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Kelly O

Today, the Seattle Times published an opinion piece about housing from a self-proclaimed "corporate underling" who moved here five minutes ago. The piece is predictably terrible. It's starts with this...

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We are corporate underlings in our mid-thirties who moved here a year ago with our small children. There is zero rock ’n’ roll in our lives, but despite this, we bought a house in Fremont because we loved the quirkiness of this one-time countercultural neighborhood with all its art, nightlife and naked bike riding — activities we don’t participate in but feel cooler for having nearby.

...and gets worse from there.

The piece is terrible because of the particular mix of overwrought self-flagellation and concern-trolling. And predictable because, well, once again, the newspaper is elevating the voice of someone who's scared of denser housing in her neighborhood. In this case, the writer, Angela Elson, is making the latest argument in an ongoing fight against micro-apartments in Fremont. The proposed micro-apartment development would burden her "quirky" neighborhood with a new building, new people, and—gasp—no new parking:

Zoning laws aside, is it even reasonable to cram 26 efficiency units and three additional apartments on just two lots? No, but due to corporate immigrants like me, it’s no secret that housing is tight in Seattle. Yet at some point, we must put our collective foot down to insist on non-steerage accommodations for our fellow man.

Even without the ethical considerations, though, Project 3026875 is a bit of a logistical nightmare. The current plans don’t include parking (presumably because parking spaces could be better used as more living rooms), so construction of this building is inviting numerous cars into an already densely populated neighborhood that cannot accommodate them.

Even more worrying is that the entrance to this veritable tenement will be situated on a no-name, one-lane alley that runs parallel to Fremont Avenue, which is all but inaccessible to firetrucks and ambulances in an emergency much less the Amazon deliveries and Uber drivers of modern life. This is unsafe, but throw in the children teeming in and out of the B.F. Day Elementary School across the street, and the poor traffic flow becomes a greater worry.

The parking argument here is particularly rich (and not only because most NIMBYs have learned that this kind of argument makes them look like idiots). Elson makes a passing recognition of Seattle's high housing prices, but makes no effort to actually consider what contributes to those prices. Required parking makes housing more expensive. Plus, parking encourages cars. (Ever heard of induced demand, Elson?) Cars worsen climate change. Seattle claims to care about that kind of thing but is doing a shit job actually addressing it. It's long past time we quit talking about parking minimums. We should be talking about parking maximums instead! (Los Angeles, by the way, is considering turning parking lots into housing.)

Concerned by Elson's firetruck/ambulance handwringing? The Seattle Fire Department isn't. The city's fire code requires at least two roads for accommodating fire trucks when a building exceeds three stories, but the proposal here is for a three-story building.

Then there's Elson's first question: whether it is "even reasonable" to create denser housing on these lots. Is $1,400 rent reasonable? Is a $757,000 for a single-family home reasonable? Is having to save 15 to 19 years just to pay the down payment on that home reasonable? Or needing to make more than $93,000 a year to afford a mortgage? For many of us, the answer is "no" on all counts.

The Seattle Times really wants us know that Angela Elson, "lived in a micro-apartment in Japan, so she knows how miserable they can be," and Elson herself declares, "at some point, we must put our collective foot down to insist on non-steerage accommodations for our fellow man." But if the choice Elson faced in Japan was between a micro-apartment and homelessness, Elson surely would've chosen the micro-apartment. That is the choice many Seattleites face: smaller, denser, cheaper accommodation versus displacement and homelessness.

As Dominic Holden wrote in this space nearly five years ago: "While the neighborhood groups may argue that they want everyone to have larger apartments, that's not a choice many workers in Seattle actually have. They cannot afford larger apartments. Their choice is between living in an aPodment or living 15 miles outside of town."

Elson's argument teems with the same kind of self-pity and bad-faith arguments heard from NIMBYs the city over. In the opening line of her op-ed, Elson writes, "my husband and I are what’s wrong with Seattle." On that, we can agree.