The Renter Summit convened by Capitol Hill Housing On Sep. 24 was billed as a way for renters to articulate “shared values” and “policy priorities,” and to “step up to be leaders” in the policy debates around housing which now roil the city. In fact, it was a City-sponsored rally in favor of HALA (the Mayor’s “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda”).
About 100 people, mostly young and white, heard from speakers including Mayor Murray and urbanist spokesperson Sara Maxana, who will start work next month as Murray’s director of outreach for HALA. You can read real-time reporting of the meeting from several perspectives (including ours) at the Twitter hashtag: #RenterSummit.
The explicit subtext throughout the day was that people who own their homes, as opposed to renting them, are the enemy who must be overwhelmed and defeated so that HALA may pass unimpeded. The Mayor smeared homeowners as NIMBYs, without actually using
the N-word that term [see comment, below], calling them: “people who may want an affordable city, but not in their own neighborhood.” Sara Maxana called on the renters attending the meeting to oppose “older, white, homeowners” in the fight over District Councils.
This appeal to age-based and racial prejudice is disgusting, coming from an administration that calls itself “progressive.” The Mayor is exploiting the desperation of young people and people of color by deflecting their anger toward the white middle class.
It is a fantasy to suggest that the wealth of the city is locked up in single-family zones, where it will be liberated if only profit-seeking developers are allowed to build without restraint. But Murray needs carte blanche to upzone throughout the city, so he may trade development capacity – a public asset – for political cooperation from the developers (who will otherwise sue the City into paralysis).
The Mayor and Capitol Hill Housing are attempting to recruit renters to be a political force in support of HALA, but they will fail. HALA will not deliver what renters want: principally, lower rents and security against rapacious landlords. Indeed, the upzones and massive redevelopment under HALA will drive rents and prices even higher while demolishing our ever-shrinking supply of existing affordable housing.
The Mayor’s pitch to renters is a bait-and-switch. The Renter Summit was billed as an opportunity to take power in the political realm, but the presentation was about the extra floors that developers get under the Mandatory Housing Affordability program. There is a fatal disconnect between the actual priorities of young people trying to make a life in the city and what the Mayor and his backers are offering.
The Mayor has no plan to actually make the city affordable, because he will not confront the money power of big developers. Instead, he offers up “older, white, homeowners” as an object of hate while he gives away the public’s land to private interests. What will happen when rents continue to rise and more working-class people and people of color are displaced from the city? How long will it take for the bankruptcy of the Mayor’s ideas to be revealed? What will the city look like, then?