The two candidates for Seattle City Council Position 8, Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda, agree housing is too expensive. They disagree on how to approach the problem.
Seattle’s housing problem looks different from Teresa Mosqueda’s window than it does from Jon Grant’s door.
Grant points to a pair of new town houses near the Rainier Valley home where he lives with two rent-paying roommates. He says developers are making the neighborhood less affordable by demolishing small, older houses like the one he owns.
Mosqueda nods at the new McMansion next door to the Queen Anne building where she and her husband rent an apartment. She says the city should have allowed a condominium to be built there instead, giving families like hers an opportunity to buy.
Election 2017Statewide and local results
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The two candidates for Position 8 on the City Council agree Seattle is too expensive, but Grant talks more about the loss of housing that ordinary people can afford, and Mosqueda talks more about building it.
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He promises to “push the boldest agenda and see how far we can drag other folks along,” while she pledges a more collaborative approach.
Rivals for the citywide seat Tim Burgess decided to vacate after 10 years, Grant and Mosqueda teamed up last year on an effort to raise the state minimum wage, with Mosqueda leading the bid and Grant working for her.
But their council race has grown increasingly fierce in the run-up to the Nov. 7 election.
“We’re going up against the political class … a lot of the usual players,” Grant said in a recent interview.
“I’m not just out there on the streets with my bullhorn, though I am,” Mosqueda countered. “I’m not just pounding on the table demanding that we address injustices. I’ve actually sat at the table and convened diverse groups for policy change.”
Early influences, careers
Ferry rides across Elliott Bay were responsible for Grant’s political awakening, says the 35-year-old raised by a lawyer and a teacher on Bainbridge Island.
“It was shocking and galling to me that a city as wealthy as Seattle could have such a rampant homelessness problem,” he said, recalling what he saw. “At a very young age, I committed myself towards the work of becoming a homelessness advocate.”
College took Grant to the University of Redlands in California, and activism took him to Washington, D.C., where he says a local organizer gave him his mission.
“I asked her, ‘Homelessness, gosh, what’s the answer?’ and she was like, ‘Housing. We need affordable housing.’ It was so clear and concise,” he recalled.
The urge to help, Grant says, later led him to the Tenants Union of Washington State, where he served as executive director from 2010 to 2015.
During that time, Grant says he pushed the City Council to adopt a rental-inspection law, helped stop Seattle Housing Authority rent increases, and battled the eviction of working-class tenants by real-estate speculators.
He spent time living in Wedgwood, Greenwood, Georgetown and Beacon Hill before buying a house in 2013 off Rainier Avenue South, near Hillman City.
Grant, who is now campaigning full time, charges his roommates $450 a month each.
“There’s a lot of housing that’s affordable this way — shared living situations,” he said, comparing his arrangement to the new town houses up the street, of the type he says sell for more than $500,000 each.
He worries that looser zoning rules will speed up demolitions.
“Development like that, in and of itself, isn’t going to create housing for low-income people,” Grant says.
Growing up activist
Maybe not. But development done right, with creativity and community involvement, can help newcomers and longtime residents who are being priced out, Mosqueda says.
The daughter of an Evergreen State College professor and an education professional, she spent her childhood in Olympia, where her parents were advocates for social justice.
“My parents were renters until my senior year in high school,” the 37-year-old said. “I grew up with books by Marx and Chomsky and Naomi Klein on the table.”
Mosqueda says she jumped into politics with other members of a Chicanx students group at the University of Washington, protesting in solidarity with the Zapatistas and against the World Trade Organization.
She then turned to local service, helping seniors secure health insurance and other assistance through Sea Mar Community Health Centers. Mosqueda earned a master’s degree while working for the state Department of Health, sought insurance for undocumented-immigrant kids at the Children’s Alliance, sat on the state board that oversaw the rollout of Obamacare in Washington, and is now political director for the Washington State Labor Council.
She and her husband want to buy a home, but took a step back about a year ago, she says, when they used savings to help his mother as she fought breast cancer.
“That’s what happens for so many people,” Mosqueda said, lamenting Seattle’s shortage of options for families without the money to buy a single-family home.
Decades ago, Seattle allowed apartment buildings to rise on her Queen Anne block, she says. Were that still the case, condos might have replaced the single-family house next to her building, rather than the McMansion — and 10 families might be housed rather than one.
“Our city has taken so many steps in the wrong direction over the past decades,” Mosqueda said, arguing for zoning changes. “We need to be a city that meets our community’s needs.”
Since Mosqueda entered the race in January, she and Grant have been debating: How much low-income housing should the city require developers to build or fund?
And because the candidates agree on so much (both say the city should ban employers from using salary history to set pay for new hires, for example, and both say the city should adopt rent control), their answers to that question could help voters decide the election.
With Seattle allowing taller buildings in and around its urban villages, Grant says he would demand that developers devote 25 percent of their projects to low-income housing — rather than the 2 to 11 percent required under the city’s existing framework.
He’s proud to have been the only person on a panel convened by then-Mayor Ed Murray to vote in 2015 against the framework — Murray’s “grand bargain.”
Mosqueda calls Grant’s pledge an unrealistic, “bumper-sticker” slogan, saying it could cause construction to “grind to a halt.” She points to San Francisco, where voters last year approved a 25 percent requirement. City lawmakers this year reduced it to 18 percent after some developers said the mandate made building infeasible. At the time, two private projects had agreed to move ahead with the 25 percent requirement.
“Jon says 25 percent because it sounds good,” Mosqueda said. “I also think it sounds good. The community thinks it sounds good. But it won’t work.”
According to Grant, the San Francisco case shows that some developers will swallow tough requirements and it demonstrates the importance of setting high goals.
“They started at 25 percent and ended up with 18 percent. We started out by meeting with developers and asking what they would give us,” he said.
Mosqueda says she would press for higher requirements where appropriate while pursuing other solutions, such as building low-income housing on vacant public land and using community-land trusts to help renters convert their buildings into condos.
Had the city known and alerted her and her neighbors to the impending sale of their building a year ago, maybe they could have made an offer. She says she’s seen neighbors struggle as rents have gone up.
Grant says 25 percent is “aspirational.” When the council upzoned the University District this year, he joined other activists to push for a more modest goal.
“You campaign in poetry, and govern in prose,” he said.
The Position 8 race has been overshadowed at times by mayoral matters. But the winner will play a key role on the council in replacing Burgess — a moderate by Seattle standards. So the stakes are plenty high.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her Socialist Alternative Party have backed Grant, along with the Democratic Socialists of America, Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Real Change director Tim Harris.
Every local Democratic Party group and virtually every union has endorsed Mosqueda, whose supporters also include U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and nonprofit leaders such as El Centro de la Raza’s Estela Ortega.
You can hear tension in the candidates’ voices when they talk about each other, and their surrogates have for months been warring on social media.
After The Seattle Times Editorial Board recently endorsed Grant, joining The Stranger in backing him, Mosqueda’s campaign released an open letter from her backers calling on women “to get credit for the work we do.” Since then, hundreds of local women have signed on.
Mosqueda says Grant has been wrong to brand her an establishment candidate and developer shill, in part based on donations to her campaign from some in business.
She points to her support from the unions, from housing advocates who have worked with Grant in the past, and from women’s- and immigrant-rights groups.
“He’s coming at me with that because he doesn’t have anything else to come at me for,” she said. “Now he’s saying I’m in the pocket of big labor. Is that a thing?”
Here’s what Grant says: “We need a robust labor movement, but in Seattle there’s a tendency for labor leadership to get really close to the powers that be.”
Mosqueda supporters point out that Grant’s parents helped him buy his house, which was a foreclosure.
“I’ve been very upfront about my privilege,” Grant said. “A lot of people need help buying a house in Seattle.”
He says voters care more about where the candidates stand on the issues than about their personal lives.
“Is this a race between progressives who are interchangeable or (a race) between somebody who, in my view, represents the political establishment … and a person who represents the interests of the community? I’m in the second race, in my mind,” he said.
Mosqueda says her résumé and experiences matter.
“I’m still working. He doesn’t have a job.”
Sometimes it appears women of color must prove themselves twice as much, Mosqueda said.
“I hope voters look past the top of the ticket. I hope they take the time to look at this race,” she said.
The community leaders supporting her, she says, “have decided that our city needs someone who’s going to be progressive, principled, effective and collaborative.”
The other City Council race on the ballot is the Position 9 contest between incumbent M. Lorena González, a civil-rights attorney and former legal adviser to ex-Mayor Murray, and longtime South Seattle activist and businesswoman Pat Murakami.