If you want understand the housing situation in Seattle, you must read John Fox. John is the director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which has been fighting to preserve affordable housing for 38 years. Since 2004, John has written a weekly column called “Outside City Hall” (with co-author Carolee Colter). The columns are now collected and available online at OutsideCityHall.wordpress.com.
John’s column entitled “The City Must Address Affordable Housing Shortage Rationally” is the single most trenchant, compact criticism of the Mayor’s HALA program I have seen. Indeed, it indicts the entire “supply-side” approach to affordable housing:
As a practical matter, it would be difficult to build residential units at a faster rate even if Seattle were like Houston, with no zoning code at all. Right now in Seattle, there are literally not enough contractors, construction workers, developers, architects, planners and permit specialists to build faster.
We could upzone more and build more, but that would not bring prices down. It simply would displace many more from their homes and out of our city — not to mention the price taxpayers now pay for the new infrastructure demanded by more growth.
We’re not speculating about what might happen; we’re talking about what has already happened. We’ve already upzoned the heck out of our communities, nearly doubling our zoned capacity since 2005, and building at record rates. But rather than bringing prices down, this new supply actually has contributed to higher prices and the loss of existing older, affordable rentals.
John proposes specific alternatives to supply-side solutions, including requiring one-for-one replacement of low-cost housing units that are demolished for development, inclusionary zoning, and impact fees: Simply put: “Those cashing in on growth should be required to pay their fair share of the social and physical costs of that growth on our communities.”
His other columns range widely, addressing such issues as homelessness, transportation, the importance of community input into land-use decisions, and why there is hope that neighborhood candidates can win district elections.
John Fox’s columns deliver a seasoned, progressive view of the ongoing battle over housing in Seattle and the surrounding politics. Required reading!
Outside City Hall
Collected columns by John Fox, Seattle Displacement Coalition