Sawant Wins (43rd LD Straw Poll)!

Kshama SawantOkay, so it’s not exactly statistically meaningful or predictive, but socialist city council member Kshama Sawant kicked ass last night at the 43rd Legislative District Democrats’ annual straw poll, winning 145 votes, more than twice the 70 votes of second-place finisher, Urban League president Pamela Banks. Former Equal Rights Washington director Rod Hearne came in third with 59 votes, followed by Morgan Beach with 52.

There’s been more than a little wishful thinking on the part of some establishment Dems that Sawant is on shaky ground with rank and file Democratic voters, but you wouldn’t know it from her reception last night. Sawant was surrounded by well-wishers all night long, while her challengers had to put a little effort into their mingling. If their bylaws didn’t prevent the 43rd Dems from endorsing a non-Democrat, I’m pretty sure she’d easily win the LD’s endorsement.

The fact is that few Democratic politicians speak to the values of the party’s progressive base as directly as Sawant does. So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that so many Dems are willing to overlook her socialist label.

Still Not Adding Money

A levy swap isn’t on its own a horrible thing. Poor districts should still be able to educate their children. But in the absence of new money, it’s just taking money from districts that have been doing a better job educating children, if because they can afford it or if they’re more willing to pay. Goldy explained this ad nauseum when Rob McKenna was running and losing on levy swaps.

I’m happy to pay for education in the whole state. Let’s fund significantly more education at the state level. I’m all for it! Ideally with an income tax, but absent that, the most progressive tax we can get through the legislature.

But what we shouldn’t do is take money away from some districts or force the Puget Sound to pay for it while the rest of the state doesn’t. And that’s what a levy swap will do. As long as that’s the GOP position, it’s never going to fly.

“This would be the biggest property tax increase in state history,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, adding that the latest estimates show residents facing the biggest jump in their property taxes would be in the Puget Sound region, while some getting the biggest break would be in Eastern Washington and other rural parts of the state.

Most property owners in Spokane-area school districts would see a drop in their local property taxes over the four years needed to phase in the changes, although the amounts vary because of significant differences in current school district levies and the complicated laws that govern them.

Property taxes in Spokane School District, for example, would go down most years between 2018 and 2021 – as much as $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2021 – but up by .01 per $1,000 in 2019.

Ranker and other Senate Democrats have a competing plan designed to address the same problem of a system the state Supreme Court says is unconstitutional: using local tax money to pay for a basic part of public education, the salary of classroom teachers. Their solution is a tax increase, plain and simple: a capital gains tax on any resident who collects more than $250,000 a year on investment earnings. Money raised by that tax would be used to replace the money local districts now contribute to teacher salaries. That amount varies from district to district, but the amount a district receives from the state’s capital gains tax they would lower the amount they could collect from local taxpayers, so everyone would get a property tax reduction and only about 7,500 residents would pay the capital gains tax.

Neither one has everything I would want, but at least one actually has new money for education. If the problem is that there isn’t enough money for education, that seems like the thing at the outset you should deal with. I don’t understand how you can try to take education dollars from Seattle and Bellevue and say you’re supporting education statewide.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottlePlease join us for an “Earth Day Eve” edition of the Seattle Chapter of Drinking liberally.

We meet tonight and every Tuesday at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. Our starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks stop by earlier for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle tonight? Check out one of the other DL meetings happening this week. Tonight the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, WA, and Shelton chapters also meet. On Wednesday, the Bellingham, Burien, and Spokane chapters meet. And the Woodinville and Kent chapters meet on Thursday.

There are 191 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, four in Oregon and two in Idaho. Chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

HA Bible Study: Deuteronomy 28:22

Deuteronomy 28:22
The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.

Discuss.

Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza!

Lawrence O’Donnell: Who smoked pot in the White House, and other tales from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sam Seder: A Republican story of self-hate and projection.

Bill Maher: Zombie lies of science-denying Republicans:

Vsauce: When will be run out of names?

The 2016 Clown Car:

Climate Change Denial Disorder.

Roll Call: Congressional hits and misses of the week.

Thom: The origins and true face of American Libertarianism.

Slate: Where does lightening strike?

Hillary Announces:

Minute Physics: How do airplanes fly?

White House: West Wing Week.

Mental Floss: Misconceptions about history.

Indiana Legalizes Discrimination—Still:

Larry Wilmore: Maybe Black people need to fly gyrocopters instead of marching

David Pakman: Walmart pharmacist refused to fill prescription for woman who had a miscarriage.

Thom: Montana Democrats and Republicans team up to get dark money out of state politics.

How ALEC lobbies for the private prison industry

Mental Floss: 20 facts about Abraham Lincoln (and his family).

What’s White and Black and Red All Over?

Matt Binder: Fast food strike for $15 grows into a larger social justice movement.

Maddow: Reid, “The Senate is a better place because of women”.

Jon: Who Actually Strengthened Iran’s Nuclear Program?

Pelosi on Corker’s innocuous Iran bill.

Mental Floss: What makes a permanent marker permanent?

Michael Brooks: Obama’s biggest accomplishment?

Lawrence O’Donnell: What woman should be on the $20 bill.

Thom: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Very Morbillously Ugly.

Matt Binder: NRA’s Nutjob Prez Wayne LaPierre: ““Eight years of one demographically symbolic President is enough”.

Maddow and Harry Reid: That time McCain threatened to kick the shit out of Sen. Reid:

ObamaCare is Still Working:

Stephen Hawking sings the Monty Python Galaxy Song.

Last week’s Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza can be found here.

Move To Bellingham

Friend of the blog Fake Ted Van Dyk is moving to Bellingham, as is his real counterpart. To celebrate, he tweeted a bunch of tweets. I’ve collected them here.

The rest below the fold…
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Open thread 4-17

- District 8 has nearly $200,000 — and it’s only April. The at-large race has six candidates running, who have amassed, collectively, $193,710 in donations, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

– Seriously, business owners, why are you volunteering anti-gay garbage?

– The people in Kayaks meeting the Shell rig are pretty amazing.

– Oh hey, here’s your list of possible people to fill Sally Clark’s spot on the City Council. Oddly, no Goldy this time around.

Civil Liberties Roundup

The wife and the little ones all managed to get sick for much of the last two weeks, so I’m just barely caught up with my bookmark list in the last few days. Should be able to do some commentary in the next roundup. News items from the last two weeks below the jump…

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There Is No “Law” of Supply and Demand

Rents at newer luxury “Class A” apartment buildings in Seattle are rising at twice the rate of rents at older “Class C” buildings, despite having twice the vacancy rate. Which which is weird because…

The data seem to defy the law of supply and demand. I asked Cain about it; he believes it has something to do with the different types of ownership models at luxury apartment buildings compared with the older ones.

Premium Class A properties are typically owned by institutional investors and managed by a national property-management company.

In contrast, Class C properties are usually owned by people with a connection to Seattle — either a family (though that’s become a lot less common in recent years) or a small group of local investors.

“Also, these owners seem to hold the properties longer,” Cain says, “and as a result, they have lower debt coverage ratios.” The less debt they have to service, the less pressure to push rents to the maximum.

In other words, many of these landlords aren’t jacking up rents to whatever the market will bear. It’s a refreshing change from the all-too-common stories of brutal rent hikes forcing tenants to relocate.

Except, of course, it’s not weird. Because there is no “law” of supply and demand. Supply and demand is a useful construct for describing, in general, how markets tend to work. But it’s not a law. People—and thus the markets they create—are a lot more complicated than any three-word phrase can describe. So no, merely adding more supply is not the only (or even an adequate) solution to Seattle’s growing affordability crisis.

I’m not saying we don’t need to add more housing units. Of course we do. Massively. But the market alone will not solve this crisis because the form of ownership matters.

Open Thread 4/15

- Did you pay your taxes? I’m sure this open thread will be all the reminder you need.

– Yesterday I had a post complaining about how much money was in the City Council race. Maybe comparing it to last time isn’t as bad after all.

– Patty Murray is working hard for the Healthy Families Act for paid sick leave.

– Is it possible we’ll have some action on oil trains, or is anything good just going to die in the State Senate?

The recent push for guns on campus in the name of rape prevention, then, adds just another data point to the long story of the gun lobby’s fight to arm white people, and only white people, for self-defense.

– It’s kind of sad that a silly cartoon about Hillary Clinton has more useful info on her policy than most think pieces.

All Of The Money

Over at Seattlish, they’re looking at how much money is being raised on the City Council races. And with like half a year left, it’s quite a lot.

So far, the Seattle City Council races have raised a total of $1,007,381.09, according to the most recently reported totals – an average of about $23,000 per candidate out of everyone that has filed at any point, including people who have since dropped out. For contrast, in 2013, 11 filed candidates raised an average of about $87,000 each over the course of the entire race – most notably, Richard Conlin raised (and spent!) $241,986.31 trying to defeat challenger Kshama Sawant.

Sure. But that was also the only competitive race last time. This year we have quite a few. So maybe our too-damn-rich people will hit the limit on more races. Also, it’s possible that seeing Conlin lose has prompted the incumbents who’ve stayed to think they need more money to defeat a possible challenger.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottle

It’s Tuesday…and that’s Drinking Liberally night in Seattle. So please join us for an evening of politics under the influence at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking liberally.

We meet tonight and every Tuesday at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. Our starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks stop by earlier for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle tonight? Check out one of the other DL meetings this week. The Tri-Cities and Redmond chapters also meet tonight. The Lakewood chapter meets on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Tacoma chapter meets. And next Monday, the Aberdeen and Yakima chapters meet.

There are 191 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, four in Oregon and two in Idaho. Chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

How Seattle Can Build Thousands of Affordable, Rent-Stabilized Housing Units at No Cost to Taxpayers!

Last week I upset some of my urbanist friends by once again suggesting that the market alone could not build its way out of Seattle’s growing affordable housing crisis. Yes, our current NIMBYist regulations have helped create the current crisis, so of course we need to free private developers to build more density. “But…” I insisted, “if we want to substantially add and retain middle and low income housing in Seattle than we’re going to have to build and retain tens of thousands of units outside of the market.”

So what exactly do I mean “outside of the market?” I mean the city is going to need to build and own these units itself. And if done right, we can do this at no cost to taxpayers.

Specifically, the city and county have hundreds of millions of dollars of untapped bonding capacity that we can use to build middle-income and workforce housing at below-market rents. And we can do this because municipal governments have three huge advantages over private developers: we can borrow money more cheaply, we don’t have to produce a return on investment, and have we no incentive toward extractive “rent seeking.”

Here’s how it works: The city sells bonds to purchase and develop a piece of property, pledging revenue from that development (not taxes!) to pay off the bonds. You know, just like private developers borrow money. But cheaper. We then hire the same private architects and private contractors that private developers hire, because that’s how you build stuff. No need to reinvent the wheel.

In fact, the whole process works pretty much like a typical private development, using the same standard math that private developers use to determine if a project pencils out (banks won’t lend to them if it doesn’t). The only difference is that absent a profit motive, the goal of our bond-backed public development will be to charge as little rent as possible, not as much. We want to build as affordably as we can on any particular piece of land while charging rents sufficient to service the bonds, pay for management, maintenance, and improvements, and keep sufficient financial reserves. The larger rental market will necessarily influence our design decisions, but not define it. As a result, we will make different design choices than the typical private developer.

For example, in order to keep costs down, we might opt for smaller bedrooms and communal laundry rooms rather than washers and dryers in every unit. And rather than providing an off-street parking spot for every unit, we might build only a limited number of spots, made available to tenants at an additional cost. On the other hand, we might provide onsite dedicated parking spots for car-sharing services like Car2Go and Zipcar, or in a family-oriented development, we might include space for onsite preschool and childcare, thus reducing the need for young families to own a car.

It’s not about building cheap. It’s about building smart. We want to provide those amenities that best serve the needs of median-and-below-income tenants, rather than those amenities that might fetch the highest rent from a crowded market of well-paid tech workers.

And finally, even if we initially fail to offer these units at substantially below market rates, public ownership will allow us to impose our own voluntary form of rent control, only raising rents to meet our actual costs or necessary improvements, rather than hiking rents to take advantage of whatever the market will bear. If managed properly, over time these public developments would grow increasingly affordable relative to the larger profit-driven market. In fact, if we meet or exceed our goals, we may even be able to collateralize these developments in order to free up bonding capacity for additional projects.

To be clear, this is not subsidized housing—although additional subsidies could be leveraged to further reduce rents for low-income households. It is more like a public utility: like Seattle City Light pledges revenue from ratepayers to bond the investments necessary to build and maintain a system that delivers some of the cheapest and greenest power in the nation. The goal is to provide affordable rent-stabilized housing to as many customers as possible.

Also, this is not an entirely radical idea. Many state and local governments already offer low-interest municipal bonds to finance projects from both for-profit and not-for-profit developers in exchange for setting aside a number of low-income units for a specified number of years. I propose departing from this model in two ways: 1) We build for median income households as well as low income, and 2) We maintain public ownership and operation, keeping these units outside the market in perpetuity. I don’t have all the details worked out, but the research I’ve done convinces me that the basic premise is sound.

As for the risk to taxpayers, of course, nothing is risk free. Gross incompetence, corruption, a natural disaster, or an economic collapse could leave taxpayers holding the bill. But that’s true of anything we bond. The upside is that we could leverage our AAA credit rating to add hundreds or even thousands of affordable housing units to the region every year… units that would stay affordable regardless of market forces.

Is that enough to address our affordable housing crisis on its own? Of course not. Above all, we need more density, and that’s mostly going to come from the private market. In addition to publicly built and managed housing, I believe we must broadly lift height restrictions throughout much of the city, particularly near transit hubs, while freeing up homeowners to build “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs), both mother-in-laws and backyard bungalows. Additionally, we should liberally waive the requirement to provide off-street parking for new construction, and do the best we can to streamline the review and permitting process while maintaining reasonable standards of safety and aesthetics. NIMBYism is the enemy of density; while neighbors certainly should have input into local development, they should not have veto power. I’m not anti-zoning or anti-regulatory—I also support workforce housing set-asides and fees—but I do believe we have to be a lot smarter about the regulations we have now, and a lot more resolute in resisting our “Lesser Seattle” instincts. We need to build more housing.

So I really wish density advocates would stop viewing me as the enemy. I’m with you on almost everything.

But that said, and for the reasons stated in my earlier post, the private market is not going to solve Seattle’s growing affordability crisis on its own. As long as Seattle remains affordable compared to competing high-tech centers like San Francisco and New York, added housing supply will only increase demand. And with the possible exception of some ADUs, private developers simply aren’t going to voluntarily build many units aimed at median-or-below-income households: Buildable land is scarce and high-end housing has higher margins, so developers are going to try to squeeze as much profit as possible out of every square inch by aiming as upscale as the parcel will support.

So if we want middle-class and workforce housing in Seattle, the city is going to have to build and manage it itself, outside of the larger housing market.