We should not use taxpayer money to support Seattle neighborhood councils that have an agenda excluding renters, people of color, the young, the poor and those who need social services from their neighborhoods.
YEARS ago, a former Seattle mayor asked if I had any advice for him as he drafted his budget proposal. While flattered, I told him I had no knowledge of how much it costs to run a fire department or where to look for savings in transportation or public utilities.
I did, however, suggest that it was time to end the city’s subsidy of neighborhood district councils. Doing so would get city dollars and city staff out of the business of lobbying against much-needed changes to increase housing affordability. While it is important that we find ways to encourage civic participation in Seattle, we should not be using taxpayer money to support neighborhood groups that have an agenda excluding renters, people of color, the young, the poor and those who need social services from their neighborhoods.
Mayor Ed Murray has had the courage to finally pull the plug on public funds for these unelected and unaccountable vehicles for homeowner self-enrichment. He was rewarded by no fewer than three recent opinion pieces in The Seattle Times criticizing his decision.
The same week, The Times reported that rents are rising here faster than in any other U.S. city. And homelessness, which usually declines during periods of national economic recovery, continues to rise as more and more families simply can’t afford to maintain a roof over their heads.
One of the few cities with even higher rents and an even more severe homelessness problem is San Francisco, where the power of neighborhood groups has prevented the development of new housing units for decades, and where the development of affordable housing for low-income people was restricted to a few blighted neighborhoods south of downtown. Sound familiar?
Preventing us from becoming the next San Francisco — a city that is increasingly a playground for the rich — will take two types of public-policy interventions.”
Preventing us from becoming the next San Francisco — a city that is increasingly a playground for the rich — will take two types of public-policy interventions. The first is diversifying our approach to subsidized housing so that every neighborhood has an adequate supply of emergency housing, low-income housing and workforce housing (for example, by passing Proposition 1 on the August primary ballot). The second is by dramatically expanding the supply of market-rate housing fast enough to bend the cost curve in rents and home prices. This can be done through zoning changes in the single-family neighborhoods that make up 65 percent of the city.
Neighborhood district councils stand in the way of both objectives. By always arguing against new development, they help slow down or prevent the growth of market-rate housing. That, in turn, causes price-spirals during periods of high demand. By always arguing against smaller units, relaxed parking requirements, accessory dwelling units and any type of affordable housing for low-income people or renters, they help create a de-facto economic apartheid that preserves housing wealth and privilege for those who already have the most. And by throwing collective tantrums against placing any social services or emergency housing nearby, they help prevent those in need from seeking help where they live, instead concentrating social services and emergency housing in already-distressed neighborhoods.
This is selfishness raised to an art form. The city can’t prevent these disproportionately white, affluent and self-interested groups from lobbying against inclusion, but it doesn’t need to finance them.