From The Stranger

Posted by on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 4:23 PM


Last week, Dominic urged you to attend a forum organized by the city council around affordable housing in Seattle. Why did he want you to go hang out at City Hall and watch PowerPoints? Because the affordability of housing, and how to better achieve it, is one of the most hotly debated topics in the city.And you know why: Because if you’re a renter, or a prospective home-buyer, and you make less than the median income (around $60,000 a year for a single-person household), you may have noticed recently that shelter is expensive as all hell, and only getting expensiver.

But the things that really stood out most in my mind from the housing forum were not part of any PowerPoint. They were a couple of offhand comments by a consultant, Rick Jacobus:

• First, he mentioned that data shows that mixed-income neighborhoods are good for everyone—both the higher- and lower-income people who live in them. Which is an important reminder for people who keep arguing that the only solution is to just have developers keep building whatever and wherever they want, without much restriction, and let the market take care of it—meaning let the centrally located, amenity-filled neighborhoods with expensive land prices house the rich, while the poor and middle-class are pushed out into outlying, less-accessible, transit-starved neighborhoods where land prices are cheap.

I have a message for y’all market-solutions-only-forever people: Your city sounds terrible.

• Second, someone asked Jacobus about the inherent conflict between affordable housing requirements and density. If you’re not a housing/land-use nerd, this is basically a fight between well-intentioned density activists, who say that adding more housing will drive prices down (they sometimes sound just like the market-will-solve-everything people I mentioned above), and well-intentioned affordable-housing activists, who say you should straight-up require developers to build some moderately-priced housing while they’re also building fancy-schmancy units for the rich. He answered carefully, saying that while studying Seattle’s housing issues, he heard that argument a lot. But, he continued, you don’t hear that argument anywhere else. In other cities, he said, people who fight for affordable housing requirements and people who fight for density are on the same side, and the developers use the fact that they’ll be paying for affordable housing as a way to sell density to wary residents.

Seattle, it would seem that we keep having entirely the wrong conversation here.

Way wonkier stuff coming soon, but for now, I leave you with one more important thing I learned: Eating a banh mi in the back of a conference room and wearing fleece don’t mix. (Crumbly sandwich + fleece = CRUMB MONSTER.) Hot tip, y’all! Don’t forget.