I've got what I think is an exciting and vital article that I hope will change some of what I consider to be the most pernicious mistruth floating around Seattle's land use debates.
But first, I wanted to add a little to what Maddux said in his hashtag post #Progressive. Data is good – data is literally and definitionally facts about the reality we live in. In his post on the Stranger, socialist activist Shaun Scott called me a "centrist data miner". While I don't particularly consider myself a centrist – at least not in the Chris Vance sense of the word (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/podcast-former-gop-chair-chris-vance-on-ditching-his-party-and-joining-a-centrist-movement/) - I do firmly believe and will always believe that trying to figure out facts about reality is a good thing and NOT something that should be attacked in The Stranger.
In my post #25Percent (which is good by the way, you should read it if you haven't yet!) I show that taking away the profits from a landlord by forcing them to rent a quarter of their units below market rents simply doesn't pencil out with Seattle's current market rate rents – so either one of two things will happen: either no buildings will be built, or landlords will simply raise the rents to cover the difference. This isn't driven by greed, or even profit motive - my math shows that this is driven by interest payments on the loans, which is a policy that's way, way beyond the City of Seattle's purview. It's telling that neither Scott nor any other socialist activist has come out to challenge my numbers or math – they simply think we ought not to "keep the material interests of landlords in mind". This is EXACTLY THAT SAME as Scott Pruitt repealing the Clean Power Plan because he prefers climate change to not be real.
This is just a difference in world view and can neither side can ever bridge. I think that we should actually learn about the world and take cues from its facts; he thinks we ought to start with the outcome we want and assume the world works that way. Whatever.
Now, having said all that, I've got some fresh content for you that may or may not forever cement my reputation as a "centrist data miner".
If you follow my twitter feed, you'll know that I was super excited to get a treasure trove of information – all multifamily buildings built in Seattle since 2010. I got the list from a certain Seattle newspaper of record who clearly didn't want this list floating out there, but using my elite haxxing skillz I was able to round up the names, addresses, unit count, and year of completion for all these buildings. I'm sure more fun(???) articles will be on the way analyzing the wheres and whens of the new buildings, but for this article I want to focus on an important inflection point of Seattle's land use debate: displacement.
Displacement means a lot of things to a lot of people, but often when arguing against land use, the term "displacement" means physical displacement. That is, when a renter is forced to move from their current unit because the building is being demolished, as opposed to the rent going up, or the landlord converting the unit to short-term rentals.
But now, armed with the list of new multifamily buildings, we can actually quantify how much, if any, physical displacement actually happens in Seattle.
The most accurate way to quantify this number is to go through each new building and look up the property deeds and permits to get the exact unit count of the old buildings (if any were on that lot), but there's no way in hell I was going to do all of that work. Instead what I did was take a random sample, generating 15 numbers from Random.org and looking at the before/after in google street view for each new building. That work is summarized in this handy-dandy chart, terribly formatted chart! (Sorry Maddux, if you wanna make it all pretty-like, be my guest!)
|Building Name||Address||Google Street View||Number displaced||Units Added||Year Built|
|Fox & Finch||525 Boren Ave. N.||Click Here||0||49||2017|
|The Vega||4528 44th Ave. S.W.||Click Here||0||58||2017|
|The Station at Othello Park||4219 S. Othello St.||Click Here||0||351||2011|
|Vivid Apartments||219 1st Ave. N.||Click Here||0||45||2017|
|708 Uptown||708 6th Ave. N.||Click Here||0||118||2012|
|Springline||3220 California Ave. S.W.||Click Here||3||136||2016|
|The Enclave||525 N.E. Northgate Way||Click Here||0||428||2014|
|Stencil||2407 E. Union St.||Click Here||1||39||2016|
|Anthem on 12th||103 12th Ave.||Click Here||0||120||2015|
|N/A||616 N.E. 53rd St.||Click Here||1||15||2012|
|The Angeline||4801 Rainier Ave. S.||Click Here||0||193||2015|
|Gallaway Apartments||1126 N. 90th St.||Click Here||1||8||2015|
|BASE Capitol Hill||1728 12th Ave.||Click Here||0||32||2014|
|Ruth Court||123 18th Ave. E.||Click Here||1||64||2016|
|N/A||616 N.E. 53rd St.||Click Here||1||15||2012|
|Total Units Displaced||Total Units Added|
Now, as you can see, for the random sample I got, around 8 units of housing were demolished – all of which were single family-type homes – while 1,671 were constructed: a ratio of 208 units built for each one destroyed. Further, 60% of new buildings in the sample either replaced a parking lot, or a 1 story retail type building. None demolished an existing apartment building.
And if I set up my z-test right (oh god, maybe I am a centrist data miner??? I won't bore you of the details of hypothesis testing) that means we can say with 99% confidence that the number of displaced units for a new apartment building will be less than 1 unit.
So, the next time your socialist and/or NIMBY friends complains about displacement, ask them what kind of displacement they're talking about. If they're talking about physical displacement, let them know how rare a new apartment displacing an old apartment is. If they're talking about economic displacement (that is, displacement due to rising rents), let them know that the way to slow the rate of that type is to build more housing and take demand pressure of the existing stock – since the new stock will almost surely not displace an existing structure!
But maybe you don't believe my sample was random, or you just want to replicate my work, or do your own analysis of the data I have – great! Skepticism and curiosity is good! Send me a DM on twitter or a message on Facebook, and I'll get you started in the right direction.
Until then, let me know if you liked this article and how I can make it better. Follow me on twitter @zachlubarsky for these kind of insights and more!