In a metropolitan area, or in a very large city that encompasses a wide range of economic activity, a high median income is a badge of honor. It usually involves some combination of an educated populace, vibrant research institutions, policies that help entrepreneurs, and high quality of life.
For a city, like Sammamish ($), that is a small part of a larger area, it means something slightly different. Policies in Sammamish are not creating high-paying jobs in Puget Sound; instead, they are skimming off the cream of that growth through exclusionary zoning.
Sammamish residents don’t have higher-paying jobs due to the business environment there. It’s because the zoning is designed to ban any home that a person in a less remunerative profession could afford, or any features that are attractive to most young people starting out in their careers.
This isn’t to slag on the personal choices of Sammamish residents: a place without poor people is likely to have less violent crime and schools with higher test scores. It’s a practical choice, if not an idealistic or commendable one. And if the merely affluent cutting themselves off from the poor is less than ideal, the plutocratic communities designed to ensure low property tax rates ($) that don’t pay for anyone else’s services are an inequality Chernobyl.
If County and State leaders are interested in doing something about inequality without entering the choppy waters of an income tax, they could do worse than forcing the annexation of these wealthy enclaves into larger neighboring cities, and shifting more of the tax burden from the local level to higher ones that make it harder to opt out of providing services for society.
64 Replies to “For “rich cities”, read “exclusionary zoning””
Heads up: I do the same thing all the time it is remunerative not renumerative.
That was the drive that led to incorporated suburbs and the “local control” mantra in the 1950s and the end of the annexation era. They portrayed the central cities as dens of corruption, waste, sin, and ineffectiveness that they didn’t want their tax money going to. Of course white flight and keeping out apartments was part of it.
I don’t know much about Sammamish but my sense is that people are motivated by wanting to have a large house and a single-family neighborhood, not by “We don’t want a diversity of incomes anywhere in the city.” It’s just that when everybody wants this and they support each other in this campaign, the net result is the entire city being exclusionary.
I’m not that concerned if an exurb at the edge is uniformly wealthy and single-family. Better there than in Seattle or Burien. What concerns me is when places like that get disproportionate influence over county/regional policies. They take subsidies from the rest of us while denying they’re doing so, and say this is how everyone should live, and ignore the fact that many people can’t, and that if all 2.1 million King Countians did that it would sprawl to ungodly dimensions.
Except Sammamish is paying the same as everyone else in Sound Transit and will only ever get BRT. I wouldn’t say these are mooch cities like pretty much all of Eastern Washington is. What proof do you have that they are net tax importers? Beaux Arts, Yarrow Point, Clyde Hill and Medina are better examples of cities that really shouldn’t exist, apart from another city, than Sammamish.
Everybody paid for Sammamish’s roads and extending electric, water, and sewer lines to it. The lines are longer than they would have been if Sammamish were denser and closer in. Low-density houses use more energy per capita than multifamily dwellings. The rates people pay are mostly the same throughout the jurisdiction or utility district, so people in higher-density and close-in areas are subsidizing people in lower-density and exurban areas. The electric utilities use the cheapest power (BPA hydropower) for their base load, and supplement it with more-expensive and more-polluting power for excesses and spikes that there’s not enough hydro capacity for. Low-density residential usage may force the utility to buy this excess power, and that affects everybody’s rates and the utility’s environmental footprint and increases our energy-security risks and political fuel-source risks. Plus low-density areas have more carbon emissions, vehicle-miles traveled, and higher demand for road space and parking spaces at the businesses they visit, and those all impact everyone too.
Roads, ok. But, I don’t see how low density sprawl creates more demand spikes for the electricity grid. I would expect a house there to have the same usage pattern as a house anywhere else.
I’m comparing a large house to a small house or apartment. I’m assuming all Sammamish houses are large. One of the main reasons people choose to live places like Sammamish or the area between Somerset and Issaquah is that they have a minimum house size in mind and can’t find one closer in, or it’s the closest large house they can afford.
Of course, bigger homes use more electricity than smaller homes. But, they’re also pay more on their electric bills since what you pay is determined by what you use.
Yeah… the logic that Sammamish is a net tax importer seems to be a stretch to me. Longer electric grid? Basic roads? Most of those things are relatively one-time, whereas the amount of taxes they raise through sales and property and car tabs is ongoing and very high, I’m sure they more than make up for any tax base or costs they increased somewhere down the line. Not the most cogent argument against these cities. Plenty of other things to find fault with though.
While I have personally hardly ever been to Sammamish, I do know a few people who live there. They chose the place because they have or anticipate kids, like the schools, a want a big house with a yard. They are all well paid, but not so well paid as to be able to afford a 3,000 square foot house in a closer-in neighborhood, such as Bellevue, so they choose Sammamish because it’s cheaper.
Because the lake funnels virtually every commuter from Sammamish onto either I-90 or 520, commuting from there is hell. However, most of people I know over there have tech jobs with flexible hours, and can avoid, at least the morning rush, by working from home for a couple hours before going into the office.
I don’t see how annexing Sammamish would materially change regional finances. most regional public services are already originally funded, whether it’s transportation at the county and St level, or health and human services at the county level. Most municipal revenue comes from sales tax, not property tax. Sammamish is actually at a disadvantage because of its lack of a business district or major shopping.
and I don’t think annexing Sammamish into Redmond or Issaquah where to have any material change on zoning. If you look at all of our regional planning, there is no growth area in Sammamish. Significantly up zoning Sammamish would be a horrible idea from a transportation and UGA standpoint.
there are plenty of opportunities to expand the boundaries of our Urban centers, but I can’t think of an example where zoning suddenly changes because of a municipal boundary. In all of our major cities, they become single-family suburban well before you cross into the next city
*regionally, not originally
“Most municipal revenue comes from sales tax, not property tax.”
Say what? You can’t make such a blanket statement as the mix varies by municipality. For example, Sammamish and Seattle both collect far more from property taxes than they do from sales taxes.
City of Sammamish CAFR (2018)-
General revenues (000’s):
Property taxes $28,853
Sales taxes $8,678
Real estate excise taxes $7,118
Other taxes $2,818
Investment interest $1,539
City of Seattle CAFR (2017)-
General Revenues (000’s):
Property Taxes $582,622
Sales Taxes $280,963
Business Taxes $516,881
Other Taxes $137,706
On the other hand, Bellevue takes in a greater amount from sales taxes, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise:
City of Bellevue CAFR (2018)-
General revenues (000’s):
Property taxes $57,754
Sales taxes $78,251
Other taxes $112,508
Investment interest $7,955
I’m going off of conversations I’ve had with city staff at Issaquah and Bellevue. I’m going to hazard a guess that Seattle’s property taxes are inflated by various levies, such as Move Seattle?
Also, that data proves my point. Most city lean on sales tax to fund general services. Sammamish doesn’t collect much sales taxes, which puts then at a financial disadvantage, not advantage as Martin argues. Sammamish residents are generally spending money outside of city limits, accruing sales tax revenue to neighboring cites, particularly Redmond and Issaquah.
“Also, that data proves my point. Most city lean on sales tax to fund general services.”
Yes, I don’t think anyone is disputing that point. However, the revenue mix varies from one municipality to another. For example, while Bellevue and Issaquah may indeed take in more revenue from sales tax receipts, there’s cities like Sammamish, Lynnwood and Edmonds where revenue from property taxes exceeds the revenue derived from sales taxes. Thus, your original assertion simply can’t be taken as a universal truism, even within our immediate geographic area.
“Sammamish doesn’t collect much sales taxes, which puts then at a financial disadvantage,…”
Moving on, I have to say that I actually agree with the larger point you’ve made in the remainder of your follow-up comment.
Thanks for replying.
I think the argument is more about annexing the patchwork of super-rich enclaves west of downtown Bellevue into Bellevue proper. Sammamish doesn’t have much of its own identity, but the lake does serve to isolate it from the rest of the region to some extent, and the plateau serves to differentiate it from Issaquah, not to mention how much geographic space it takes up.
Really it’s mostly Medina and environs that the argument applies to (and possibly annexing Woodway into Edmonds); as of 2010 the city or town with the highest per-capita income in the state that isn’t on that peninsula is Mercer Island, which needless to say, has very good geographic reasons to be its own city (and its per-capita income was more than $15,000 less than Clyde Hill). Seattle’s unique geography means it makes more sense for more of the region to be housed in other municipalities; other cities (*cough*Atlanta*cough*) have far bigger problems with rich people forming their own enclaves.
(Just as long as the vast unincorporated area northeast of Redmond gets annexed into that city and/or Woodinville before it ends up trying to form its own city.)
One area where these suburban enclaves avoid paying taxes is homeless services. Seattle pays far more in homeless services than King county does. 80% of shelters are in Seattle.
This is why the idea of a regional solution to homelessness is kind of a joke. King county and the other cities just ship their problems to Seattle and don’t contribute, so no real partnership is possible.
I’m not saying that Seattle annex Sammamish, but a larger Bellevue could be expected to house its own homeless rather than busing them to Seattle.
I thought the elimination of poverty and homelessness was an admiral goal. Now we are angered by communities that don’t have poverty? And now we want smaller wealthy suburbs to pay the price for the failed policies of big cities? You elected your mayor and council. You pay the bill.
Elimination of poverty and homelessness is an admiral goal, but Sammamish didn’t eliminate anything–they just excluded it from their city limits. Can’t tell the difference between the two, huh?
Annexing Sammamish into Redmond would just put a lot more NIMBYs into the voting population and make it that much harder for us to build the affordable housing we need. We already have enough problems passing school bonds sharing a school district with them.
Annexing Sammamish into Issaquah makes more sense than Redmond. Sahalee Way, which becomes the closest thing Sammamish has to a “main drag”, meets Highway 202 almost literally in the middle of farmland.
I like matching city borders with school districts, when possible. That would more or less divide Sammamish in half between Redmond and Issaquah
I would prefer to match the school districts with the cities, though of course even better would be to have, to some degree, one school district for the county if not the metro area to avoid
white flight to get away from minoritiespeople chasing the best schools while letting “lesser” schools rot.
My preference is for cities and other municipalities to have their own identities and reason for existence beyond “we want to keep the poors out and we don’t want to pay for them either”. So much of American suburban sprawl is completely undifferentiated, consisting of atomic homes in cul-de-sacs wherever the land within the UGB hasn’t already been taken, with no real sense of community or identity. Even where “cities” in the Seattle area have genuine traditional core centers, once you get beyond them to more recent annexations or unincorporated areas you lose that identity quickly (though 90s-vintage projects like Issaquah Highlands have more of an identity to them). In a perfect world, such suburbs could be incentivized to take a middle ground between being part of a “city” and being unincorporated, contributing to the tax base and needed services of the entire region (or at least the county), maintaining local control and provision of fire, police and the like, but without the larger expectations (and, potentially, tax rates) of community that come with “city” status.
When I look at aerials, it appears that several new house developments have almost no yards. The building density looks tighter than single-family areas of western West Seattle or Mapleleaf. The houses there also look pretty large, so the average household size looks like it could be larger.
It’s also important to note that extended families in other cultures often live together in larger homes. Expecting that only small apartments for single people adds density is way too simplistic — and could even be seen as culturally biased.
Certainly Sammamish could better add density like Issaquah has. Still, it does appear that by having reduced lot sizes that they are making some recent concessions for density.
What good is density if it’s all unwalkable loops and culs-de-sac? That’s just more people who will be forced to drive everywhere.
I suppose it’s preferable to even more sprawl further out, but that’s not a high bar to clear when there are neighborhoods within 15 minutes of the Seattle and Bellevue downtowns that ought to be built up instead.
As bad as exclusionary suburbs are, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the optimal use of lobbying effort to build more housing in Sammamish instead of say, making it legal to build more housing in exclusionary neighborhoods inside city limits like Queen Anne and Wallingford, which are actually walkable, transit-rich, and close to jobs.
I agree. We should change from the inside out. Most of Seattle (well over 50%) is zoned single family. Lot sizes vary from small (typically old developments in places like the Central Area) to huge (lots in the north and south end that have been subdivided but have to be over 7,000 square feet). That should be the initial focus.
Then it makes sense to focus on nearby suburbs, like Shoreline, where again, almost all of the city is zoned single family with big lots. Places like Sammamish are hard to change, and it isn’t clear whether it would be a good thing if they did. You could build new apartments there, and it is highly likely that the residents would drive a lot more than residents of say, Magnolia. Distance matters, and Samammish is a very long way (and largely disconnected) from the city.
Indeed. Plenty of battles to fight before going after Sammamish. Upzone in Town. Make the point that people could always move to Sammamish if they want no apartments or condos within a mile of their house. Could get at least twice the house out there, too.
Can County and State leaders force the annexation of “wealthy enclaves” into larger neighboring cities? What would that look like? Would those leaders survive as leaders politically? Should we even be involved in forcing annexations period, full stop?
This whole article feels as forced as the lines of text to the left of the picture.
Milquetoast technocratic liberals, dumb: cities should annex their wealthy suburbs. we shouldn’t let rich people take their tax dollars away from the larger cities they depend on for jobs and services.
Radical leftists, woke: leave Sammamish alone
I dunno, it seems like a fair bargain when compared to a torch wielding mob shouting “Off with their heads!”
The City of Seattle Property Tax Levy Rate: 8.3. The City of Sammamish Property Tax Levy Rate: 9.7.
Seattle, you aren’t doing your fair share.
Exactly. The last I checked Seattle property owners are assessed at a FAR lower rate than property owners in other communities in both King and Snohomish County, particularly those living in unincorporated areas where a dedicated road tax is a major chunk of the levy rate. Clearly the OP is misinformed about the tax structure of Seattle and the surrounding area, at least as far as property tax levy rates are concerned.
Fwiw…..My levy rate on my property here in an unincorporated area of Edmonds is $10.83, excluding special assessment add-ons.
The paragraph is clearly referring to exclusive communities like Medina and Hunts Point, as the link makes even more clear, not arbitrary suburban towns.
I was visiting family in Sammamish the other day, and noticed a political sign from a candidate who promised to be able to solve traffic. Wow! This is very relevant to my interests, I thought. I’m surprised I didn’t read about this person on the STB. I went to his site, and it turns out his solution is just to stop all residential development until more roads are built to support the new homes.
The funny thing is, I kind of agree. Stop all new single family developments in King County. Allow multifamily homes on every residential parcel.
Manhattan is all multifamily. There are still areas that are exclusionary and without poor people, they are just up in the sky, instead of out in the burbs. Multifamily zoning isn’t a panacea, it’s a placebo. “Sam, you say it’s a placebo. What does that even mean?” I’m not sure. I just thought it made the sentence flow better.
If the Upper East Side seceded from New York City because they didn’t want to pay NYC taxes, you’d have a point.
I think the point here is that there’s quite a difference between letting the market decide that an area is wealthy and exclusionary, versus explicitly zoning it to be so.
Two things I believe should always be true about the United States, however we achieve them:
1. We define poverty as the inability to be a fully-participating citizen for lack of money.
2. In the United States, there should be no such thing as “The Working Poor.”
What would you count as being a fully-participating citizen, though?
Educated to be willing to run for and able to hold political office at least once in your life. Think it ought to be high school graduation requirement to run a credible campaign- at 18, you can be a State legislator.
Also, motivated from prekindergarten to be interested in running one’s own business, profit-making or cooperative, rather than only being someone else’s employee. Though also trained from age five how to organize and operate a labor union.
Have said before that while I think our own former military draft was badly damaged by association with a misbegotten war, places like Sweden start adult life with national service where the military is a sought-after option, while most recruits go to the civil service.
While turning out a population who can be trusted with a military fire-arm, as the Founders intended.
Think a resulting constant fresh turnover could cure a lot of the hide-binding associated with a career in government. While restoring the exact sense of public duty presently being deliberately dirtied and flushed by present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Anybody who feels threatened by a deep approach to governing is going to get a lot of American soldiers killed on their watch. And an infrastructure delivering many more casualties as its bridges collapse and drinking water gets poisoned.
Would give a lot to rescue the concept of “Give me a child ’til they’re six” from its horrible association with Adolf Hitler. A real educator should be able to make active professional governing, and business dealing, and teaching something a child will look forward to.
And incidentally: since it’s far and away the fairest approach, a child might ask why is an graduated income tax is so poisonous in the State of Washington?
If you’re pro-affordable housing, you are pro-keeping people poor. Income-tested benefits requires participants remain in poverty to continue receiving benefits.
I agree, if there’s an abrupt cutoff. That’s called the “benefits cliff” – when getting a small raise will leave you worse off because you suddenly don’t qualify for some benefits anymore. Affordable housing and other benefits should gradually edge out by, e.g., having people pay slightly higher rent as their income goes up until they’re paying close to market rates, or getting slightly less TANF money until it goes down to zero. That’s how the Earned Income Tax Credit works; if the IRS can do it so well, we can too.
What’s the alternative? People living on the street?
The idea that people remain poor to keep receiving housing assistance is BS. People don’t want to be poor. If they have a way to become non-poor they’ll do so. The reason they may be relucatant to get a job is that the jobs they qualify for pay so little they’d still be poor. And without that housing assistance, they may not be able to afford an apartment on their own even with a job.
Mike, I was responding to Mark who said there shouldn’t be working poor in America. And I was simply point out we can’t both wish there were no poor, and support programs that encourage people to stay poor.
You’re misrepresenting the programs. They put a roof over people’s heads. Whether they encourage them to keep their incomes low to remain qualified is a secondary issue. If you repeal the program because it “makes people dependent”, then the roof goes away. Then we’re right back where we started: what do we do about the people who can’t afford housing?
No, actually asking the question, “what do we do about the people who can’t afford housing?” is the secondary issue. Wishing there were no working poor, and supporting programs that perpetuate poverty, are mutually exclusive goals. You keep getting hung up on thinking I’m criticizing benefits. I’m not (this time). I’m saying, support income-tested programs all you want. Just know, by doing so, you give up the right to say in America there should be no working poor. You can’t hold both of those positions at the same time.
But, yes, you are right, I believe it is better help people to get out of poverty, than to make poverty comfortable.
@Mike, Sam has a good point here. People usually don’t jump straight from “poor and receiving assistance” to “well-off and easily able to support themselves.” They get there by small raises or promotions building upon each other. If the first small promotion immediately cuts them off from public assistance, that can leave them worse off – and if they refuse the promotion to keep the public assistance, it can block them from moving up in the future.
Here’s a longer article on this “benefits cliff.”
I wonder if you could have a system where upzoning is automatic based on land values.
You could just abolish density limits on residential lots entirely. If the land value is too low for multifamily development to pencil out, then no developer is going to build multifamily there, even if the zoning permits it.
The reason we have zoning in the first place is (1) to separate incompatible industrial uses and other uses, and (2) to exclude the working class/poor/minorities/renters from most areas. Zoning came out of private covenants that did #2. The first exclusive developments appeared in the 1800s, and then zoning extended it citywide in the 1920s. Another theme was “euclidian zoning” starting in the 40s: separate districts for houses, shopping, commercial, government, arts, etc. The first zone allows only single-family houses, schools, churches, and parks. While zoning can set a minimum density and maximum parking, it usually sets a maximum density and minimum parking. Why do we need that? Developers won’t build more apartments and row houses than there’s a market for, and the demand isn’t so high that every lot in Seattle would be converted. Chicago’s North Side still has single-family houses scattered among the 3-10 story buildings. Plus, lots that aren’t near frequent transit or arterials are less desirable, and the most obscure ones just wouldn’t get a market unless they have something like a shoreline view.
Frankly, I think the best way to deliver affordable housing- like anything else affordable- is to train, employ, and pay people enough money that they can afford to buy it.
Anybody bewildered as to “doing what?” Off the top of my head, I’d ask the power company about that whole grove of wood power poles that just rotted through and crumbled, almost killing two people driving under them a few months back.
Wish we’d quit calling things like bridges “infrastructure”. Even worse than “The Environment” for rhetorically distancing the conversation from real life. And when it collapses, death. The United States of America’s collapse is far from rhetorical.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration hired my father out of college (his mother gave him the job application along with his suitcase packed for Washington DC) that started his long career in credit unions.
Same Administration saved their home from foreclosure- instead of throwing them on the street and bundling their home into a billion dollars’ subprime junk as would’ve happened in 2008- under an Administration who should’ve known better.
Since everybody reading this is blogging age, well, I’ll get the pleasure of watching you do all this. You can handle it.
“the best way to deliver affordable housing- like anything else affordable- is to train, employ, and pay people enough money that they can afford to buy it.”
That only works if housing prices aren’t out of whack. Andew Yang’s universial basic income is $1,200 per year. The federal poverty rate is around $24,000 for a family of four. A $15 minimum wage job pays $43,200, minus 33% for taxes leaves $28,512. The median Seattle apartment is around $1800, or $21,605 annually. Some landlords require three times the income to qualify, so $64,800. That’s equivalent to $22.50 per hour. Is the US ready for a minimum wage of $22.50 an hour? None of the politicians are promoting it; they’re saying $15. “But can’t they can live in a below-median apartment?” The below-median apartments are full! They’re full of people who can’t afford the median.
Interestingly, one European country (the Netherlands or Denmark?) has a minimum wage of $25.
If we’re not willing to raise the minimum wage to a liveable level, then we’ll need subsidized housing for everybody below that level.
Your figure of 33% tax for an annual income of $43,200 is too high. Subtracting the $12,000 standard deduction, what’s left is $31,200 in taxable income, which translates to $3,553.50 in taxes, or about 8.2%. Add in another 6.2% social security tax and 1.45% medicare tax, and you end up with a grand total tax of 15.85%.
If your minimum wage job is something like Uber driving, the effective tax rate is quite a bit higher because independent contractors have to pay both the employer share and employee share of social security/medicare taxes. Even with this, the total is still 23.5%.
Even if you include state and local taxes, I still don’t see the numbers adding up to 33%. There is no income tax in the state of Washington, and a renter certainly isn’t going to pay property taxes. That leaves only sales taxes left. Even starting with 23.5%, you would have to pay 10% of your gross income in sales taxes in order to get the total up to 33%. With a sales tax rate of about 10% in the Puget Sound area, that means you would have to spend 100% of your pretax income on taxable goods and services. That leaves exactly $0 left for federal taxes, rent, or the sales tax, itself.
To say a minimum wage person loses 33% of their income to taxes, the math simply does not add up.
The total tax estimate is from before the federal tax cuts the last few years but it still serves as a maximum for calculating how much after-tax money people have. Maybe it should be lowered but I don’t know how far, and the most important thing is not to overestimate how much money people have because that’s what most previous assumptions have done and it’s why people are falling through the cracks. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. The point is not what the total tax is but the gap between the mimimum wage and the cost of shelter. Even if the tax rate were zero there’s still a gap between full-time minimum-wage pay and even the most minimal kind of housing if you don’t have relatives you can live with or a good roommate situation. Either the minimum wage needs to rise to a level that can afford an apartment as it did in the 1960s, or we need subsidized housing to make it accessible to people with that level of income.
Yang, $12,000. I missed a zero converting month to year.
Nonsense. Without referencing the linked material, you’re now trying to make a distinction that doesn’t exist in the paragraph as written. You made a blanket statement about low property tax rates in “plutocratic communities”, whatever the heck that means. Sam and I are simply pointing out that Seattle enjoys those same low levy rates. Your comment about “arbitrary suburban towns” is irrelevant to that point.
I’m not sure why this comment didn’t nest correctly, but this was in reply to the OP’s reply to my comment above.
I told you what it means; Medina and Hunt’s Point. The link documents the tax differential. If you choose not to reference the linked material and choose to ignore what I’m telling you now, than I suppose you can continue to pretend I said something I didn’t say.
And for the record, Seattle’s zoning is exclusionary and it needs to do better. But I didn’t mention Seattle in the post so I’m not sure who you’re refuting.
“…than [sic] I suppose you can continue to pretend I said something I didn’t say.”
And if you want to keep pretending that you explicitly mentioned Hunt’s Point and/or Medina in any of the paragraphs of your original post, that’s fine by me as well. It doesn’t change the fact that your post highlighted one community, Sammamish. There it is by name in the second, third and fourth paragraphs.
“But I didn’t mention Seattle in the post so I’m not sure who [sic] you’re refuting.”
My reply was to Sam’s post immediately preceding in which he mentioned Seattle’s levy rate. There was no refutation as I was in agreement with his comment.
What we’ve seen in California is that the suburbs that really should be providing housing are the employment centers–the Palo Altos, the San Ramons. They’re the places that get the benefit of having employees without equivalent costs of having residents.
Watching the ideologues who run this site trip over their own words is so entertaining. Those who are also running the site need to shitcan duke.
I have bad news for you, Good Grief
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