership. After all, is now really the time to create enemies of folks who are trying to work for positive change?

#HALA Part 6 - Preservation & Tenants

Some of the least read posts on this website are the #HALA series. I'm assuming it's because people have already read the report in order to adequately fight or defend the proposals. Fair assumption?

Regardless, I'm going to trudge on. I started this project, I"m going to finish it. Based on a cursory review, there are three more posts that are summarizing the report line-by-line, then a few for the Community Housing Caucus report, and then an overall summary. Because why not. 

So, time to dive back in, and start up on page 31.

Launch a Proactive Preservation Effort

P.1 - Pursue Opportunities to Acquire and Finance Existing Affordable Multifamily Housing

Basically, this calls for funding and expanding efforts to finance purchase of "naturally affordable" multifamily structures that come up on the market. Some of this was included in the Housing Levy, and with the notice requirement implemented thanks to Council Member Tim Burgess, there's more opportunity to identify "naturally affordable" buildings coming onto the market, and with this tool, ability to keep them naturally affordable once sold. 

P.2 - Make Strategic Investments to Minimize Displacement

This is another strategy that is already being (has been?) implemented. Specifically recommending a city-wide displacement analysis, this goes further to propose geographic-specific displacement mitigation strategies, and equitable investment in transit and other necessary infrastructure. 

P.3 - Pursue a Preservation Property Tax Exemption

The MFTE allows a new building to get a property tax break if 25% of units (20% if a certain threshold of units are family-sized) are reserved for folks making 80% of the area median income. This calls for expanding that to property owners who refurbish existing buildings, particularly near transit hubs and high-capacity transit corridors. 

Now I'm going to go sideways for a second here. This proposal has been decried as a "giveaway" to developers. I disagree. While I do believe that the MFTE program could use some tweaks (notably a requirement that signing up for it keeps the structure in the program for a minimum of 12 years, not allowing folks to just opt-out a few years in), and then a PTE can and should be modeled after the MFTE, not allowing this option simply means more economic evictions in Seattle. Landlords are already raising rents in buildings near high-capacity transit, and will continue to do so. Having the ability to get some income-restricted units in all buildings means fewer moderate-income families will be pushed further and further away from transit and community amenities. 

P.4 - Engage Private Owners with New Financing Tools and Technical Assistance

This proposal would create a low-cost rehab loan program for small landlords to keep buildings in shape. In exchange for a covenant for maintaining affordable units, this would ensure more homes in Seattle have needed repairs, and are not falling into such a state that a teardown is the cheapest option. 

P.5 - Mitigate the Impact of City Code Requirements: Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance

We have some current (and potential future) regulations for rental units that protect renters. In some instances, they may also cause significant costs for a building, necessitating significant rent increases. This proposal implores the city to find ways to provide mitigating support to assist small landlords with these regulations. 

So there are recommendations to preserve existing housing in Seattle, in particular areas that are seeing the greatest risk of displacement or significant rent increases due to market conditions or necessary building repairs. Instead of just leaving it all to the market, this section proposes that the city get involved through financing and other measures to help preserve existing affordable housing. 

Next section (and final for today): Increase Tenant Supports

T.1 - Increase Access to Housing for People with Criminal Records

#BanTheBox. One of the barriers to re-integration for folks exiting prison is stable and affordable housing. Often, this can lead to recidivism. Our justice system already is full of institutional racism, and low-income people of color are disproportionately incarcerated. We have also seen that there is institutional racism in access to rental properties. Doubling down means we are doing a severe disservice to our city, and this recommendation basically says: let's do better. (While "protect[ing] property owner's rights and interests.")

T.2 - Explore Local Rental/Operating Subsidies to Serve the Lowest Income

Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) are not keeping pace with the need. Aside from just producing permanently (and long-term) affordable housing, this recommendation suggests working to expand on Section 8 with local funding (government, nonprofit, for-profit, etc.) to provide more individuals with the support they need to secure safe and stable housing. 

T.3 - Increase Tenant Counseling and Landlord Education Funding

More funding for groups that provide education and support both for tenants (so we know our rights and responsibilities) and landlords (so they know their rights and responsibilities). 

T.4 - Allow for Local Portability of Tenant Screening Reports

The Rental Housing Association HATES EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS. Currently, if you're looking to rent, you have to pay a fee for your tenant screening - $40-60. If it takes you five tries to get into a unit, you just blew $200-300 just on being screened (not including the costs of holding a unit, and other creative fees). This would allow folks to do it once, and shop around the report. THIS IS A GOOD IDEA THAT SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED STATEWIDE. 

T.5 - Increase Impact of Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO)

Basically strengthening the TRAO so it covers more households, works through language barriers, and acknowledging and legislating requirements to trigger TRAO payments from landlords who just jack up rents before applying for a use change, teardown, or major rehab, in order to avoid paying the fee. 

T.6 - Support the Landlord Liaison Project

This is an existing program that works with landlords and prospective tenants who are experiencing homelessness and have credit issues - but otherwise would qualify for housing - to use alternative screening methods so we can get more folks into permanent housing. The proposal: Provide city support to the County program. 

T.7 - Explore Solutions to Housing for People Exiting Incarceration

The recommendation calls for a stakeholder group to identify ways the city can provide the support for individuals exiting prison to have safe and stable housing, particularly when they don't have familial support that they might otherwise rely on. Potentially including incentives for private market housing to be part of the solution. 

T.8 - Restore Community Service Officers

CSO's used to provide some intermediary support to help resolve disputes between tenants and landlords. Then SPD cut them during tough budget times. This recommendation says: Let's bring CSO's back!

T.9 - Explore Effects of Housing Costs on Protected Classes

How are skyrocketing housing costs impacting specific communities? Is it greater in the LGBTQ community than the city as a whole? Are we seeing more African Americans priced out of Seattle than we know of? Let's take a look so we can better implement measures that would impact these specific communities that might be at greater risk of not having an affordable home. 

T.10 - Expand Source of Income Protection

If you have a verifiable source of income, that should be what matters when renting. Discriminating against people because it is from SSI, Section 8, or something else, is classist af. This recommendation says: let's ban source of income discrimination (SOID) in Seattle. And I'm pretty sure we did that. 

And that's that. Fifteen (15) sections of HALA. 15 sections that those saying all of HALA should be scrapped are saying we shouldn't do. Preservation? NOPE. Source of Income Discrimination? That's fiiiiiine. Portable Screening? Pffft! Just get a real job and buy a house already! 

Of course, I don't think that is the case. In fact, I like to think that the overwhelming majority of Seattle would be on board with all of these (with some consternation around the PTE). And that concludes today's installation in the #HALA series. I'll pick back up next week! Thank you both for reading!