In the urbanist blogosphere it’s most interesting to write about policies that cut both ways. Taxing development to fund low-income housing probably, at the margins, discourages construction of market-rate units while also enabling construction of below-market-rate units. The net impact is therefore debatable.
But then there are straightforward restrictions on the number of units that developers can build, which is a dead weight loss that sets Seattle back from a number of uncontroversial objectives. Last week the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee took a Mike O’Brien measure intended to close a few loopholes (that would have the very negative effect of reducing units constructed) and turned it into a vehicle in effect driving many potential residents out of the city.
Josh Feit has an excellent rundown of the amendments and how people voted. Retiring councilmember Tom Rasmussen voted for all of these bad amendments; retiring councilmember Nick Licata and very much not-retiring Jean Godden joined him in all but two of the eight. Mike O’Brien, perhaps regretting even bringing the subject up, and Sally Bagshaw correctly voted no on all eight, and reliable density stalwart Tim Burgess only voted yes on one. John Okamoto, interim replacement for Sally Clark, voted yes on only two.
No amendment gained had the five votes necessary to pass the full council, so much will depend on Kshama Sawant and Bruce Harrell.
Beyond reporting what happened, it’s tough to say anything new about this debate. People either want more people in the city or they prefer them displaced to the suburbs. To the extent that the flood of comments are a coherent objection, it seems to be an aesthetic one (“livability”). I can’t read the minds in this instance, but the non-subjective objection usually comes down to parking (if there isn’t “enough” in new developments) or traffic (if new parking adds cars to the neighborhood). Sometimes development might bring the “wrong” kind of people into the neighborhood.
Citizens are entitled to like whatever kind of neighborhood aesthetics they want. It’s not crazy to try to preserve your exclusive access to public right-of-way. And while not admirable, it’s easy to understand why someone of a certain class might not appreciate what young or low-income people bring to a place. What’s harder to understand is why a substantial portion of a Council theoretically interested in reducing sprawl, enabling alternatives to the car, maintaining an inclusive city, and addressing the housing shortage is prioritizing these prejudices as they form policy.