UP #378 Resolution to Lift State Ban on Limiting Rent Increases

43rd District Meeting; photo: Zachary Pullin

I want to thank the 43rd Legislative District Democrats for voting unanimously last night to pass a resolution in support of legislation Councilmember Sawant and I are sponsoring to ask the state legislature to repeal or modify the state prohibition on restricting rent increases.

I give a special thanks to Colin Maloney for submitting the resolution to the 43rd Legislative District Democrats for a vote. The resolution states:

Now, therefore, be in resolved that the 43rd District Democrats call for the Seattle City Council and Mayor make it the official policy of the City of Seattle that the undemocratic prohibition on rent control by the State of Washington be overturned, and that the City should actively lobby the State Legislature to end this ban.

We face an affordable housing crisis in Seattle. While the HALA recommendations are a step in the right direction, repeal or modification of the state ban is necessary for any comprehensive approach. Danny Westneat wrote earlier this year that a tenant faced a 145% rent increase; the City is unable to address this due to the state prohibition.

The resolution we are co-sponsoring will come before the Housing, Human Services and Economic Development Committee chaired by Councilmember Okamoto this Thursday. The Committee meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. Public comment is at the beginning of the meeting. Please join us in persuading the Councilmembers to support this timely and necessary resolution to allow the people of Seattle an opportunity to seek relief from our current affordable housing crises.

I laid out the case for this legislation in the Seattle Times; background information and more details are available in Urban Politics #369.

UP #371 – June 30 Arts Reception for Council Candidates

This is a follow-up to my June 9th blog post on this topic. As Chair of the Seattle City Council’s Finance and Culture Committee, I have partnered with the Seattle Theatre Group to host a reception for representatives of Seattle non-profit arts organizations, the Seattle Arts Commission, and City Council candidates.

When: 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30th, 2015.

Where: In the Paramount Theatre Lobby, 911 Pine Street, Seattle.

This reception brings together arts organization staff and board, arts Commissioners to meet candidates registered to run for seats on the 2016 Seattle City Council. The general public is also welcome.

The evening provides an opportunity for arts community members to mingle with candidates and discuss their answers to two questions foremost on the minds of Seattle’s arts community:

1. What do you see as the most challenging arts issues facing Seattle?

2. If elected, how would you advance the arts in Seattle?

Why do I consider the arts important enough to bring to the attention of possible future Councilmembers?

For one, they provide essential ingredients for living: beauty, joy, wonder and a deeper understanding of life. Can you imagine living without the historic Paramount, Eagles Auditorium and 5th Avenue theaters? Never seeing a movie again? Never again reading a non-fiction book? What about James Wehn’s “Chief Seattle Fountain?” Or, Isamu Noguchi’s “Black Sun,” or Jonathan Borofsky’s “Hammering Man,” or Henry Moore’s “Vertebrae” sculptures? When “Vertebrae” was presumably sold and on its way to Japan in 1986, the City threatened legal action if then SeaFirst bank moved it without a comparable replacement. The bank reconsidered and eventually the Seattle Art Museum purchased it so it would stay in Seattle. While we could certainly survive without art in our lives, such survival would be too dull to bear.

Secondly, there is an economic case to be made for the arts. In Seattle, over $447.6 million in annual economic activity is generated, creating 10,807 full-time equivalent jobs, $248.2 million in household income, and $38.2 million in local and state government revenues. Nonprofit arts alone in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish Counties generates close to $2 billion in the Central Puget Sound’s economy, creating 32,520 jobs, $882 million in labor income and $83 million in taxes. (Americans for the Arts 2012 Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Report)

For these reasons I believe legislating City policies and practices is best accomplished when taking into account its potential impact and relationship to art and culture.

One example is the Council’s recently approved legislation for pedestrian zones in neighborhoods across the City, which allows broader residential uses at street-level in commercial areas. That legislation also addressed areas outside of pedestrian designated zones, including places where developers and property owners are allowed to build live-work units at the street level. Artists and other creative industries typically occupy live-work spaces. Other types of small businesses do, too.

However, a survey my office conducted in 2012 found that most live-work units were being used simply as residential apartments rather than being occupied by businesses whose owners also resided there.

So, I proposed and the Council approved amendments to this legislation that require property owners to keep business licenses on file for each live-work unit they own as well as to provide an exterior sign for each live-work unit indicating its occupying business.

My intent was to lessen the likelihood of owners treating these street-level spaces as apartments, thereby making more live-work space available to artists and other small businesses that can enliven the streetscape through their activities.

City Council candidates’ answers to the two questions above will be posted on my Council website on June 30th. Hard-copies will be available at the event.

Support for the reception comes from Artist Trust, ArtsFund, Town Hall Seattle, Seattle Theatre Group, and the Seattle Arts Commission. Each will send one or more representatives to the reception while encouraging their memberships to attend, as well.

This reception will be a meet-and-greet community event, not a campaign event, and is free and open to the public…to anyone interested in the state of the arts in Seattle.

Please, help spread the word!

Keep in touch…

UP #368 – Move Seattle Transportation Levy

Move Seattle Transportation Levy

In early May, Mayor Murray proposed a “Move Seattle” transportation levy. The levy would be funded with $930 million in property taxes over nine years, with an annual cost of $275 for the owner of a $450,000 home. You can examine the details at the Move Seattle website; materials from the May 12 presentation to the City Council are here.

A public hearing is scheduled for June 2, and Council discussions are scheduled for May 29, June 9 and June 23. The deadline to place the measure on the November General Election ballot is August 4.

I believe the Mayor has made a strong case that there is much to do in Seattle on transportation, and his proposal would take a big step forward to address the maintenance backlog, improve safety, build sidewalks, improve bus infrastructure, and implement the pedestrian and bike master plans.

It’s clear we need to approve a significant transportation levy in 2015. We also need to pass a much-needed low-income housing levy in 2016; I see those two issues as being connected. In reviewing the proposal, I am particularly concerned that those on fixed and low incomes not being unduly burdened.

I believe we need to consider the size of the levy, and examine alternative funding sources, in an effort to reach the $930 million goal. We should also consider the risk that a large levy might be less likely to pass, and consider the potential consequences.

In that spirit, I’d like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of Seattle levies during the last ten years, and where Seattle Move fits.

Seattle Voters and Property Tax Measures

Seattle voters have a well-established track record of generosity in funding property measures.

In the last ten years, Seattle voters have approved nine of ten City property tax measures for libraries, parks, low-income housing, families and education, early learning, the Downtown seawall, the Pike Place Market, and transportation (Bridging the Gap). In previous years, voters also approved levies for Fire facilities, the Opera House, and community centers.

The only “no” vote was for public financing of elections, which received 49.6%.

Seattle Move In The Context Of 2005-15 Property Tax Measures

The proposed Seattle Move levy proposal is significantly larger than previous property tax measures. The 2006 Bridging the Gap measure is the largest to date, at $365 million, or $424 million in 2015 dollars, as shown below:

When viewed by the annual average cost, the Parks District measure in 2014 is the highest, at $48 million. In 2015 dollars, Bridging the Gap would average $47 million (see below):

Seattle Move would average $103 million annually.

Aside from public financing, Seattle voters have passed all nine proposed property tax measures in the last ten years. Of the nine, only two have received less than 59%: the Bridging the Gap (BTG) transportation levy in 2006 and the Metropolitan Parks District in 2014. Both attained 53.4% (see chart below). As noted above, they were the most expensive property tax measures, by a clear distance, which suggests Seattle voters may be price-sensitive for larger property tax measures.


Seattle Since 2006

Is there a limit beyond which Seattle voters won’t go? Looking at other measurements since Seattle voters approved Bridging the Gap in 2006 can help provide a broader context about affordability.

From 2006 to 2015, the assessed value of property in Seattle has increased 59%, from $91 billion to $145 billion. Thus, the total amount of property tax that can be collected has increased by a comparable level, provided that voters agree.

How has income kept up?

There are no clear estimates for income beyond 2013, so an exact measurement isn’t possible.

According to census data, median household income in Seattle increased by 20% from 2006 to 2013. The last year or so has seen solid growth, though we don’t have estimates for 2014 and 2015. If we go back to 2005 for census data, a boom year, the data shows a 43% increase from 2005-13.

So it seems reasonable to estimate that, cumulatively, the 2006-15 increase is likely below the 59% increase in assessed values for property, or at least no higher (median family income increased a little more).

If used as a guide, a 59% increase in the $365 BTG levy would result in a $580 million levy. Perhaps that’s a suitable target, given affordability, and a risk of the levy not passing if a larger levy is proposed.

Passage of the levy is critical: the current BTG levy accounts for ¼ of the SDOT budget.

If voters decide the levy is too large and it doesn’t pass, it may not be realistic to bring back a smaller levy in 2016. The housing levy and perhaps light rail will on the ballot next year, in addition to a School District capital levy. Further, there is no precedent for Seattle voters passing two large Seattle property tax measures in the same year. While voters approved two measures in 2008, 2012, and 2014, they were of more modest size.

This makes me wonder if badly-needed new transportation funding should all come from a property tax, or whether we should consider a more diversified funding package, to mitigate the risk.

Potential Diversified Funding Option

We may be able to meet, or at least approach, the Mayor’s goal of $930 million over ten year through a diversified funding package.

When Seattle voters approved the nine year $365 million BTG levy in 2006, the Council approved two other funding sources projected to raise $180 million: a commercial parking tax (CPT), and an employee hours tax (similar to how Portland funds transportation). Though the employee hours tax was later repealed, at election time the result was a roughly 2-1 ratio of property tax to these other sources. It proved a winning combination in getting public support for passing the BTG levy in 2006.

I suggest we consider a similar approach.

Based on current collections, a 5% CPT would produce $157 million over 9 years, assuming a 3% annual increase.

Based on a 2014 estimate, an $18 employee head tax would produce $69 million, assuming a 3% annual increase. This would amount to about a penny per employee hour in additional costs to businesses and it could produce a total of $226 million.

Combined with a $600 million levy, this would leave us roughly $100 million short of the Mayor’s $930 million figure.

In addition, the Council is considering a transportation impact fee, and has begun a process that could result in a Council vote in 2016. Impact fees, however, face limitations: they can be used only for future impacts reasonably related to a development, and are generally limited to improvements such as street widening, installation of bike lanes, new and coordinated traffic signals, and improvement to crosswalks.

While we can’t be sure yet how much a transportation impact fee could produce—no estimate will be available until next year—a strong commitment to a high level of service on city streets in the City’s Comprehensive Plan would result in a stronger fee, and a greater likelihood of reaching a total transportation funding package of $930 million.

I believe this diversified approach is worth considering.

UP #367: Fair Trade Music Seattle

Many of you may already be familiar with my strong support for worker rights. I sponsored the Council’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance in 2011, which promotes healthy work environments by enforcing standards for paid sick days, ensuring employers provide a minimum amount of paid time off for employees to take care of themselves or their sick family members. As a member of the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality Committee, I helped shape Seattle’s $15 minimum wage Ordinance that went into effect this year. I also proposed the creation of the Office of Labor Standards in 2013, which oversees labor law enforcement for minimum wage, paid sick and safe leave, job assistance, and administrative wage theft.

Today, the City Council passed another piece of legislation in support of workers: The Fair Trade Music Seattle Resolution, which I sponsored along with Councilmember O’Brien. It supports improvements to working conditions for musicians.

Formed in August 2012, Fair Trade Music works to bring together union and non-union club musicians to advocate for fair treatment of musicians.

Why was this Resolution called for? Because musicians too often “pay to play” or play for “zero minus expenses” – the venue pays them nothing while they must cover their own costs.

There is often no transparency or accountability. Pay may be based on income from tickets sales at the door or from the bar/restaurant with the venue providing no documentation of income or expenses. Everyone but the musicians gets paid first: the dishwasher, the servers, the bartender, the sound tech, with the musicians who attract the patrons receiving whatever money remains. And a lack of enforceable written agreements leads to last-minute changes in pay, sometimes after performances are over.

There are more issues, such as the practical matter of musicians being able to find a place to park when loading and unloading their equipment. Musicians risk getting parking tickets, having to pay for expensive parking that eats into their pay, or being forced to carry heavy instruments or equipment long distances.

There’s the issue of sound. Many clubs have poor sound systems run by inexperienced sound techs. And, there’s the issue of a lack of communication and common misunderstandings between venue owners and musicians.

To address these problems, Fair Trade Music Seattle worked with music venue owners, the City of Seattle’s Office of Film and Music, and the Seattle Music Commission to help establish Seattle’s Musician Loading Zones program, which facilitates convenient loading and unloading in front of some of our busiest music clubs. They’ve also developed templates for musicians’ performance contracts so venues and musicians can reach quick and reliable agreements. Some venues have even adopted the template to provide musicians who lack them. Fair Trade Music Seattle has conducted classes for musicians on how to negotiate and enforce a fair agreement.

Fair Trade Music Seattle received funding from the Musician’s Local, the national Musicians union, and the Washington State Labor Council to provide free diagnostic and tune-up services for sound systems in Fair Trade Music venues or free piano tuning services.

As of this writing, the following Seattle venues have agreed to abide by Fair Trade Music standards. I hope to see many more venues sign up in the coming months.

88 Keys Dueling Piano Bar (Pioneer Square);

Capitol Cider (Capitol Hill);

Egan’s Ballard Jam House (Ballard);

The Moore (downtown);

Nectar Lounge (Fremont);

The Neptune (University District);

The Paramount (downtown);

Pies & Pints (Roosevelt);

Re-bar (Denny);

Royal Room (Columbia City);

SeaMonster (Wallingford);

The Showbox (downtown),

Showbox SoDo (SoDo);

Skylark Cafe (West Seattle);

Stone Way Cafe (Fremont);

Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club (Belltown);

Vito’s (downtown).

Next steps for this initiative include expanding the Musician Loading Zones program and exploring “non-compete” clauses in contracts with some of our local music festivals. Such non-compete clauses prohibit musicians from playing in clubs for a period of time before and after particular festivals.

Fair Trade Music Seattle is also developing a Fair Trade Music sign with a recognizable logo that participating venues can display to let patrons know which venues support fair treatment of musicians. It’s hoped such signage will also encourage venues not yet participating in the program to join.

Keep in touch…

Growth and Displacement Vulnerability Risk Index

Last summer, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) briefed the City Council on its progress on the Seattle 2035 Plan, the 20-year major update to the Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap for how to concentrate future growth, transit and other city investments.  The original 1994 Plan directed housing

and jobs to Urban Villages or Urban Centers so that growth would not just be scattered throughout the city.  As part of the Seattle 2035 Plan, the City is trying to determine whether of not we should continue that pattern of growth concentration, or use another.

At the briefing last summer, I raised the question of the relationship between growth and displacement and shared with DPD and the Council the anti-displacement strategies used by other cities, specifically the use of mapping to identify the areas most at risk of displacement.  After that, Councilmembers on the Planning, Land use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee asked DPD to develop a similar approach for our planning efforts.  We received a report on that work, the Growth and Equity Analysis, in PLUS yesterday.

In creating a Displacement Vulnerability Index the report explains:

“There is very little vacant or undeveloped land in the city. Therefore, most new development will be replacing some existing use, which often includes housing. When housing is replaced by a new use, the current residents in that housing are displaced. This analysis focuses on displacement that affects marginalized populations. It combines three categories of data (vulnerability, amenity, development potential) to identify areas where displacement of those populations may be more likely.”

The result of this analysis was to identify neighborhoods with a. high displacement risk and low access to opportunity, b. high displacement risk and high access to opportunity, c. low displacement risk and low access to opportunity, and d. low displacement risk and high access to opportunity.

The report then went on to use this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of the alternatives being discussed for the Seattle 2035 Plan, the major Comprehensive Plan mentioned above.  Seattle expects 70,000 new housing units and 115,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. The report explained that:

“For achieving equity, how growth unfolds is much more important than the amount of growth. The amount of housing growth expected in a specific neighborhood in the different alternatives is not the determining factor of whether the neighborhood will develop equitably. If the same total amount of growth occurs in fewer, larger buildings, it might directly displace fewer current residents than a scenario that involves more new buildings. If the new structures are built on existing vacant land or parking lots, the displacement impact would also be lower. The timing of growth can also be a major determinant of impacts on displacement. Rapid changes can be more destabilizing for a neighborhood housing market and therefore more likely to displace existing residents than a steady rate of growth that allows time for accompanying offsetting investments to be effective.”

The Seattle 2035 Comp Plan will eventually, once adopted, identify an approach to distributing the expected increases in housing and employment. The four alternatives being considered now are:

1. Continue current trends so growth would continue to occur in the Urban Centers and Urban Villages.

2. Guide more growth to Urban Centers so that a much higher percentages of housing and jobs would go to the urban centers and the hub and residential urban villages would see less growth than currently.

3. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Light Rail.

4. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Transit (not just light rail)

After using this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of these 4 alternatives, the conclusion was that Alternatives 3 and 4 would likely cause the greatest displacement of marginalized populations.   In particular, alternatives 3 and 4 expand urban village boundaries for several urban villages, which would affect future use and density levels.  Expanding urban village boundaries in Othello, Columbia City, North Rainier, North Beacon Hill and Rainier Beach as proposed under Alternatives 3 and 4 may put upward pressure on rents before community stabilizing investments take effect.

It seems clear to me that the City is moving towards a Seattle 2035 update that focuses growth in the places where we have made significant transportation investments, but what will it say about us as a City if, in doing so, we select the alternative that has the greatest displacement impacts on low income and people of color?  In light of these findings, I think that we must develop a 5th alternative that distributes higher growth in “high opportunity/low-displacement risk” areas and distributes less growth to areas with “high displacement risk.”  This alternative should be coupled with a strategies to a. make it more possible for low income people to live in the high opportunity/low displacement risk areas as well as b. public investment to stabilize existing “high displacement risk/low opportunity” areas and create more economic opportunity for the people living there.