Campbell Live, a well-known TV newsmagazine in New Zealand, recently filed an extended report on attempts to manage growth and housing affordability in Seattle, as Auckland is starting to face some of the same problems. Although I think it glosses over the city’s failures, it’s also a reminder that it could be worse. We at least pay lip service to density, and most efforts, however halting, are usually in the right direction.

It’s also a pretty good group of talking heads.

48 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: “Campbell Live” on Seattle”

  1. The Seattle Times modal race from Ballard to Capitol Hill ( inspired me to try yet another mode and see how it compares. Yesterday, as an experiment, I rode the #44 to Ballard and ran all the way to Capitol Hill from there. (Approx. route: Leary->Burke Gilman Trail->Fremont Bridge->Westlake Trail->South Lake Union Park->Fairview->Denny, total distance: about 6 miles). The article did not list the precise locations of the start and end points, so I chose Market&Leary as the start and 15th&Thomas as the end. Total travel time, including one brief rest stop, was about 58 minutes, for 7th place, beating out transit by a full 5 minutes. Total cost: $1.25 (needed to buy a bottle of water on the way, as it was a hot day).

    1. Do we have any guesses on a Downtown-UW link then transfer to the 44 and whether it would be quicker than the 15X or Rapid Ride going home around 6pm?

      1. We don’t have to guess. 3rd & Pine to 15th & Market.
        15X: 24 minutes.
        D: 30 minutes. (but likely 20 minutes late and 45 minutes travel time at that hour)
        Link 2016: 8 minutes to UW + 3 minute walk + #44 39 minutes = 50 minutes (add 10 minutes for 44’s lateness)
        Link 2021: 12 minutes to U-District + #44 28 minutes = 40 minutes (add 10 minutes for 44’s lateness)

        Of course the 15X doesn’t help at all if you work in Ballard or you don’t work 9-5.

      2. You didn’t add any lateness/traffic travel time to the 15X. It still takes the same route to Denny as the D but actually gets held up more as the 15x can’t use the bus lane on 1st.

      3. I’ve never ridden the 15X so I don’t know how punctual it is. I assume it’s like a typical peak express, so better than the the D or 44.

  2. Lookin’ good, Bruce and Martin. Funny about the last line, though. I always come back with the same question, which really does sound better with a New Zealand acccent: “What’s the holdup here?”

    But I really would like some perspective. Over the thirty-plus years I’ve been visiting there, I’ve never lived there. There are things about that city that are important to me, like the beautiful parks and the electric rail system.

    Would someone who has lived in both Portland and Seattle give me a few words as to why someone would choose to live in Seattle instead?

    Many thanks.

    Mark Dublin

      1. C’mon! Whole purpose of a hipster is to personify all the trends that nobody else realizes how they themselves will soon become conformists adapting to.

        Until they realize forty years too late that the world’s oil supply can’t handle all those chartreuse polyester suits and white belts.

        Guys like Bruce have the almost impossible duty of the desperately needed uprising against a society whose ruling class not only wear cutoff sweats to board meetings, but make their shaved heads mirror their Yasser Arafat beards.

        Except for the huge eyeball tatooed on top of their heads. The French Resistance was a little girls’ pillow fight by comparison. But think of the gibbering helpless rage with which Bruce’s elders will be gripped by at the sight of him.

        Best victory prize of all: Everybody’s daughter will want to bring home Bruce just to watch their dad go off like a pipe bomb. Actually like their dad’s bong with wrong mix of medical weed.

        Just be careful, Bruce. Best be taking countermeasures for what your kids will do to you when they become hipsters!


    1. Would someone who has lived in both Portland and Seattle give me a few words as to why someone would choose to live in Seattle instead?


      1. (Also, just to be clear, I have not lived in Portland — but I know people who have lived in both cities, and this is what they’ve told me.)

      2. Jobs definitely. Size is another factor – if you like a smaller city you might like Portland but if you want something bigger Seattle would be a better fit.

      3. I also have only lived in Seattle but I have plenty of friends who have lived and continue to live in both.

    2. 20 years ago, there was Seattle and nothing else.

      Today, everywhere is Seattle.

      The difference between Portland and Seattle is the difference between Seattle and any other city, suburb or town today: None.

      I expand my argument in this comment at Seattle Bubble:

      Every place now has or wants high tech jobs (even NYC gave up on finance and been building incubators). Every place is emphasizing green tech and bicycles. Every place wants and is building the kind of transit-rich, yet walkable and livable small plot family homes that made Seattle famous. Even Memphis, TN has indie bands, craft beers, marathons and food fairs. I’ve seen BRT in Eugene and Sears Craftsman style homes in Fort Collins, CO (they even named the streets in one development with Northwest flavor…Salmon Road, and so on…)

      1. Not messing with you, John: from some visits elsewhere, quote is dead-on. Though really hope it’s true about NYC and finance. In-laws in a position to know tell me that Big Apple is the only serious art scene in the nation.

        Unless you count derivatives as really perverted pornographic decadent conceptual art, while incubators (not the baby corporation type) won’t give us Diego Rivera, still fantastic news for art.

        Also really confirms my thinking that real tectonic collision under world society is not ideological but generational. Much as I hate Twitter and fear Nathan Zuckerberg (like either cares), have to admit ‘net is major vector.

        But main “feel” of these reborn cities is that distance between shop floor and residence, dining, and corporate HQ is pretty far. Compensation more than linear feet. Most industrial thing about them is still the fine old buildings that house the restaurants with one-word names.

        Make you a deal, though, guys: give these places and their occupants all your best shots.

        But lay off the people whose very high morals and work ethic would have earned them top level wages if the United States of America hadn’t seceded from Detroit and similar forty years ago.

        Like John Rankin Rogers statue says, mile dowhhill from our State capitol:

        “I would make it impossible for the covetous and the avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves.”

        Until a single Democratic district has the guts to make that first plank any platform: hit them harder than fare free light rail to Mars.


    3. The first experience of many here in Portland is to walk outside the airport. We have carefully positioned our airport to be exposed to the worst possible weather of any major airport in the Pacific Northwest, with 80 mph freezing cold winds blasting out of the Columbia River Gorge in winter. It was part of the Governor Tom McCall growth control plan of “Please visit and spend all your money here, but please don’t move here.”

      You can always tell who the newcomers from California or the southeast are in winter. The first time they walk out the doors it’s always “Who in hell would live in this godforsaken place?”

      The ones from Chicago northeastward usually say something about how nice it feels to be out of the cold weather, so we haven’t quite figured out how to discourage them yet.

    4. Also, take a look at the high school graduation rate. Only our best richest suburb stacks up against Seattle’s city wide average – at least if a recent Oregonian listing can be trusted.

      We’ve had 25 years of impact from Oregon Taxpayers United (something kind of like Tim Eyeman’s groups) here to ruin the quality of education. Now we have various groups funded by Loren Parks as well as a wealthy timber baron funding groups opposed to libraries, any sort of transit improvements, park improvements, and dozens of others things that have been regarded as beneficial for several generations.

      If you had a choice between Seattle and a mildly progressive city that is rapidly being driven to become rural Mississippi by powerful business interest, which would you choose?

  3. 700,000 New Zealand Dollars = ~$595,000 USD – Ouch

    “From a car park to family housing” – With awesome access to public transportation.

  4. You’re a single, low income mother of two in Bellevue who works 16 hours a week and pays $100/month in rent because you’re on Section 8, and only pay a third of your income in rent. You also enjoy a dozen other benefits, like WIC, EBT, CCSP, LIHEAP and free day care. You dropped out of high school but went back and got your GED. Question, would you ever take a full time job you’re qualified for, but that would also make you lose your low-income status?

    1. Low-income housing doesn’t help the poor, it locks them into a lifetime of poverty. So all this talk of building low-income housing isn’t a generous, helpful act. It’s perpetuating poverty.

    2. I had the exact same issue when I was on unemployment.

      At one point, I felt like I should “do some work” even if was a minimum wage job. But for every dollar I made, I had to subtract it from unemployment. More than that — the work I found, envelop stuffing at a fulfillment center — was really tiring and I didn’t have a car to get their easily (I sold it to avoid making payments so to reduce my living costs).

      The critical issue for poor people is children. People who are starting life in poverty need to seriously think about working on themselves and their own condition before having multiple children and dragging them all down in poverty. Build skills, improve your single life, before even starting relationships and so on.

      1. You know, Sam and John, every word of yours reinforces my motivation to keep fighting for the economy that will finally make above two postings into yesterday’s pompous crap instead of yesterday’s and today’s.

        Main selfish benefit for all three of us: the very large amount of taxes a whole nation of decently-employed working people will painlessly pay will guarantee continued government welfare, I mean consulting contracts, for DC think-tanks and lobbyists.

        Incentivizing (when did that turn into a word?) fast move from a blog in a nowheresville with 12 miles of light rail to someplace that’s had a subway for forty years!

        Also- like their brains, Rush Limbaugh (and Dori Monson) won’t live forever. Would really be great if Fremont went a step further with the Lenin bit and actually put frozen dead ideologues where the public could line up to see them.

        To each their own immortality.


    3. Not so fast, Sam. Low-income housing doesn’t lock anyone in, it does the opposite. First, a baseline explanation of low-income housing, of which there are several types.

      Some low-income housing is developed with the requirement that rents not exceed amounts affordable to households making 30% or 50% or 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for a specific county or urban area. Baristas, retail workers, social workers, some teachers, nurse’s aides, teacher’s aides… the list goes on of people who are employed, but whose earnings fall below the AMI. A single person making $30,900 per year is at 50% of the AMI for Seattle-King County. For a household of two, 50% of the AMI is $35,300. You can find this information at

      Rents in this first type of housing I describe are set at a maximum, determined annually by HUD or by the City of Seattle Office of Housing or by other regulating entities. The maximum rent that a landlord can charge for a 1-bedroom apartment regulated to be affordable to a household at 50% AMI in King County is $827. This is the affordable housing you think is trapping people in poverty?

      Let’s look at another kind of affordable housing. This time, subsidized housing. The same AMI limits are in place, though often there are preferences for households with even lower AMI. But, instead of paying the full rent on their own (the full $827 for example), the amount the tenant pays is based on their income. Most often, the household will pay 30% of their monthly income toward their rent, with the rest of the rent subsidized by a housing authority or directly by HUD.

      Think about the low-wage worker in retail, making less than $10 an hour. Even if they work full time, they’re only grossing $20,800 per year, or $1733 per month. Most landlords require that you make 2-3 times the rent amount per month in wages, and we all know the average cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in Seattle has risen to $1200 per month. You can do the math (I hope).

      But, develop some affordable housing, and your retail worker can rent a 1-bedroom for herself and her kid(s) by paying 30% of her monthly income toward the rent. The landlord gets the rest of the rent through a subsidy. Now, if the housing is developed and managed by a non-profit, you know that that subsidy goes directly into the operating costs of the building, rather than into the pocket of a private for-profit company.

      That’s a simple baseline. Trapping people in poverty? Hardly. It’s providing an opportunity to live close to jobs, education, transportation, services, etc.

    4. If your second million is taxed at a much higher rate than your first million, then why on earth would anyone try to earn that second million?

      That question is just about as stupid as your first one, Sam. There are exceptions (and John mentioned one) but most of the social safety net is graduated. Then you have the EITC, which pays MORE (up to a certain point) then gradually decreases. In other words, even with John’s example, if he had kids and wasn’t making much money, he would have been better off working (as this would increase the amount of extra money he would get at the end of the year from the IRS).

      More to the point, Sam, this is the second week in a row you have shown that are obviously completely ignorant of poverty in this country. I really encourage you to get out there (or maybe do a little reading). If you did, you would understand that the situation is very complex. There are very few people who are on welfare (or have any other form of public assistance) because they are lazy, or have done the calculation and have figured it is not worth working. Quite the opposite. The folks I’ve known that received welfare hated it. They hated the process and were thrilled when they could do something that made ends meet. Furthermore, a lot of folks have mental problems or really aren’t thinking long term, which explains why many of them seem to make stupid decisions when it comes to financial matters (e. g. rent to own furniture or pay day loans).

      1. Better yet, volunteer at an agency that helps the working poor. If you hear a few stories about drug based drive by shootings from people living in these places, it becomes quite clear they would love to leave if they could afford to.

        I would also point out that what Sam calls “low income housing” is quite different than affordable housing. The fact that Sam can’t perceive the difference tells me that he has little contact with those who struggle every day to make ends meet.

      2. A lot of what I’ve learned in life I have learned from AOL chatrooms, and later on, Youtube. And this is a video that taught me a great deal about the cycle of poverty.

  5. Good job Bruce and Martin.

    Though I wonder if Sheldon Cooper regrets a popular situation comedy on a major television network?

  6. Californians [subst. Washingtonians] should wise up about our stupid tax code

    The solution is a straightforward and standard prescription in economics. California should tax primarily what can never escape its borders: its real estate. And we should abandon state income and sales taxes.

    Wealthier individuals would still pay more in taxes because they generally own more expensive houses in more expensive locations. Property taxes rates could be progressive, sliding upward with the value of the land and house: a $5-million mansion would be taxed at a higher rate than a $100,000 condo.


      Nuanced judgments about progressivity are not what drive political opposition to these taxes. Voters hate property taxes because they are what economists call “salient”: the burden is obvious, easy to calculate and hard to avoid. An intriguing new paper by Marika Cabral and Caroline Hoxby at Stanford University shows what a difference this makes. Most American homeowners pay their property taxes in one or two lump sums during the year. Around a third (mainly those with mortgages) have their tax payments bundled in with monthly mortgage payments. The economists find that how people pay their property taxes affects their tolerance for them. The more people pay in lump sums, the lower property taxes are likely to be. For property taxes to become a much bigger source of revenue, governments must apparently ensure people don’t realise how much they are paying.

      There are some interesting ways that you could work around this problem. For example, the government could associate land ownership with employment, and automatically withhold property taxes from people’s paychecks, in much the same way that income taxes are currently withheld. However, the people who oppose property taxes would strongly oppose such a system as well, precisely because it would dilute political opposition to property tax.

      1. One problem is that people don’t see owning more land as imposing more costs on society.

        They think (have been taught) the logic of “hey, I have the same number of kids as other people therefore I’m not using more of the school system” or “hey, I have two cars, just like the guy down the road with a 1200 sq. ft home” why should I pay more for service.

        However, property does impose costs on others. It imposes costs by driving up the prices of housing for other people. It requires more policing to protect it. It removes usable space for services and business. And this extends to owning intangible assets. The more dollars you hold in your bank account, the more energy society has to expend to keep those dollars worth something. Armies, government, agencies…ultimately, they are all “protection” for the value of assets, not merely providers of services such as sidewalks.

  7. When people challenge me with facts and figures, I usually like to quickly change the subject …

    I can’t believe Bellevue named the new street that will be entering into the new Spring District project on the old Safeway warehouse site “N.E. District Way.” Really? That’s the best name they could come up with for this new neighborhood? It’s bland, boring, and lacks character. Come to think of it, maybe that is a fitting name for a street in Bellevue.

    But here’s what I would have done. Name the street after the Japanese farmer the land was probably taken from.

  8. Seattle encourages density? What a quaint spin New Zealand has put on our city. Meanwhile, over here all we hear is whinging “how can you increase the hight limit? That will block the view of smith tower. How can you let that building go up? It doesn’t fit in the neighborhood”. The very existence of those hight limits means we want to limit our density. Even when we spend billions on light rail, the area around most of the stations remain utterly bereft of anything bearing the slightest semblance of density. The way we tax development, as far as I can tell, is expressly designed to discourage density. If you want to do something small that, say, doesn’t require the ally or stays below the hight limit, no problem. But as soon as you want to put up something big, oh no, time to negotiate. How much extra low income housing? How much for street improvements? We want to reduce utility usage so we have tiered prices, the more you use, the higher the marginal rate. With development we have the same thing. The only difference is the rate increase is an unknown variable which requires a big investment in kissing city officials. If the city wanted density it would make it’s development tax uniform and unambiguous, the permitting quick and predictable, and loosen the tight size limits in targeted streets and neighborhoods. If the people wanted more density, they would stop organizing to stop density. Although this most of us on this blog are pro density, I don’t think we are in any way representative of the population.

    1. Such an idealized report, that video was. The city I live in, that video appeared to not be about.

    2. OK, so we do lots of dumb things that limit density in this town, often without even protecting the things we’re trying to protect while doing so, but…

      – Public alleys are largely a good thing, and buildings with large enough ground areas to require alley vacations are, at best, unnecessary to achieve density, and typically aren’t great for walkability and use mixture, which go hand-in-hand with density.

      – The way we got sidewalks in the residential neighborhoods that have them was by requiring them in new developments. More generally, a city builds its public works on the back of growth. When its growth is infill it must do much the same, especially when the growth envisioned creates new requirements for the streets. We failed to do this in residential and commercial areas alike north of 85th (which weren’t incorporated when they built up) and ended up with infrastructure deficits that can’t be covered with current rates of growth, valuation, and taxation. And what of the places where we are growing infill? SLU, before all the new stuff came, had some of the infrastructure it needed to become a cohesive modern neighborhood but not all — it still has gaps today! The Mount Baker Station area lacks a ton of necessary infrastructure, especially if some of the big lots are redeveloped. Downtown, Belltown, Pioneer Square, First Hill, and Capitol Hill need a bunch of basic sidewalk improvements, and not just in places touched by regionally funded public works projects. Even Fremont and Ballard have embarrassing gaps in their pedestrian and cycling networks, and obviously have horrible transit reliability issues that only capital investment can solve.

      – On the other side of things, some examples have been cited here of new buildings that aren’t assessed at anywhere near their value, so they aren’t paying appropriate property taxes.

      We should be predictable about what we require of developers, not arbitrary. But we should predictably require that new development contribute to the public features we want to have around the block and around the city. Part of why we fail at that is that our plans and standards aren’t complete, and sometimes change with the political winds. But generally there is no time we can better afford to build excellent public works than when we’re growing, so we should take advantage of that right now.

      1. Firstly, sorry for being so caustic,I’m just bitter about the rent. And I don’t really know anything about development other than the occasional thing you pick up poking through the times. But I do have some questions about your points.

        – “Public alleys are largely a good thing”. I’ve always felt like alleys are holes with poor pavement and sinister feel. I assum the purpose of the alley is to serve the businesses on it. If the one business served by the alley doesn’t want the alley, it seems like a reasonable thing to sell the alley to the business. I concede on the rest of this point.

        – “…a city builds its public works on the back of growth”. I agree. I just don’t understand why you would tie infill development to location specific infrastructure improvement rather than having a general development tax large enough for the city to cover capital improvements it deems necessary. I would think that a general tax would be easier for both the city to collect and the developer to plan for and pay.

        – “new buildings that aren’t assessed at anywhere near their value”. Are you implying that the city’s way of handling development taxation is, at least in part, a result of the difficulty in doing it properly? Not saying you should be embarrassed; tax collection is tricky.

        I guess my examples of city impedance of density are really only applicable to the densest of density which, as you pointed out, oft doesn’t make for walkability. I know the city wants walkable neighborhoods. I look forward to the city taking further steps to make that goal a reality.

  9. Priced Out of Downtown Detroit

    Jun 2, 2014 Posted by buffalorising In Real Estate Comments 22

    By Aaron Renn

    A recent article called “I’ve Been Priced Out of Downtown Detroit” shows us an interesting microcosm of the urban housing problem. Per the piece:

    Five-year resident Andrew Kopietz moved out of his one-bedroom in the downtown Lafayette Park neighborhood late last year after his rent was hiked to $1,100 from $840 a month.

    “I work downtown and have never loved living somewhere as much as I do here,” said Kopietz, a design director for D:Hive, which provides information about living in Detroit. But, “it seemed unfair to be forced to pay more.”

    For those who haven’t been following it, there’s been a bit of a debate between Jim Russell and Daniel Hertz about the cause of rising urban housing prices the resulting unaffordability.

    Hertz, like Matt Yglesias, Ryan Avent, and most other urbanists these days, puts the blame squarely on inelastic supply. Demand has gone up, but building restrictions make it difficult if not impossible to build more units, ergo housing prices go up.

    Russell doesn’t discount that supply constraints affect price, but he zeros in on demand. He notes that many places have restricted supply but only some of them feature skyrocketing prices because demand is uneven and heavily concentrated in places with a large global workforce. He believes more attention should be paid to the demand side of the equation in explaining housing prices.

    read more…………..

    1. Interesting and plausible story. But… given his statement near the end, “For every Lincoln Park or Lakeview in Chicago that lacks affordable housing, there is a Garfield Park or Woodlawn with tons of it.” – Where’re those places in Seattle? Down at the tail end of the Rainier Valley?

      1. Yeah, there’s a Garfield Park or Woodlawn. Lincoln Park, a generation ago, was pretty poor. It was an obvious site for early gentrification with its excellent building stock, good infrastructure, university, and convenient location to downtown jobs and existing yuppie hangouts. Woodlawn and Garfield Park lack many of these advantages but there are plenty of neighborhoods that are still pretty affordable and have more of them — they’ll gentrify first. The differential in housing prices represents something like an abundance of choices, and the degree to which yuppies are stubborn about where they want to live.

        Seattle at this point is somewhere between Chicago’s urban housing abundance and SF’s shortage. One odd quirk here: as Seattle adds high-end office space in SLU, which is relatively inconvenient to get to from the south end, and plans to add high-end office space in Ballard, which is inconvenient to get to from the vast majority of the region by any mode, housing markets in the parts of town convenient to those places will disconnect further from the rest.

    2. “If young urbanists are serious about moving back to the city, maybe they ought to consider more of the city to live in.”

      What’s missing is, how much transit and everyday amenities are in those other areas? How long does it take to get from those areas to where the jobs are? I bet much of the unfavored areas in Detroit are single family, with little transit, and require long trips to get to work or the supermarket. Like our own Broadview and Lake City, and most of Kent and Des Moines. Yes, it’s cheaper, but it takes an hour to get anywhere, and it’s sometimes a mile to the nearest supermarket, and further to other everyday things.

      Compare that to Chicago, where at least 2/3 of the city is walkable and has frequent transit and rapid transit, so you have a huge choice of both prestigious and non-prestigious areas to live in, without having to give up on walkability and transit and nearby jobs. This is what we need to do. We can’t build up a large contiguous area like Chicago has, but we should at least make islands of good walkability and transit in Seattle’s less expensive corners and in south King County so that people can live there without suffering hour-long trips or having to buy cars.

      1. Lake City: 19 minutes to downtown (until you transfer-nistas get your way), and one of the best, affordable grocery stores in the city, pretty close to it’s heart.

        I won’t get into the density arguments again. You can look at the maps as well as I.

        But you appear to have never been to Lake City.

      2. 1 hour to Ballard, an hour to Bellevue, an hour to Edmonds CC, an hour to Columbia City and West Seattle. Not everything is directly on the 522. At least Lake City has the 522; Broadview doesn’t have anything equivalent.

      3. Uh, okay. I can make a real argument that Bellevue is a job center, but the rest of those places are essentially bedroom communities too. Only people living downtown can get all those places via transit in a reasonable amount of time.

        You are doing back-flips to try to shoehorn Lake City into something it’s not to fit your odd narrative.

  10. Ballard Fuel Cell Powered Buses Delivered to SunLine Transit Agency in Palm Springs, CA

    A June 2013 report prepared by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Battelle Memorial Institute and published by the Federal Transit Administration compared performance of the initial American Fuel Cell Bus (AFCB) deployed with SunLine Transit Agency to a number of CNG buses.

    Findings included –

    The AFCB achieved an exceptional availability of 85%. Furthermore, downtime was most often caused by general bus system issues of a “low tech” nature, unrelated to advanced technologies.

    The AFCB averaged 6.54 miles per kilogram of hydrogen during operation. This equates to 7.39 miles per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE), which is 2.4 times greater fuel economy than that of the baseline CNG buses.

    Maintenance cost per mile for the AFCB was 26% lower than for CNG buses. Furthermore, maintenance cost per mile for the propulsion system alone was 50% lower than for the baseline CNG buses.

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