Nobody is looking to create a database of homebuyers' nationalities. That's the message from Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold and mayoral candidate Cary Moon as both face criticism for proposals aimed at reining in housing speculation.
As reported by The Seattle Times earlier this week, Herbold asked City Attorney Pete Holmes whether the city could legally tax foreign investors and vacant properties and he said no. Then, in a letter to King County Assessor John Wilson, Herbold said she was interested in potential policies to require disclosure of the identities of people who buy "some types of luxury real estate and housing" but do so through LLCs or shell companies. But, "given the current political climate and the history of exclusion laws directed at immigrants from China which Seattle adopted in the 1880s," Herbold wrote, "any such disclosure system would need to be designed to ensure that it did not foment racial bias or resentment." In response, Wilson told the Times he doesn't "want to be a party to anything that even vaguely smacks of us trying to create some kind of racially stratified list."
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Cary Moon has made a tax on speculators a central plank of her campaign and her opponent Jenny Durkan, like Wilson, has attempted to cast that proposal as Trump-like.
In a statement this week, Durkan wrote that "creating government databases based on national origin and imposing taxes on foreign investors is illegal, contrary to our progressive values, and wrong." (Durkan is now claiming she's "not saying" Moon intended to single out buyers based on their race, even though that is exactly what she implied.)
Moon called Durkan's comments "misleading and disingenuous."
As mayor, Moon says she would order the city to collect the "number of housing units bought by corporations, cash buyers, shell companies and private equity firms, and the number of homes not purchased as a primary residence so we can get a clear picture of the impact speculation is having on the market."
In an email to constituents, Herbold says she's looking for a way of disclosing luxury homebuyers that is "facially neutral" about their nationalities. To Wilson's claim that she asked for help identifying investors' national origins, Herbold writes, "This was not at all my request."
As Durkan and Moon (and Herbold and Wilson) continue to debate whether attempting to tax luxury home speculation is racist, another question is getting less attention: Does it even work?