Cary Moon's Housing Plans - an Analysis
Last Friday, I wrote up a brief analysis of Jenny Durkan's "More Housing Now" plan that was recently released. Per usual, I posted the post to my Facebook, and have since disabled notifications. It has become a shitshow that is blowing up my phone.
But, I did promise to take a gander at Cary Moon's housing platform, and throw down some thoughts. Fair play, etc. etc. Folks who have been around the Hashtag for awhile know that I have very high regard for Moon's policy approach, and have lambasted Durkan's failure to even have any "issues" statements on her website until July. At the same time, I am quite pleased that both candidates are diving into policy, and releasing various plans and ideas that will ostensibly address housing affordability, homelessness, gender pay equity, worker rights, and so much more.
Cary Moon released her 100 day plan on housing affordability back in July. She also has various affordability ideas up on her website (and has for some time). She also has a set of guiding principles that informs us what her administration would look like (and also that she does not use an Oxford Comma - BOOOOOO). Her campaign staff reflect these values.
Her 100 Days Plan focuses on three areas. The first - Call [an] Emergency Housing Summit. This would bring together experts (and based on the language used, would not include any business groups) to discuss and propose ideas to address the crisis. As guiding principles, this summit would be tasked with proposing actionable plans centering on the notion that safe housing is a human right, acknowledging our city needs deep and transformative change to our systems to reach sustainable solutions to this crisis, acknowledge and work through the lens that communities of color, seniors, young folks, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community are hardest hit by the crisis, and with a commitment to work together to "identify the most effective, innovative and viable solutions." (see - no Oxford Comma. BOOOOOOO!!!).
I confess I am of two minds here. On the one hand, I do enjoy getting more data, using it, and making decisions based on good information. On the other hand, how much more process do we need? Further, by excluding business groups, we are excluding a component of housing affordability and livability, and ignoring the impacts of the affordability crisis on small businesses. Of course, I'm sure that the idea is that there should be less of a say from, say Comcast than Molly Moon's.
At the same time, how many more committees do we need? It's as if every time we turn around to do something to address the crisis, we end up back at square one because someone doesn't like a piece of the plan. There are steps that we know now will help address the affordability crisis - reducing initial permitting to build time, allowing for more housing types throughout the city, providing support for ADU/DADU construction, and working to make condominiums "worth it" for developers again. Of course, I'm also a big fan of The Goldy Plan, and pledge $100 to the first mayoral candidate to incorporate it into their housing policy.
So while I'm not opposed to this idea, I do think it would be nice to have some immediate and actionable steps now. Cary Moon is one of the smartest people when it comes to municipal policy - she knows some of the things we can do (as is evidenced by her support of significantly reducing the amount of detached-SF zoned land in Seattle). So this plus some of the great ideas that are out there would be more tantalizing.
Next she goes into Leveraging the data. Specifically, she is seeking information to determine the impact of speculation on the market, and then ostensibly would move forward with proposals to curb that speculation. CM Lisa Herbold tried to get that information, and was rebuked by the person who is the keeper of that info.
This has created a bit of a firestorm (or did) around speculation taxes and the potential impact of levying a tax that non-residents in foreign countries might pay more of than residents of Seattle. But with Jenny Durkan now adopting the idea, it's no longer racist (or so I hear). That doesn't mean there aren't other considerations in implementation, however.
There remains a real question of what would such a plan look like, and how would it need to be pared in a way to not exacerbate the problem it seeks to fix. If we implement a special assessment on homes that are not a primary residence, what exceptions do we use for ones that are still being rented out? How does AirBnB play into vacation residences? What is the right balance to discourage hoarding of properties waiting for other amenities to come in before selling and making a big buck - while renting for below-market in the interim? These are the questions that really do require much deeper research, and that both candidates are now discussing this gives me hope we'll look into the issue of speculative housing investment more thoroughly, and we should applaud Moon for coming out on this issue first.
The 100 Day Plan ends with a call to Drive Real Solutions. This is where I get giddy.
The first idea mentioned notes a desire to increase REET on luxury properties, and an capital gains tax on sales of non-primary residences. Folks who know me know that I love the idea of a capital gains tax on property transfers. That Cary Moon is keeping this in the conversation is a good thing, and hopefully we'll see more discussion of what that might look like, with support to get clear legislation from Olympia granting the authority.
Next involves exploring and implementing rent stabilization and eviction prevention measures. Again, it's no secret that I am a fan of rent stabilization measures. We should categorically reject the doom and gloom of folks who poo poo on rent stabilization that point to rent control in other states. Nobody in Seattle has said we should do what has been done in NYC or SF, and the factors that have led to their affordability crises don't begin and end with price controls on housing. As of this point, Moon is the only mayoral candidate who I have heard publicly state they are willing to look at price controls to stabilize housing - and that's a plus one for me.
Next she states that we should identify ways to incentivize community land trusts and limited equity co-ops. There is definitely a push by many to move forward more aggressively with Community Land Trusts as a means to create more homeownership opportunities in Seattle. With the last Housing Levy, there was a push to move beyond detached single-family homes, and to explore funding more housing types (such as condos and co-ops) with the CLT model in mind. One option could be using the first-notice rule for sales of certain multi-family buildings to explore working with tenants on purchase and conversion to a co-op, with support and down-payment assistance from the city. It's really awesome to see this brought to the table.
Coming up fourth: identifying specific approaches with communities of color to guide equitable development and reduce displacement to ensure communities can thrive in place. This one is tricky - the city has been getting better, but doesn't have the best track record of giving communities of color reason to trust the government. However, if Moon is elected Mayor, and is successful on her guiding principles, we do have an opportunity to further improve that trust from departments, while improving what development in the community looks like.
Skipping a few, she notes the need to remove barriers to building missing middle housing. The need for Missing Middle cannot be expressed enough. And, frankly, this is an area wherein I find many folks on all sides of the housing debate (at times) agree - at least that we need more. Where it gets tricky: where does it go. Around transit stations, for instance, doesn't make much sense. We're investing billions in some pretty great transit, but if we limit the housing supply through zoning around those stations, then it doesn't matter. And focusing missing middle near transit hubs would do just that.
During debates, Moon clearly states that one of the ways to do this is through zoning changes. While people continue to bicker over the percentage of the city that is zoned as "SF", the fact that you can walk ten minutes from a major transit hub, and hit places where fourplexes and six-plexes are not allowed, and triplexes and duplexes are considered the first coming of Satan because renters or people who would purchase one-third of a triplex co-operative would move in...well, classism, folks. The reality is we need more housing types and options, and by reducing barriers to create more housing types in more part of the city, we'll see more opportunity for land trusts and co-operatives to take hold, and for seniors to convert a garage into a DADU, or a basement into an ADU, and get some extra income to age in place.
The remaining actions are more geared toward changes in state law to implement at the local level. Increasing the Housing Trust Fund to add funds to the affordable housing development pipeline, freeing up surplus public land for use as affordable housing (state action would be required to include City Light and SPU properties in this mix), and expanding property tax breaks for more Seattleites - such as a homestead exemption for the first $250k of a primary residence.
Over on her Housing Affordability prong of the Vision page, we do see additional ideas, such as preventing evictions of families with children (could be done with expansion of the voucher system and method by which a landlord could apply for the voucher on behalf of a tenant who is at risk for eviction), and an exponential expansion of affordable housing in Seattle. It appears this specifically means city-owned or city-subsidized housing. Along with The Goldy Plan, this could also include using bonding capacity for some immediate investments in housing for very-low and no-income individuals and families, as well as immediately setting aside a set amount of existing REET funds for affordable housing (which would be at the detriment of other capital investments in parks and transit - let's not kid ourselves - but I think it's very much worth it).
In sum - this is also a good set of ideas. While Durkan's is more detailed, this is more robust. Neither seems to be heavily weighted on unknown taxes or revenue, and both seek to address the sludge pace that we have had addressing missing middle housing in Seattle. Durkan's is more geared toward homelessness prevention and intervention, with a section focused on the need for more housing overall, while Moon's is more on point with affordability as a whole, but without the direct link to homelessness. Combined, this is nothing shy of a powerhouse of ideas on housing affordability.
For each plan, there is a need to have effective lobbying in Olympia for permission to do some of the things that are called for. Each will also require a City Council willing to make some choices that protectionists of detached single-family zoning will decry as the worst, while at the same time looking to ensure our transit infrastructure is either in line with, or on its way to be in line with, the development necessary to ensure more affordable homes for middle-income folks are an option across Seattle.
But, again, two good sets of ideas that aren't necessarily competing sets, but complementing sets.