Business people and activists are pushing in opposite directions on several issues, including a proposed fee on developers and local rent control.
Players in Seattle’s real-estate industry and advocates for low-income housing are ratcheting up the pressure on Mayor Ed Murray as the May 30 deadline for his task force to issue recommendations on the city’s housing-affordability woes draws closer.
The business people and activists are pushing in opposite directions on several issues, including a proposed fee on developers and local rent control. There also are a few areas where the frequent combatants are beginning to overlap.
That may be good news for Murray, who’s hoping the task-force model used last year to hammer out a compromise on raising the city’s minimum wage will work again.
The panel’s work started somewhat slowly after the mayor named its 28 volunteer members this past September. The members, including real-estate-industry representatives and tenant advocates, didn’t agree on a problem statement until January.
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“The mayor recognizes that there was a similar dynamic last year in the debate over $15 an hour,” Murray spokesman Viet Shelton said. “When decisions were getting concrete, tensions were rising and different sides were getting more vocal.”
“That’s overall a positive development, in that it demonstrates that the different sides are coming to the table and getting serious,” Shelton added. “What’s important is that the different sides are willing to stay at the table to negotiate and compromise.”
Earlier this month, a group of Seattle builders, lawyers, architects, property owners and others tied to the real-estate industry sent a letter to Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee with 14 policy ideas and a warning.
The new group, calling itself the Coalition for Housing Solutions and including the Downtown Seattle Association and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, advised the task force against recommending a linkage-fee program.
The City Council is considering an ordinance allowing Seattle to charge fees on new commercial and residential projects to pay for affordable housing.
The premise of the program is that growth in the city is contributing to an increase in the need for affordable housing. But the coalition argued that the proposed ordinance would violate the state law that prohibits cities from imposing mandatory fees unless those fees mitigate the direct impact of a particular project.
On Monday, another new group, supported by council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant and calling itself the Community Housing Caucus, gathered at City Hall to release a report titled, “Solutions to Seattle’s Housing Emergency.”
The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink report, endorsed by people like Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute and John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, identifies about 50 ideas, including a $500 million bond sale to pay for new low-income housing, additional tenant protections and an effort to regulate rents at the local level.
Licata and Sawant plan to support a council resolution this year signaling the city’s desire to enact rent regulations, they said Monday. But Murray does not expect his task force to recommend movement on that front, Shelton said. State law now prohibits cities from regulating rents, and the mayor, a former state senator and representative, does not believe that will soon change, the spokesman said.
“The options that (the task force) puts out there need to be actionable,” Shelton said.
Two areas where both groups agree: Seattle should build affordable housing on vacant or underdeveloped public land and dedicate general-fund revenue each year to pay for affordable housing. Neither idea involves developers directly doing or paying more, however.