What We’re Reading: Taxing Vacant Homes and Carbon-Free Public Transportation

Pierce Transit is adding Proterra battery buses. (Credit: Proterra)

Threatening cuts: Transit in New York City is facing a dire situation where service could be cut by 40%, but is the threat real or just political?

More than tiny houses: Erica C. Barnett knocks back Danny Westneat’s just-do-some-tiny-houses “solution” to the homelessness crisis. Barnett also has the skinny on other local homelessness news.

Deadly year: Despite the pandemic reducing travel demand, New York City has already surpassed its 2019 traffic fatality levels.

Taxing vacant homes: Vancouver’s vacant homes tax is set to rise significantly next year.

Rising cases: King County Metro has reported a spike in the prevalence of positive workers over the past month ($).

Bad land use policy: Renton is working overtime to try and evict people experiencing homelessness from transitional shelter in a hotel.

Relegalize sixplexes: Sixplexes poll well in Vancouver.

Biz boon: A new study suggests that free transit might not reduce driving, but it does increase financial support of local businesses.

Patriots resist: The Trump administration is trying to deregulate authority from the Environmental Protection Agency, but career staff are openly trying to block last-minute rulemaking changes ($).

Housing justice: Shaun Scott pens a piece on the need to put housing policy front and center to promote affordability and racial justice.

Carbon-free: Arizona has developed and agreed upon a plan to have a carbon-free electricity system by 2050.

True deserts: It looks like ridehailing isn’t supporting the mobility needs of transit deserts overall.

Art in crisis: The social and pandemic crises that America faces has brought about a revolution in public space art.

Flooded: Houstonians aren’t too excited about the Army Corps of Engineers’ latest plans ($) to roll out traditional flood prevention solutions.

Transportation and climate: Regulating and managing transportation is one of the most important bureaucracy tools that the Biden administration will have to meet the Paris Accords.

Bonding problems: The Las Vegas high-speed rail project has run into some financing problems putting the project on hold for now.

Bike boulevards wanted: New York City bike advocates want bike boulevards, but what are they?

Reinvigorating Alleghany: In Pittsburgh, an innovation district is set for over $1.9 billion in development investments.

Public data collection: Ireland is promoting citizen scientists to put cameras in their homes to collect data on passerby traffic outside to inform mobility decisions.

Skyscraping: A court will decide on the fate of a highrise skyscaper height limit in New York City.

ZE public transportation: Yonah Freemark takes a look at what providing every city with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation would look like.

Natural gas ban: San Francisco has adopted a ban on natural gas in new buildings.

Recovery bonds: Sightline argues that Washington state should issue recovery bonds and targeted taxes to deal with budget woes and expenditures to deal with the pandemic and climate change.

Smarter transportation pricing: Planetizen takes a deep dive into smarter transportation pricing.

Tree Canopy Lab: Google has a new tool to help communities plan for tree canopy and keeping them cool.

Aerial controversy: A proposed aerial tram to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has fueled controversy ($).

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.


  1. I didn’t see the negativity in Erica’s article. I think her article exposes some important truths:

    1. How poorly the current local structure has dealt with homelessness despite billions in federal, state, regional and local funding. Yes, the issues can be immense, but the results are very poor.

    2. There has been a paradigm shift in treating homelessness. Rather than shelter, enhanced shelter, subsidized affordable housing, to finally non-subsidized affordable housing that requires sobriety and work Erica references, the new paradigm is simply to skip to step three and buy each homeless person a place to live to remove them from Seattle streets, and the public eye.

    This new approach is embodied in King Co.’s new 1/10th of one percent sales tax increase for emergency housing, King Co. — over the objections of the lower income cities who will get the homeless — wants to use the pandemic to buy distressed hotels to house the homeless indefinitely, without any road to recovery.

    Not surprisingly Renton was one of the first cities chosen for this program, but Renton just moved to close the hotel for the obvious problems it is causing to the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Since the KC council did not adopt the new tax by Sept. 30 other cities were allowed to allocate the sales tax revenue directly to their cities and not King Co. Nearly every eastside city opted to do so because the current KC executive and council have zero credibility with them on this issue.

    This is much bigger than tiny houses. Right now the King Co. regional housing authority is interviewing for a director, and there are huge divisions between east and west King Co. on this issue, and control over the board and regional organization. The fact is the King Co. Council, Seattle Council, and county executive have done a miserable job on this issue, and have lost credibility with east KC which is contributing huge amounts to the organization.

    If anything Westneat’s article was naïve and simplistic for a very complex regional issue, but that is hardly new.

    • “the new paradigm is simply to skip to step three and buy each homeless person a place to live to remove them from Seattle streets, and the public eye.”

      Where are you seeing this? I see no evidence for this.

      Also point number 1 is exactly what Danny was addressing so I don’t see how Erica somehow brought it to light when she was commenting on the article he wrote first.

      Your points on hotels are in regards to temporary pandemic-related measures so I’m not sure how they apply to the overall discussion.

      Please keep it civil.

  2. Very disappointed to see the link to the ‘The C Is for Crank’ article – a very disingenuous and deliberately antagonistic take on Denny Westneat’s article in the Times. Having read both, I thought Danny’s take was pretty reasonable and some of the assumptions Erica makes about his motivations are just plain wrong.

    I look forward to these weekly links but this is the first one that just rubs me completely the wrong way. Way too much negativity in that article.

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