21 Replies to “Podcast #54: Legislative Priorities”

  1. Something I’ve been wanting information on for a while: there have been next to no condos developed during this building boom, for the (construction liability) reasons that have been extensively reported on. But a couple years ago around 2015/2016 (during this boom) there were lots of articles on how massive amounts of condo conversions were set to happen since we were coming up on a period when the first large wave of new apartments was finally aging out of the construction liability. But these conversions never happened. Why? My only theory is that apartment rental rates are so high that no apartment owner would want to miss out on guaranteed rental profits and take the time to convert to condos. But now that the rental market is slowing down and the condo market is skyrocketing, should we expect to see the condo conversions, finally?

    1. Condo construction doesn’t appear to be neglected at the moment. 2017 projections sit at 1,677 new units for the greater Seattle area. While that is a far cry from the region’s record of 3,765, it seems pretty much average for this region. We just don’t really build many condos.
      At all, ever.

      1. Thanks for the reply, A Joy — that’s actually more new construction condos than I expected, though I see not all 1,677 are guaranteed at this point, and those that do may take a few years to come to market. We’ve definitely seen large amounts of condo *conversions* in the past, and I’m specifically curious why people were expecting tons of conversions over the past few years and then we never saw that happen. Here are three examples of articles from 2014 to 2016 making the prediction, and there are many more I remember reading (and from more sources like the Seattle Times, though I can’t quickly find one from them):

        https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2014/01/21/in-seattle-condo-conversions-on-the.html

        http://www.seattlecondoreview.com/2014/03/condo-conversions-on-the-horizon-in-seattle.html

        http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2016/09/capitol-hill-poised-for-a-condo-comeback-amid-rising-prices/

        And there is definitely a big gap between apartment and condo construction in this boom, compared to previous building booms, as explained here: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/500000-for-a-1-bedroom-condo-shortage-worse-than-ever-in-king-county/

      2. I can speak from personal experience and say that a decent number of new apartment buildings have been designed to meet the state’s Condo Act, meaning that they are convertible should the owner so desire. I imagine that that is a somewhat complex process vis-a-vis existing tenants, but the option is there in many instances. If it pencils out, it will certainly happen…but there’s the rub.

        I’d love to see new condos near Link stations, present and future – I have no need (or desire) to rent but wouldn’t mind the option to buy in a place well served by the rail system. There are few options yet in that regard outside of the downtown core.

      3. Leases are rarely longer than a year, so the owner can either just reserve a year to finish existing leases, or give tenants incentives to leave early. (A 60-90 day rent refund is common.) Or maybe it’s feasible to sell empty units while other units finish their lease. In the condo conversions I’ve seen, the entire building empties for six months for renovations; then sales start.

      4. Scott, when you say, “a decent number of new apartment buildings have been designed to meet the state’s Condo Act,” I assume you’re referring to some aspect of the physical construction of the building. (Let me know if I’m assuming incorrectly.) What is necessary for meeting that Condo Act that wouldn’t be necessary for an apartment?

      5. Higher construction quality, especially sound transmission. Bulletproof building envelope design (exterior) to prevent water intrusion.

      6. Poncho’s basically correct (not just water intrusion, but air and vapor as well). As an adjunct to this, envelope consultants are generally used and must certify that the provisions of RCW 64.55 are met. This normally requires +/-50% more visits to site by the consultant during construction, closer coordination during design, testing of windows/doors on site, and often requires that better/more expensive barrier systems and detailing are used. Certainly some apartments are built to these standards or close to them, particularly in Seattle where mandatory air barrier testing now effectively requires well-designed, detailed, and constructed buildings, but if they are not certified by a building enclosure inspector they will not be in compliance with the “Condo Act.”

      7. Are those things required by the condo act? Or by the market?

        (I realize that a lot of condo builders were irritated that HOAs would sue them for shoddy construction when water leaked into two year old buildings, but I would assume apartment building owners would be equally litigious. Is there really a legal difference in liability?)

    2. I think it’s time that transit stop acting like we’re forever passively adrift in the commercial waves of any market, especially housing. Last seventy years’ freeway building was responsible for, rather than simply responsive to, the changes in living patterns that now have outlived their tolerability.

      Now, every rush hour, less and less can move anywhere, and at ever lower speeds. So I think it’s coming time that we took a leaf from the freeway builders, and started stressing not only the environmental, financial, and time-saving considerations, and start concentrating on freedom itself.

      Over length and breadth of a whole region, efficient transit, and especially rail can finally break the monopoly on nice places to live, resulting in much more reasonable rent and home prices regionwide. And also, without much hassle, ability to change neighborhoods, jobs, and schools as our own conditions or preferences shift. Each choice independent of the others.

      Two developers who were brothers largely brought street rail more like light rail to Cleveland. Still waiting for somebody, or company, or preferably a cooperative, to build a series of complexes with same connection with transit as their residents now have with cars. Heritage track being considered for “DMU” service might work very well for connecting developments like these.

      But the Age of the Interstates tells us something else. Our Interstate Highway System as we know it resulted from a legitimate defense measure. That (Thank God!) world conditions for seventy years after the end of the Second World War let us use and wildly expand for civilian use.

      Results getting ever less tolerable now, but seventy years after a major war- mid WWII, many people thought that war would last another ten- we’d be in much worse shape yet. Not our grandfathers’ world now, and don’t think an enemy could hold a beach-head on either coast-Or want to.As Dwight Eisenhower’s generation considered possible. Wish we could say the same for results of deferred maintenance.

      But considering Nature’s own changes, which can move a lot of beach-front inland, and considering that the freeway rights-of-way themselves aren’t going anywhere, we’ve got seventy years worth of precedent to class a very fast national rail network as a defense expenditure. Would really like term “Civil Defense” to come back. Because based on same precedent: There’ll be no shortage of budget.

      Mark

    3. It’s not because of the condo act. In the mid 2000s up until the crash almost all the new buildings in Capitol Hill and Belltown were condos and there were lots of conversions of vintage apartments to condos, much to my disappointment because they were putting all the best areas next to transit hubs out of reach for those who couldn’t afford a condo or didn’t want to go into long-term debt. That market evaporated in the crash when mortgages became harder to get, unemployment rose, and there were lots of foreclosures, All construction halted for three years, and when it came back it was all apartments because they were easier to market in the tough economy: fewer people could afford condos or could get a mortgage for them. And some of the previous market froth was illusional: people flipping condos in circles. Some developers after the crash converted their condo projects to apartments, and many new apartments since then have been built to condo standards so they could be converted later when buyers came back. It took several years for for enough buyers to build up but it finally did, and now you’re seeing more condo developments again, but not nearly as many as before the crash.

  2. I don’t see the missed opportunity of Snohomish Link as heavy rail to be redone HSR – Link isn’t supposed to be commuter rail, even in Snohomish, so even if it was heavy rail I’m not sure it would have been usable for HSR – south of Lynnwood, the frequency of Link will be too high to fit any HSR runs in between without adding additional lines, and north of Lynwood, the Paine Field diversion makes the line not particularly useful either.

    Instead, I think we should take the same concept and attack it from the opposite direction. Instead of bemoaning the lack of commuter rail to be leveraged for HSR, we should be using HSR as justification to build high quality commuter rail, particularly north of downtown Seattle (Sound Sounder could use for frequency but is otherwise pretty good).

    This is basically what California is doing. The giant HSR project has support because it is also doing double duty as a commuter rail to connect the central valley to Silicon Valley and building a bunch of stations throughout greater LA. All those extra stations aren’t distractions – they are the extras that make the SF-LA express runs doable.

    HSR in Washington should be justified and designed using the same lens. Don’t start with “1 hour to Vancouver.” Start with building a new commuter rail line that connects not only Snohomish to Seattle, but also Skagit & Watcomm. That not only builds broader support, but it will also drive greater daily ridership than the express runs to Vancouver. It’s a true regional project.

    This is the same logic as airport transit. Connecting to the airport is the shiny thing, but secondary from a ridership standpoint. (http://humantransit.org/2016/03/keys-to-great-airport-transit.html). A line that only connects the two CBDs will fail for the same reason an airport to CBD line will fail – no support from daily commuters.

    1. AJ, I think it’s a very good idea to design a right of way that both commuter and express trains can share. But wouldn’t make them share track. And however the term “HSR” is defined, it should pointedly exclude any level grade crossings at all.

      Would also run freight trains entirely elsewhere. Does anybody know how badly a border-to-border freight has to be on the west side of The Cascades at all? But most of all, just as we’ll miss the view around Point Defiance, I don’t think the shoreline itself can handle very much speed. Even if we permanently solve the slide problem.

      Stop at Seattle will take some civil engineering. Might be good to start looking at the geology to see what we can go by, through, and under. Also, in coming decades, we might decide we don’t need I-5 south of Lynnwood for car traffic. Meaning we could possibly run, or stop, the high speed line in the concrete cut itself.,

      Does Seattle Transit Blog have any contacts in the world of The World? Because some geology and hydrology might narrow the choices to the point where discussion will be faster and better as limits of the real possibilities come clear.

      Really interesting, too.

    2. The problem is that it’s politically easier to get high-speed rail to Vancouver and Portland approved than it is to expand commuter rail. The state basically told Pugetopolis, “You pay for it, and you have to have a public vote first.” The state has as yet not been willing to even consider allowing commuter rail taxes in Thurston, Skagit, or Whatcom Counties, and not even expansion of their local bus service or inter-county bus connectors. And when studies have been floated for an Everett-Bellingham line or Auburn-Maple Valley line, the local communities haven’t been eager to pay for them so they fizzled. It’s the same mentality as why it’s easier to get approval for Link than for transit/BAT lanes for buses: people see it as a major improvement they want to invest in rather than a small improvement that they don’t think will make much difference.

    3. “Link isn’t supposed to be commuter rail, even in Snohomish”

      What is this supposed to mean? That Link is incompatible with heavy-rail trains? (Which is clear.) That Link can’t go above 55 mph. (Also clear, although ST says it’s looking at ways to increase it slightly. The biggest limit is the train fleet ST bought. A secondary limit is tight curves and steepish grades in the alignment, although there may not be any south of S 260th Street or north of N 120th Street.)

    4. Too bad Link didnt run down Aurora/99 and leave I-5 for an inland electrified heavy rail passenger corridor for Cascades, fast frequent Sounder regional rail, future HSR.

  3. Washington State House passed EHB 2201 today 60-37:

    Voting Yea: Representatives Appleton, Barkis, Bergquist, Blake, Caldier, Chapman, Clibborn, Cody, Dolan, Fey, Goodman, Graves, Gregerson, Hansen, Hargrove, Harmsworth, Hudgins, Irwin, Jinkins, Kagi, Kilduff, Kirby, Klippert, Kloba, Lovick, Lytton, McBride, McCabe, McDonald, Morris, Muri, Orcutt, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Pellicciotti, Peterson, Pettigrew, Pollet, Reeves, Riccelli, Robinson, Rodne, Ryu, Santos, Sawyer, Sells, Senn, Slatter, Springer, Stambaugh, Stanford, Stokesbary, Stonier, Sullivan, Tharinger, Valdez, Wilcox, Wylie, Chopp

    Voting Nay: Representatives Buys, Chandler, Condotta, DeBolt, Dent, Doglio, Dye, Eslick, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Griffey, Haler, Harris, Holy, Jenkin, Johnson, Kraft, Kretz, Kristiansen, MacEwen, Macri, Manweller, Maycumber, McCaslin, Nealey, Pike, Schmick, Shea, Smith, Steele, Tarleton, Taylor, Van Werven, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Young

    https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2201&Year=2017

    1. I got a nice reply from Macri from my previous letter. She said she supported additional measures to compensate ST, but they couldn’t get a House majority on that. So now she’s working with the Senate to encourage them to.

      1. Macri voted no – good on her! If I’d gotten this answer from either of my reps, who both voted yes, I’d be pretty irritated with it regardless fo how ‘nice’ the reply was.

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