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.