Guest Editorial: The Mayor's "Grand Bargain" on Affordable Housing Is Not Getting the Credit It Deserves


6,000 new units in 10 years is JACK FUCKING SHIT. It's a pimple on Jeff Bezos's ass. It's a phlegmatic fleck of spittle that flies out of Paul Allen's mouth.

HALA won't mean a damn thing. We'll all be gone, and the its effects will be so minuscule as to be irrelevant.
Well no, actually. Ed Murray's HALA plan is deeply flawed because:

1. It doesn't account for older (albeit in many cases less dense) affordable housing that will be torn down to accommodate this new housing. This should be tracked, but Seattle doesn't track it. Seattle also doesn't track the lost housing opportunity cost of its current practice of selling surplus public land to the highest bidder. Similarly, some of Seattle Housing Authority's actions are quite spurious with respect to lost opportunities to build more affordable housing. For example, at Yesler Terrace SHA sold public land to developers (e.g., Vulcan) so they can build Yesler Village, which barely maintains the existing number of low uncome units while building thousands of new market rate and luxury units, makinig a tidy profit in the process. SHA recently lined up a deal to sell land it owns near the Othello Link station to local developer Lobsang Dargey, because, by SHA's own admission, had been looking for someone who could build market rate units at that location. Dargey is being investigated by the SEC for securities fraud and all his personal and corporate assets (valued at over $125,000,000) have been seized by the feds, so it may be possible to rethink that deal and find a buyer who will build an actual mix of market rate and truly affordable housing at that critical location. SHA also concocted a scheme to have developers build mostly market rate housing on the old National Guard base in Magnolia, even though that neighborhood abounds in market rate and high end housing, and mostly needs middle and low income housing. Last year SHA tried to kick off "Stepping Forward," which would have raised rents on their very low income tenants by 400%. Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata stood with tenants who fought tooth and nail, but Ed Murray and the other CMS were MIA. The point is, SHA has to be watched like a hawk because it lest it continue to underperform on its mission.

2. HALA aims to produce 50,000 new units of housing over the next 10 year, but only 20,000 will be "affordale" units. Of these, only 6,000 units will be for very low income people making less than 30% AMI, 9,0000 will be for those making 30-60% AMI, and 5,000 for those making 60-80% AMI, even though people at these low and moderate income levels have by far the greatest need for housing.

2. The great majority of housing HALA produces will be affordable people for making up to >80% of the AMI, even though people in this income bracket can already afford most of the housing that already exists. Why is this housing even claimed to be affordable when it's really market rate? Is it because of the HALA proponents faith in the "magic of the market" driving down cost because of increased supply? The opposite has occurred in NYC and San Francisco.

3. Very low income and low income people making zero to 60% of the AMI get only 30% of the housing HALA will provide. They are already heavily cost-burdened and grossly underserved by the housing market, and at high risk of displacement, and this will continue to be the case, because 15,000 units isn't enough.

4. HALA doesn't in any way, shape or form constrain landlords from imposing enormous rent increases on market rate housing. It isn't even clear that the 15,000 units of affordable housing will stay afffordable forever..

5. Nothing about HALA helps homeless people, an increasing fraction of which lost their homes because they couldn't afford rent hikes, or their buildings were torn down so landlords can build denser, more expensive units. A homeless friend of mine is couchsurfing at my house because he can't find anything in our neighborhood--where he has lived for over 20 years--for $1000 a month. He has searched for a new apartment for months in our neighbohood and two adjacent two adjacent neighborhoods. He had been paying about $800 for a one bedroom apartment. Because he is a veteran he qualifies for housing assistance, but the only units offered within his price range are in Kent, would make it impossible for him to share child care off his granddaughter, who has a poorly paid retail job.

6. The other great fallacy of HALA are the upzones, which so far are shown only in fuzzy maps posted on the web and discussed in vague terms such such as "walksheds" and "transit corrridors." Why weren't crystal clear maps shared with the public from the very beginning?

7. Why isn't there honest analysis housing supply increases that could be obtained from existing zoning, which in many parts of the city has produced housing that far exceedsscheduled growth targets. Radical rezones could increase property taxes so fast that many people, e.g., retirees, who have worked hard to pay their mortgages over long periods of time will be forced out of Seattle.

The public meetings to discuss all of this will undoubtedly be interesting.
@2: Your criticisms seem to be two-fold: it doesn't go far enough, and it doesn't do other stuff. I think you should re-read your criticisms and realize that you do indeed support HALA recommendations... and more! You should advocate for HALA, then move on to expanding it.

As for some of your criticisms... it may be that you're just ignorant of the facts. For example, on your #6, there IS a map.… @ page 9.

And especially this criticism: "The opposite has occurred in NYC and San Francisco." when NYC and SF both have rent control, which you advocated for in your post. That';s the thing that's causing the unaffordability (as well as NIMBY protectionism of views in many corners of those cities.) Indeed, look at DC, where neighborhoods there are experience both rent disinflation *and* rent deflation in Shaw, H Street and Navy Yard.

So, to sum up, fight for HALA! You seem to agree with in. Then work with the council to expand it.
Burning down a village in order to save it.
Are these affordable units going to be means-tested? How is that going to work? Will Amazon employees looking for a deal on housing have to find a "barista buddy" to sign the lease? Or can landlords rent affordable units to anyone?
@3 The map posted at this link is so vague it doesn't even contain the names of major arterials. When I try to blow it up, it's pixilated.

Calling people you don't agree with "ignorant" will never make them into allies.

Yes, SF and NYC have nominal rent control that is so shot through with loopholes such as the Ellis Act that its ability to prevent massive rent hikes and counter the housing affordability these cities face is miniscule. My point is that both of these cities are undergoing building booms, yet housing is becoming more unaffordable than ever. 6,000 units of low and middle income housing is a drop in the bucket, a Trojan Horse that obscures how much of the HALA is a giant gift to developers.

The best way to improve HALA's ability to deliver large amounts of truly affordable housing is to elect better CMs. That's why I'm voting for Grant and Bradburd. I'm confident people in D3 will re-elect Kshama and O'Brien, but the rest of the Council and the Mayor will continue to do all they can to block delivery of large amounts of housing for the working poor, who compose 20% of Seattle's population, not to mention homeless people. That's a big problem.
Thousands of new residential units in SLU are likely to be unaffected by HALA. In light of this, why does HALA have to provide ANY market rate housing???…
Here's a huge problem HALA doesn't address:…
@2 . It doesn't account for older (albeit in many cases less dense) affordable housing that will be torn down to accommodate this new housing

Such affordable housing can be destroyed one of two ways: by teardown, or by artificial scarcity. There's nothing magically affordable about a house. A friend of mine is able to retire early after selling his mother's house in San Jose--an old, junky 1500 Square foot rambler with no charm or high end features whatsoever--for 1.5 million dollars.

The same is true in Seattle. Go to zillow, search for 3+ bedroom houses for 300K or less. I turned up ~25 results, but 10 of them were starting prices for auctions for houses that will go for more, and about half of the others were in terrible shape and being sold as presumed teardowns. No more than 10 are plausible options for a family to actually move in to. Five years ago there would have been many hundreds of houses under that price point (I was on the market then--I saw many of them myself.) That affordable housing has been thoroughly and efficiently destroyed, far more efficiently than bulldozers ever could, by artificial scarcity--a set of policies that ensure housing supply will not be able to increase at the same level as demand.

80% of the AMI, even though people in this income bracket can already afford most of the housing that already exists.

This is nonsense. 80% for a family of four is ~65K. Even if such a family happens to have a full down payment, they can barely any houses currently on the market in Seattle now, and the last vestiges 'natural' affordable housing stock you say you want to preserve will be destroyed by scarcity in the next few years. Families in the 80-100% AMI range have very little hope of finding affordable housing now. I think it makes good sense for subsidized units to focus on the more vulnerable 80% and below, but getting lots of new market rate housing out there is the only way to protect housing for the middle of the middle class--who make too much to receive government assistance.

Is it because of the HALA proponents faith in the "magic of the market" driving down cost because of increased supply? The opposite has occurred in NYC and San Francisco.

Of course, this is bullshit. The primary reason is that San Francisco is adding about half as many units as it would need to to keep up with population growth, resulting in more scarcity and quickly rising prices. From 2002-2006, permits were issued for housing starts at a much greater rate than demand was increasing in the Bay Area. Rents were flat--the average rent increase in 2007 over the last five years combined was 1%. Then the permits plunged and the population started spiking, and we get the same result we go the last time that happened--rising rents. The reason the SF area is seeing a spike in the cost of housing is because new units construction is about 10-11K a year behind what it would need to be to keep up with population. We know what happens when it does keep up, because we saw it from 2002-2007. (data from chart below.) This isn't complicated--the greater the gap between population growth and new housing units, the faster rents and prices go up. This is an evidence based finding; it relies on no "faith in markets" but paying attention to trends and data.…

Take another example: Washington DC ramped up the production of housing units in response to an affordability crisis, bringing supply into line with demand. As they came on line in 2014, what happened?…

Perhaps its not magic after all?

I agree we could use more than 20K set aside for affordable housing, but we need the rest of the market to produce enough units to make sure we don't have 80K%+ being priced out of the actual market, as is currently occurring. I know HALA won't meet all the demand for >80% of AMI crowd, and I fear (especially without the single family zone adjustments the NIMBYs were able to strangle in the crib) it won't add enough new stock to the market to keep options open to the middle class, either. But political initiatives--especially addressing urgent and live issues--should always be evaluated not against some ideal alternative but against the status quo. The status quo provides a hell of a lot less for people below 80% and for the 80%+ but not rich enough to not care bracket than HALA does. If we'd listened to the "let's make the perfect the enemy of the good" crowd who wanted to kill Obamacare because it wasn't single payer, many millions of now insured people would be worse off, and many thousands of them, including a dear friend of mine, would be dead. Such a mentality should have no place in a committed, grounded progressive politics.
@9 thanks for your takedown of @2 so I don't have to. Spot on in regards to artificial scarcity as main driver economically obliterating naturally affordable housing. As someone who works in affordable housing development and preservation, I really don't understand how the authors miss the mark so badly.
@1 is correct. We could easily allow all non upzoned SFH lots where people stop using cars to either replace external garages with Tiny House foundations to rent/lease or allow them on the drive, provided they are used by people who commit to using only walking biking transit and short term car rental like Car2Go (Max 30 days per year).

This allows working poor, minority families (who have very few assets), and veterans to build equity by owning their house. Capital formation is hard for them.