Saturday, September 22, 2007

From the Department of Dead Horses

The City Council Hearing to finalize the Discovery Park Deal is this Monday, September 24, at 2 pm in Council Chambers. Having heard a good deal of testimony, read the past four years of press clips, and talked it around a good deal with others, I'm still a long way from being satisfied that the City Council, with their insulting show of offering a "one-to-one replacement" amendment this week, gets why this is such an issue for people. Let me try to explain in a few different ways to see if I can be more clear.

Story Problem.

Assume Seattle loses 4,500 low-income housing units over 2005-2007 to demolition, condo conversion, and speculative sales, but adds 1,500 newly constructed subsidized units. Assuming no more housing is lost, how many new units must be built to reach the point of one-to-one replacement? Bonus question: Explain how tearing down functional housing helps the city reach that goal.

"I'd rather drive two miles for groceries than twenty-five miles to work."

Short Story in 281 Words
It was March 3rd, 2009, and Evelyn locked the front door for the last time. The sturdy triplex that had been built in 1963 as military housing had reached the end of its useful life. She stopped for a moment and listened. Birds. Rustling branches. A scolding squirrel. The whoosh-whoosh of a lycra-clad roller-blader from Magnolia out for his exercise. Months before, Evelyn would have heard kids, and maybe a few cars as her neighbors returned from work, but not today. Hers was the last family to leave Capehart. The UHaul was packed and ready to go. It was time. She turned the key, and the stiff deadbolt worked its way into place. Suddenly, the rain gutter came loose from above and fell at an angle, narrowly missing her shoulder. "Evelyn! Get in the truck," shouted her husband Rick. They had been warned about this. There was an explosion from inside the house. She looked through the window and could see water pouring across the floor from the bathroom. "Damn," thought Evelyn. "The plumbing finally went." A great creaking groan drew her attention to the house across the street as it collapsed like a row of dominoes. The Millers had just gotten out last week. Not a moment too soon. The Capehart homes had been built on slab concrete. Everyone knew it would one day end like this. The sounds of drywall violently breaking in half echoed across the water toward the Cascades as the Capehart homes collectively reached the end of their useful lives. Rick leaned on the tinny UHaul horn. "Evelyn! Run!" That's when the slow gas leak in the kitchen ignited. Rick and Evelyn had waited too long.

Sample Amendment

Council will explore the feasibility of amending funding agreements to allow for the gradual demolition of Capehart Housing over the next 15 years as the cost of repair is no longer justified by the use value of the housing.

Favorite Letter
Dear Council members,

I have been, and continue to be an advocate of ultimately returning the Capehart Housing units in Discovery Park to a use of much needed open space.

However, given our failure in the last decade to stop the demolition and otherwise removal of work force and low income housing within the city of Seattle and it surrounding communities, I believe it is a mistake to destroy the 66 units of housing at Fort Lawton. We should wait until we have a better plan on the creation of needed housing.

We have been doing such a poor job of saving our existing affordable housing.

We have lost over a thousand units of dedicated low income housing in the Seattle Housing Authority's Hope VI projects at Holly Park, Rainier Vista, High Point and Roxbury Village.

We were promised downtown work force housing at the Alaska Building,…. but someone forgot to get it in writing?

We have lost many units of housing in South Lake Union. Yesler Terrace is being threatened.

Would it not be a fair proposition to secure an agreement for the development of affordable housing in the Magnolia neighborhood before we tear down the housing we have there and give Magnolia the benefits of the needed open space?

Again, I have been an advocate of the Discovery Park aquisition plan from the start. Please reconsider tearing down the housing that is there before a replacement plan can be developed.

Please slow down on the decisions to tear down needed housing.

Thank you

Brian Ramey


Bruce said...

I love your short-story.

You know how they were telling you "It's not economically viable to build affordable housing now?" They can't profit enough unless they build $2 million condos?

Well, what if we had a moratorium on condo building until the low/working income housing gets built? Then it'd be in their interest to build our houses first so they could get back to the $2 mil project.

Make affordable housing part of doing business. If somebody can pay for a $2 mil house, they can pay to make sure mine gets built too, flat out. I'll do my part, but the inflated (hopefully collapsing) housing market that makes that $2 million house happen, has made all affordable housing impossible. So, we should just tack it back into their expenses. The results will be a dramatic reduction of homelessness. Amazing: build housing, less homelessness.

Having moved up here to Vancouver, BC, which I remember as very tidy once upon a time, I find myself in the poorest neighborhood in Canada, the Downtown Eastside. Homelessness here has steadily risen since about 1991, when the new govt started cutting off welfare and housing supports.

There are about 1,000 newly homeless people in Vancouver every year, and the numbers will grow until either the real-estate bubble bursts and the market collapses, or government returns to their role of helping people meet basic human needs. It's so obvious that we pay for the 1,000 new folks a year on the street one way or another. I'd rather pay to help them live in homes.

Dr. Wes Browning said...

I think part of the problem is the City council really believes that the disposition of the Capeheart housing can't affect the low end of the market. They need a lesson in economics. Since I won't have an opportunity to present that lesson in my column in time to affect the vote Monday, I'll present it here for the benefit of any city council members watching this space.

In short, the midranges of the market are coupled to the low range.

As demand is increased at any level in the market, the buyers have to adjust their expectations or their incomes. Incomes aren't rising as fast as housing prices so the majority have to adjust their expectations down. That removes housing from the next lowest level of the market. That drives demand up at that level. Now that level has to adjust. And so on down to the bottom.

The bottom level adjusts to lower expectations by getting used to living in shelters. That increases demand for shelter space. You (if you really ARE a city council member) haven't seen fit to increase shelter space, so demand for shelter beds is already more than the supply, this makes that worse, and that's why you're going to have more people sleeping in your doorways.

Revel said...

dr. Wes states it like it is.

I broke-it-off with Ayn Rand about 20 years ago. Noblesse Oblige is an antiquated concept as well. We've got to get this stuff written-in and enforced. Now.

I heard Chicago has a low-income to high-income buildings ratio law. Developers must build both in order to maintain the viability of the city. Is this true?