Good morning HAs! On this the final day of the penultimate month of 2007, heading into yet another season of Merry this and Happy New that, I can think of nothing cheerier than just 417 days remaining till 1.20.09, the inscription I wear on the tattered baseball cap I use to cover my aging bald head in the hope that it keeps hope alive.
Good news and glad tidings abound today. We need look no further than Olympia for an inspiring monument to legislative productivity: The “emergency” passage of I-747′s recently ruled illegal 1 percent cap on annual property tax increases. Wow…that was intense. Hey, the next time anyone complains about government lethargy, ineffectiveness and sclerosis, just remind them of Nov. 29, 2007, when in just 1 day, not even that really, 10 hours or so, the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law major legislation affecting the future welfare of the entire state! So let’s not talk about “lazy politicians” and “government inaction” here. Our folks showed they can really get the lead out…provided it’s the holiday season and they’d rather not be working, provided an election year is approaching, and provided political expediency obviates any real need to consider the implications behind what they’re doing. Somehow in all the hand waving and bombast, the real issue of a tax cap in a worsening recession (the P-I quote from the Gig Harbor homeowner who somehow thinks his house is worth more at the end of the day than when he woke up going stupefyingly unchallenged) just never quite made it to radar. Ah well. Gotta get back to the home district and finish the Christmas shopping…
Speaking of housing, we regrettably inflict on you dear readers the latest woeful stab at coverage of the Seattle affordable-housing rat’s nest. Today’s P-I has a long piece on quote affordable housing that somehow never manages to answer the musical question, What Is Affordable? Now you will find, if you stick with the package long enough, a reference to affordability based on median income: “Apartments would be affordable to a single person earning $43,600 a year or a family of four bringing in $62,320 a year. Condos or homes would be affordable to a single person making $54,500 a year or a family of four bringing in $77,900.” But there’s no translation of this to real-life application, e.g., how many square feet for that single person or that family of four? How much of that income is assumed to be for ‘housing.’ And what does ‘housing’ constitute in the income formula.
As HA’s own astute readers have noted, yes I’m talking about you Roger Rabbit (if that is indeed your real name), housing costs a lot more than just a roof and four walls. Do those income figures include property taxes…maintenance…utilities and other costs of being ‘housed’?
The real problem, of course, is that income-based indices in today’s economy are a moving target, moving faster all the time. Virtually all costs of living are going up onerously while income, especially at the so-called “affordable” level, is frighteningly stagnant. Those teachers and firefighters and cops and service workers who cannot “afford” to live in Seattle are finding it harder to afford even the suburbs. The rule of thumb used to be that housing should take up no more than a quarter of one’s take-home salary. Now it’s up to half for many. Which might be reasonable except that other costs are taking up a fatter part of the equation. Transportation alone now accounts for a quarter or more of many worker incomes. In California, some municipalities have to go without police and firefighters because they simply cannot afford to live anywhere near the jurisdiction.
So yeah, let’s start with how big and where an “affordable” unit would be in our fair city. And then let’s pencil out the numbers, and see whether a single on $43k or family of four on $62k…wait a minute, a family of four in an apartment? OK, you see how ludicrous the game already becomes, simply by failing the sniff test.
And the whole fight is over 3 to 7 percent of the housing?
Memo to news desk: All those folks supposed to fill those thousands of new jobs that we’re building these warehouses in the sky for can’t afford to live there. Talk to them about affordability, don’t go by artificial and patently unrealistic bureaucrat definitions. Then you might be able to publish a story that shows some street sense and actually explains issues and conflicts to the readers you are supposed to be serving.
OK, stepping down off the pulpit, it was with sadness that we read of Benella Caminiti’s passing. In my days of yore as an environmental reporter, I had the great privilege (and learning experience) of working with Benella on a few stories. You always knew it was Benella on the line when, without even identifying herself, she launched into her latest update on her current crusade in diction and detail so refined your head began to swirl. You knew letters and boxes of documents soon were to follow. Benella was a reporter’s best resource: Someone with energy and passion and an unswerving belief in the rightness of her cause, but with the dedication and chops to document and source each iota of outrage she imparted. She made our job so much easier, a concept difficult to fathom in today’s world of paid PR spin and the Orwellian doublespeak of officialdom, where the goal is to make a reporter’s task so convoluted, befogged and enervating as to thwart, if not entirely prevent, real journalism from being done at all. RIP Benella. You made a lot of us better people, and the world a better place.