A group of eight city council candidates running in seven different races have signed on to a list of housing policies they support, promising to enact them within their first year in office if elected.
The group is announcing the plan at a press conference at City Hall today at 11 a.m. Leading the way are incumbent Kshama Sawant and tenant advocate Jon Grant. Sawant is running for reelection in District 3, covering Capitol Hill and the Central District. Grant is in a battle with John Roderick to take on Council President Tim Burgess in the general election for citywide Position 8.
This plan is a narrower version of another plan Grant introduced with Sawant's support a couple weeks ago. That plan called on the mayor's housing committee (of which Grant was a member) to go further in its efforts to address the city's affordability crisis. Some of the language in this new proposal is nearly identical, though the earlier plan was more comprehensive and far-reaching.
Council Member Nick Licata is also expected to sign on to today's plan, but he isn't running for reelection this year. Licata's aide Lisa Herbold, who's running in West Seattle's District 1, has signed on to the plan, too.
Along with Herbold, Sawant, and Grant, the candidates who've signed on are: Tammy Morales and Josh Farris, running against Bruce Harrell in Southeast Seattle's District 2; Michael Maddux, challenging Jean Godden in Northeast's District 4; Mercedes Elizalde in North Seattle's District 5; and Bill Bradburd, running for citywide Position 9.
Here are the policies the candidates pledge to support:
• Impose a linkage fee on "residential and commercial construction in urban villages, commercial zones, lowrise zones and newly constructed single-family homes with no phase-in period." This is likely a main reason council lefty Mike O'Brien isn't part of this coalition of candidates. O'Brien agreed to a "grand bargain" with the mayor's housing committee to support only a modest commercial linkage fee and to take his idea for a linkage fee on residential development off the table as long as other measures move forward.
• "Push to lift the statewide ban" on rent control. It's not specified, but presumably this means support for Sawant and Licata's resolution asking the state legislature to lift the rent control ban followed by continued pressure on the state to do so.
• Increase penalties on landlords who illegally withhold tenants' deposits.
• Cap move-in costs and late fees, and require "interest accrued on deposits to be returned to tenants."
• "Expand relocation assistance" and improve just cause protections for renters whose leases are expiring. Just how the city should improve relocation assistance and "close developer loopholes for relocation assistance" isn't specified, but both Herbold and Grant have already started work on this issue.
• Issue $500 million in city bonds to fund housing that's affordable for people making 0 to 50 percent of area median income.
• Create a "right of first notice" policy to give the city the chance to buy up affordable housing that's being sold to private market developers. Burgess has suggested a 15-day notice period, which Grant has argued isn't long enough. Grant has also called for an even stronger right of first refusal to give the city the first chance to actually buy buildings, rather than simply be notified when they're headed to the market.
• Require "one-for-one replacement from developers whose projects are displacing affordable housing units. "One-for-one" means developers would have to offer just as many affordable units in their new projects as they were replacing. The plan doesn't specify how this would be enforced or what sort of fee developers could pay in lieu of setting aside the units.
• Create a principal reduction program to reduce the amount homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages would have to pay back.
"The early endorsers appeal to all other city council candidates to unite around these common sense proposals," reads a press release Grant sent out announcing the plan, "or explain which ones they oppose since voters deserve to know where every candidate stands on the critical issue of affordable housing."
Plenty of these ideas are short on specifics, and, with much of the council's focus on the mayor's committee's recommendations, it's hard to say how much traction any of them might get in the near term. What is clear, though, is that with less than a week until the primary election and some of these candidates in close and expensive fights for a spot on the general election ballot, this is also a savvy political effort to make sure candidates' affordable housing policies are fresh in the minds of voters.