Gonzalez “Plan” Won’t Help Seattle Housing

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Gonzalez “Plan” Won’t Help Seattle Housing

Tomorrow Seattle will winnow down a large field of candidates for Mayor and City Council in a mail in primary. None of the 16 candidates for Mayor has said or done anything during their careers or campaigns that make a convincing case that they will do anything to develop a coherent housing policy for the city. On the contrary the two leading candidates, former Council President Bruce Harrell and current Council President Lorena Gonzalez both presided over a period of bad housing policy. It’s worth looking at Gonzalez’ most recent position paper on housing — in an email she called it “My plan to Solve Homelessness” — to see what is endemic in the field in Seattle and across the country: a lack of vision served with an elaborately tossed word salad.

Gonzalez (or her writers) have a knack for mixed metaphors. When she announced her candidacy she said, “We are at a critical crossroads as a city, and now is the time for bold and progressive action that overcomes the status quo and paves the pathway to Seattle’s collective, shared prosperity.” Maybe this is eloquence, suggesting that rather than take one of the roads on the map, Gonzalez plans to “pave the pathway” on her own. Her “housing plan” has the same quality.

The opening sentence of “the plan” says, “After years of learning and understanding the complexities of homelessness,” she knows “that it will take an all-hands-on deck approach that leaves no solution on the table.” Hands, tables, and decks. Maybe some chairs and some cards might be included? What she suggests is improving the city’s “emergency crisis response system” and providing housing with “individualized wrap-around services.” Gonzalez doesn’t bother to define what either of these things are or where or whether they currently exist. I can’t find anything called “the emergency crisis response system.” I think it’s made up. And “wrap around services?” Again, the term is offered as if we’d just know what that meant. Is Christo involved?

Gonzalez suggests converting “unused buildings and hotel space for non-congregate shelter.” It’s unclear what unused buildings she might be referring to and why she’d use the term “non-congregate shelter,” a bureaucratic nuance that is likely of no interest to someone sleeping outside. Another idea to pave a new path? “Improve access to jobs and stable incomes,” Gonzalez offers. A weird comment coming from the leader of the jobs-cause-homelessness mob that assembled when consultants from McKinsey suggested that Seattle’s housing went up when more jobs were created. Gonzalez uncritically embraced this false correlation. Which is a good segue to her explanation of why all these great ideas haven’t happened. It’s worth an extended quote.

“The reason these solutions are not currently being implemented effectively is because we do not have a Mayor who is willing to stand up to the wealthy and big corporations and say that it’s time for them to pay their fair share to adequately fund the services and housing that people experiencing poverty desperately need. As just one example, in our own backyard, Amazon’s
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profits soared 220% during the public health pandemic while the average Seattle resident has accumulated 14 months of overdue rent.”

The answer to too many jobs is to tax them, something that Gonzalez proposed back in 2018, then backed away from, then embraced again. Gonzalez can hold two (or is it three) contradictory ideas in her head I guess: homelessness is caused by jobs, and the way to create jobs to end homelessness is to tax them, then spend on “wrap around services.” That makes sense, right?  

And how has the “average Seattle resident” built up 14 months of overdue rent? Our survey from early in the pandemic found hundreds of households in arrears, a number that certainly grew. But 14 months? Remember that the average income in Seattle is around $128,000. Gonzalez might want to take a closer look at this number and figure out what she really means. Of course nobody among the crack squad of local journalists or pundits questioned this obviously wrong statement.

Gonzalez is still sticking with McKinsey I guess, suggesting that Seattle needs “16,000 additional affordable units and the additional 37,000 new affordable-housing units.” This is confusing. What’s the difference between additional affordable units and new affordable-housing units? A hyphen, I guess. And is the total 53,000 housing units? Over what period of time and at what cost? Gonzalez’ plan doesn’t say anything about that, but it’s likely the number dates back to the original debate over Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, a policy that mandates fees for non-profit housing. That was six years ago, the McKinsey “study” three years ago. Will we always need 53,000 units of housing? Have no affordable units (with or without a hyphen) come on line? Of course they have. Gonzalez’ number is pure fantasy.

I picked Gonzalez’ “plan” because of her history on the issue, but none of the other candidates has any better ideas or any true sense of the housing issue. Seattle will likely lurch forward, like the rest of the country’s local governments, issuing more rental housing fiats that increase risk and price of rental housing and diminishing its supply while at the same time boosting the cost of new production with rules, fees, and taxes. Then whoever winds up in charge will blame businesses – the ones creating the jobs – and propose more taxes. As Gonzalez (or her writers) might say, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for this snowball headed for hell.

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