Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lets Pick On Someone Our Own Size

Seattle, having distinguished itself for several years running as Forbes Magazine’s “Most Overpriced City in America,” has now made their top ten Least Affordable Real Estate Markets list as well. This should surprise no one.

In recent months, the attention of many has been held by the Lora Lake drama that has unfolded in Burien. An agreement reached several years ago with the Port of Seattle during negotiations over the Airport’s third runway slates the 162-units of affordable family housing for demolition to make way for commercial development. To housing advocates, Lora Lake has come to symbolize the three steps back that we take for every hard won step or two forward. For the City of Burien, in which the vast majority of housing is affordable, Lora Lake is about economic development and having the autonomy to plan their own city.

We need our neighboring communities to be our allies in the fight against homelessness. This is why, in the fight against Burien, even if we win, we lose. Our affordability problem is right here in Seattle, where those who profit excessively from the loss of affordability, for the most part, have not even been named. Outfits like Clise Properties, Touchstone Corporation, Harbor Properties, Vulcan Real Estate, Samis, and even outside investment corporations like The Blackstone Group use their enormous influence to drive development in Seattle, and are too seldom called upon to reconcile their profit-taking with our broader interests as a community.

But we're not seeing any interfaith vigils at their offices are we?

Have we made Burien our affordable housing whipping boy because it’s easier than taking on the rich and powerful right here in Seattle? We can make our problem Burien's, to their great resentment, or we can take a closer look at why they have enough affordable housing and we do not.

It's great to see people finally get worked up over something, and a little bureaucratic hardball never hurt anyone. But if we're going to take a fight all the way, let's be sure that it's the right fight. Burien, for many reasons, makes a convenient target that everyone from the church to the state can get behind. But that, in itself, should make us wonder what's really going on.


Anonymous said...

Was this written by Tim Harris the homelessness advocate or by a Burien City Council member? The arguments sound suspciously similar to those made by the City of Burien: "Don't pick on us, we're too small and poor to have to make ethical decisions."

Tim Harris said...

Well, I'm departing from the party line here, so I can hardly expect everyone to agree with me, but I don't believe that's what they're saying at all. Nor is that what I'm saying. Let me break it down for you: At least ten times the 162 units in Burien is being lost in Seattle affordable housing each year. If we were to direct the moral outrage we're seeing in Burien toward the Seattle developers who profit from our community's loss, we might have something.

huh? said...

We know ya like to depart from the party line, Tim, but remember that greedy developers are private citizens. A public entity like Burien or the Port of Seattle should receive public outrage when it fails to listen to what the public wants it to do with public property. The way to succeed against private developers is to put development restrictions and incentives in place. There's a lot going on in that ballcourt, and Lora Lake didn't detract from that ongoing work. In spite of your oft-mentioned worries, I think we have enough person-power available in the advocacy community to save Lora Lake and pass tough new anti-condo-conversion laws.

Donna Pierce said...

Can't really compare the housing situation in Burien, the sprawly, podunky low-to-middle-income suburb (w/ pockets of wealth in Shorewood) to that of Seattle the megalopolis. Totally different level of official players, kinds of neighborhoods, geography, etc. Still, we want to keep (and build) affordable housing anywhere in the Puget Sound area, so I don't think the outrage directed at City of Burien was a waste of energy.

Anonymous said...

Why can't we direct public outrage at private developers? They are our neighbors, our friends, our fellow citizens who put their own private benefit way ahead of the health of and benefit of the public good. Short term gain over a sustainable city. Or shall we just let them eat cake?