On April 10, 2017, the Seattle City Council voted in favor of upzoning South Lake Union and Downtown. Councilmember Herbold introduced an amendment to increase the pitiful 2.1% affordable housing requirement included in the bill to 5%. This should have been a straightforward yes vote for a City Council that claims to be progressive. And even 5% falls far short of what’s needed to address the burning housing unaffordability crisis.
Unfortunately, I was the only Councilmember to vote with Councilmember Herbold for this amendment. This is a crystal-clear reminder of why our movement needs to run independent candidates that don’t take money from big developers and big business. We need representatives who will fight for working people. For more, see my remarks from before the vote below.
We live in a region where the two richest people in the world live side-by-side with thousands of people who have no homes at all. And we live in a city that is growing wealthier by the week, as working people keep getting pushed out. It would be farcical if it was not such a tragedy. And the response from the Mayor and the majority of the Council frankly could not fall farther short of the real needs of the situation.
And that is no accident. The Mayor invited for-profit developers onto his HALA committee, and gave them a veto over any recommendation, so the measures that could make any real difference, like fighting for rent control, were not allowed to see the light of day in the so-called “Grand Bargain.”
Today’s discussion on the Mandatory Housing Affordability in South Lake Union and Downtown epitomizes that inadequacy. In the neighborhoods where property owners and developers are making the most profit, where affordable housing is becoming an endangered species, the current proposed legislation would require less affordable housing than anywhere else in the city, and as Councilmember Herbold points out, perhaps even less so than the status quo.
The current proposal to only require 2.1% affordability for development along the waterfront is pitiful. After tax payers spent hundreds of millions to beautify the Waterfront Park, and billions to move the viaduct underground, all to elevate property values, we are then requiring only 2.1% affordable housing in what is sure to become some of the most valuable real-estate in the city and a windfall for some very lucky people.
That is the power that big business has in City Hall. They take literally billions of dollars of our tax money, give us back a handful of affordable units, and the politicians expect us to thank them.
I want to be clear: I want every affordable housing unit possible, and we should get the units that today’s legislation can produce. But we cannot treat it like it’s anywhere near sufficient.
Councilmember Johnson said that we don’t know what the negative aspects of increasing the affordability to 5% will be. I can tell you — I am not a real estate economist, but I am an economist, and I think it is somewhat of a “voodoo economics” thing to say this amendment is going to create some negative impacts. On the other side, there is no suspense about the negative effects of the lack of affordability. We are living that every single day.
At the very least, Councilmembers should support Councilmember Herbold’s amendment to increase that 2.1% to 5% affordable housing. That also, as many of you [in the audience] have said, is not enough, but it is more affordable housing, and we should fight for every unit that is available.
I will vote yes on this amendment. I join all my fellow activists in condemning the sweeps of our homeless community members, and I urge that our movement hold elected officials accountable. Remember their votes on affordable housing when they come back to campaign for their reelections. And I thank all the small business owners who came out today to support increasing affordability.