Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Demolition Men Cometh

Today the Port of Seattle will meet to decide the fate of the Lora Lake apartments, and unless the moon turns to cheese Commissioners Bob Edwards and Alec Fisken will fail to carry the day and the Port will hold fast to their demolition decision.

An opinion piece by Port CEO Tay Yoshitani in Tuesday's PI sums up their reasoning succinctly.
  • Burien fought the third runway tooth and nail, and in the course of things agreements were made. If the Port does not honor these, they will lose credibility.
  • Seattle has an affordable housing problem and a condo conversion issue, but Burien does not. Most housing in Burien is affordable. This is not their problem.
  • An agreement is an agreement. A contract is a contract.
King County Housing Authority has used both the carrot and the stick, offering $18 million to buy the property and threatening the use of eminent domain should that fail. Additional legal action has been brought in the form of a lawsuit from Citizens to Defend Affordable Housing. Seattle clergy almost committed civil disobedience, and SHARE/WHEEL actually did it and no one cared.

Seattle Housing Authority CEO Tom Tierney has also called upon the Port to preserve the units, but has also said that should they decide otherwise, they should take responsibility for the lost housing and rebuild elsewhere.

The Lutheran Public Policy Office sent out an alert that articulated this position a bit more fully:
Although LPPO has consistently advocated for the preservation of the Lora Lake apartments, political realities have made this option difficult to work out. Instead, LPPO and many others working on this issue are in favor of a $30 million package funded jointly by the Port, King County, and the King County Housing authority which would fund the building of replacement units for the 162 units of affordable housing which would disappear with the demolition of Lora Lake.
This position has been challenged by some, who point out the obvious: Were we to spend $30 million on housing AND keep the apartments, we'd be getting ahead and not just staying even. Who wants to spend $30 million to stay even?

It's been suggested that the strategy here is to offer the Port an alternative that is so unattractive, it makes reneging on Burien look great by comparison. Clever.

Too bad it won't work.

Lora Lake has shown us that Ten Year Plan targets for housing development can't end homelessness if we're losing units on the other end. The visual of perfectly good housing being torn down to make way for a big box retailer makes for great symbolism, and Burien and the Port Authority are, for politicians in Seattle, relatively safe targets.

Sooner or later, however, Lora Lake will be behind us, and we'll still have the same issue to contend with. And we'll have to face that the real problems, and the real targets, are right here in Seattle. Developers are making a killing at the expense of affordability, and our corporate liberal political class is, for the most part, too weak-kneed to get in their way.

Some real hardball has been played against the Port Authority and Burien to preserve this housing, but the 162 units in Burien are a drop in the bucket to the 3000 or so units lost locally to condo conversion.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, who allowed a condo conversion bill to die in committee last spring, has pledged his support for addressing this during next year's legislative session. We need to marshal the outrage we've mustered over events in Burien to ensure that this legislation offers a meaningful market intervention, and doesn't just settle for some relocation assistance that masquerades as a victory while the core problem remains untouched.


bill said...

This indeed is the showdown at the OK Corral, and it's not likely to come out OK. Meanwhile, outside Dodge, everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Condo-conversions, demolitions, eastside homes exceeding 5 digit square footage, no one blinks cuz we still worship the free market and property rights. Of course there's hope or Tim wouldn't be blogging and I wouldn't be reading it (well, there is the fact it was read this blog or watch GW Bush's press conference on TV). I am not usually a top-down guy, but there are some boundaries that need to be drawn via top-down legislation, and Chopp's gotta lead it. Nationally, well, we cold ask Phil Mangano (lol), but better would be to get Patty charged up by folks other than the status-quoters that she has enlisted locally to help her identify issues for federal action. Maybe she should begin by reading this blog, then by talking to a dozen RC Vendors. Those enlisted to date spend way too much time sitting in meetings and acquiring unmerited kudos. Can we for once turn away from the dry wells and find some living water (yes, meant spiritually but for action, not idolizing). Off to the Port hearing soon. I'll count the condo-conversions I pass enroute,...

Anonymous said...

Tim Harris provides more balance than the reporters at the big dogs. It is indeed important to remember that Burien is not the problem here.

Why is it so easy for Ron Sims to threaten funding for transit-oriented development, development that includes 1 1/2 units of NEW, GREEN, HEALTHY AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING, for every 1 unit lost at Lora Lake? Oh, probably it's easy because:
1. Taking cheap shots is so much easier than acting on promises like the 10 year plan to end homelessness.
2. Burien is kicking Seattle's ass when it comes to affordability and the richer cities are jealous.
3. Ignorant people want to continue to beat up on the Port because it's so much easier than holding Seattle and King County officials responsible for housing.

Let's not forget the Port is in the business of transportation. Every time they branch out from that, it gets screwed up. But King County Housing, Seattle Housing, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Welfare can do a lot, as can the State of Washington. But why should religious leaders, homeless advocates, housing activists, and liberals hold any of these people accountable when it is so easy to whack the Port Pinata?

Creighton's email was out of line, clearly, but not inconsistent with the crap pulled by His Mayorness, Emperor Nickels, or by Mr. Huggles, Ron Sims, who juggles leadership like a circus clown. How can Sims lead so effectively on protecting the environment in East King County but be so pitiful in the city he calls home? Legislative bully, Frank Chopp, who should live up to his title and SPEAK on this issue, is oddly silent; weird since so many of the lost housing units came out of his legislative district.

Common sense solutions do not require elitist attitudes or attacks on fellow public officials. Common sense solutions require us all to look for ways for all of King County to share in the kind of government investment that has recently made Burien so attractive that it is now the New Ballard. Common sense solutions do not require low and moderate income people to be subjected to health risks and sonic pollution so that some people can call it a day and punch the timeclock on their way out of town.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, you are confusing Burien Town Square with the Transit Oriented Development (TOD). In Town Square there are going to be approximately 400 housing units, most all are high-priced condos. The Town Square plan currently only has 10 apartments in it that will be operated by the King Co. Housing Authority.

There is NO plan yet for the Burien TOD that says how many housing units will be there. The TOD is two blocks away from Town Square.