Whenever I am asked by someone if they should run for office, the first words out of my mouth: Don't do it. Campaigning is often more work than people realize, and the personal attacks and scrutiny that you and your family receives adds to that exhaustion. 50+ questionnaires to fill out if you're seeking institutional endorsements, call-time to raise money, interviews with organizations, individuals, media, community events, debates, forums, responding to emails from potential constituents - and this is before the epithets if you happen to be anything other than a cis straight white dude. All of this, of course, while you are working a full-time job (unless you are somehow independently wealthy or married to someone who makes some solid bank).
Most people press on, and if they're a cis straight white dude, I am admittedly less than kind. My first question to everyone: why? What is it that you want to do? If the answer is "I want to be in elective office," I give a hard pass on continuing the conversation much further (beyond "That's not good enough - figure out what you would work to do if elected, and run on that. But just wanted to be elected is self-centered af..)
The fun part of this all, however, is that the thing that you want to do is only a beginning. Because while you and all of your friends may be on the same page, the voting pool is often a different story. When I ran, it was because I wanted more priority in funding for emergency and transitional housing and related services. Toward the end of my campaign, revenue reform, labor rights, gender pay equity, and a program for paid family leave for all employees in Seattle had joined homelessness as top issues. Throughout the campaign, different issues rose to the top, and that necessitated a lot of reading and being a quick study on issues that voters wanted to talk about and hear action plans on. Ultimately, when running for public office, being a bit of a generalist is vital.
Brett Hamil is a funny dude, and has some really great perspectives and positions on various policy issues, as well. He has a comedy show - the Seattle Process - which I frequent, which I love, and which makes me laugh regularly. A newer project of his: The Shadow Council. How it is he's able to get a few dozen folks to come together on a Wednesday night and talk politics and policy is beyond me. It's like an Legislative District meeting, but with young folks and people of color.
Last night (March 29), I attended the most recent Shadow Council. I honestly had no idea what was on the agenda, because I just assume it is going to be good. For the first time, I was able to see and hear Nikkita Oliver, candidate for Mayor, talk more about her platform, why she's running, and what she wants to see Seattle do. I confess myself both inspired and unimpressed.
Ms. Oliver is clearly smart. As she noted on numerous occasions, she has multiple degrees, including a JD (and I do love me my lawyers!) Her passion for turning the tide on displacement and gentrification, particularly in historically redlined communities, is something I share and try to exhibit. Her acknowledgment of the impact of regressive taxation on older black homeowners who have lived in their homes for 30 years is spot on. Ms. Oliver get's it with respect to Housing First, and encampments being nothing more than a mitigation system requiring greater capital investment in housing. And her desire to see our region and state move away from jailing youth is something I more or less agree with (there remain questions about violent offenses such as murder, malicious attacks, rape, etc., but that gets into super nuanced policy around punishment v. rehabilitation, and where do you house folks who are in rehabilitation following a history of violence leading to violent acts as a teenager).
On HALA, Ms. Oliver stated that, in her view, HALA didn't go far enough. From there, she proceeded to cite her problems with HALA, notably the MHA requirement, and that, in her view, it should be much higher. During this section, she didn't speak to the issue of low-density residential development.
Ms. Oliver cited to San Francisco, stating that their MIZ program requires "25%" on-site performance. This is something we've been hearing - all Seattle development projects should have 25% on-site performance for affordable housing. All while citing to San Francisco. Unfortunately, this is misleading, at best, and ignores some key points.
First, San Francisco's program isn't just "25%." In fact, the projects that are covered by that portion of the program (projects with 25 or more units) only saw that requirement change from 14.5% through a ballot measure passed in 2016. The effects of that change are unknown, as is the legality. So if someone tells you 25% is working just great in San Francisco, they're lying. Additionally, the income restriction requirements are different, and, of course, so is the Area Median Income. A single person making 55% AMI in San Francisco (the AMI rental units are being produced for in SF's MIZ program) is making $41,450.00 per year. In Seattle, MHA is aimed toward folks in the 60% AMI range, which for a single person is $37,980.00 per year. That's a $289.17 per month difference.
San Francisco's program, which began in 1992, has produced about 3,000 units of "BMR" (Below Market Rate) housing in private development. Seattle's MHA program, however, is expected to produce that many (or more) in ten years. This is in addition to the over 3,000 BMR units currently active due to the MFTE program, and however many have been produced with Incentive Zoning, and not including those that may be produced through the Commercial Linkage Fee.
There is also the question of realistic expectations. If the program number is set too high, developers just won't develop. While the market alone will not solve the affordability crisis, leaving it to taxpayers means increasing the tax burden such that people in the middle are priced out of Seattle, and it becomes a playground for the wealthy with set-asides for very low-income residents. As Ms. Oliver herself noted, over-reliance on property taxes are hurting homeowners in modest homes. I support increasing funding for programs to help with weatherization, major home repairs for moderate and low-income homeowners, and starter-loans for folks aiming to enter homeownership (however, I disagree with Ms. Oliver's assertion that everyone should be going in the direction of ownership, particularly considering how out of reach it is for so many, and will continue to be. If you cannot and never are able to afford to purchase, you are not a failure). I definitely look forward to hearing how Ms. Oliver intends to fund more public housing and support for small businesses, while appearing to oppose property tax increases.
Also: if we as a city are willing to thumb our nose at federal law we believe is unjust and wrong, we should be willing to do the same at the state level. I-200 is having a disparate impact on women and minority owned businesses, and I would challenge anyone discussing the needs of WMBs in Seattle to state, unequivocally, that they would support priority hire for WMBs for contracts issued by the City of Seattle, and be willing to challenge I-200 in court.
But back on point - toward the end, as Heidi Groover reported, Ms. Oliver was asked if she would support more housing types - rowhousing, duplexes, and triplexes - in historically Single Family parts of the city. Her response: Not until we have more Seattle Process. When another person asked if she would be open to it only in areas outside of the redlined neighborhoods (ie: North of Ship Canal and West Seattle), Ms. Oliver continued to state that she believes there should be more hearing from people before making any zoning changes. Further, she called for a "pause on development."
I would posit that we have been listening to people for decades. That is what brought the urban villages into existence. How the Neighborhood Plans began. And listening to people is why redlining happened in the first place.
By embracing the logic that there should be no change, and instead even more process, Ms. Oliver is embracing greater gentrification and displacement. The fact is people are moving to Seattle, and many of these people are moving with jobs that pay quite well. If housing is not built to both accommodate these folks, as well as the rest of us, the newcomers will win the bidding wars. As white folks become less racist, and willing to walk through and live in historically black neighborhoods, more and more white folks will and are moving into places like the Central District. But that doesn't mean they'll visit the legacy black-owned business. We are colonistic by nature, and change our environment to match what we want. And a moratorium on development will lead to more of that happening.
The only way to stop gentrification and displacement without allowing for more housing types throughout the city, more missing middle, and TOD that implements MHA to a degree that will produce units of housing, is to build a wall around Seattle. And I trust that nobody is calling for that.
Zoning is a thorny issue. I don't expect any candidate to know everything early on, and I look forward to seeing how Ms. Oliver evolves on the trail. There are legal, market, and social justice implications to zoning and housing policy. It's not an easy set of issues. No matter how great someone is on social justice on paper and in protest action, if their positioning is to deny housing opportunities throughout the city, deny existing and incoming residents the opportunity to participate in our community through embracing a system that is exclusionary, then it is a difficult hill for me to climb to be able to support that candidate. All of the equity for black and brown communities in the world doesn't matter if we maintain existing policies that will eradicate the remaining diversity in the city, after all.