What We’re Reading: Protecting Multifamily Housing, Distracted, and Pierce County Coup Attempt


Housing hope: In Southwest Snohomish County, Housing Hope is looking at sites for affordable housing ($).

Regrettable error: The West Point wastewater treatment facility in Magnolia had another short accidental overflow of sewage this week.

Shelter debate: The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has weighed in on the Renton shelter debate.

What not to do: Strong Towns uses a sad Main Street in South Carolina as an example of what communities should not do to their Main Street.

Still crowding: While Manhattan is far less congested, subways in New York City are crowded in some neighborhoods where people have to go to work ($).

West Portland plan: Despite failure at the ballot box for transit expansion, Portland is moving forward with the West Portland Town Center plan.

Distracted: Distracted driving has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Transit crises: Transit agencies are imploring Congress to act with emergency funding ($) to keep service going during the pandemic. So far proposed relief from Congress falls far short of the need with the “skinny” Covid relief bill.

Deadly evictions: New data suggests that evictions has resulted in hundreds of thousand of preventable Covid infections and more than 10,000 preventable Covid deaths.

Unfunded liability: The failure of a measure to change Washington’s constitution means a huge $15 billion unfunded liability to the state’s long-term care program.

Strong rural communities: Strong Town‘s Chuck Marohn outlines his plan for building strong rural communities.

Protecting multifamily housing: To protect multifamily units in single-family areas, Chicago is considering an ordinance to make it difficult to convert them to single-family residences.

Restoring history: A church in Capitol Hill is raising funds to repair windows damaged in the summer’s protests.

Tracking Covid: Washington has a new Covid exposure tracking app.

Racist, classist legislating: Spokane’s city council blocks a 10-acre multifamily project in Southgate over objections to apartments.

Outdoor becomes indoors: As restaurants rush to provide outdoor dining to stay open during the pandemic surge, at what point does enclosing outdoor spaces become effectively indoor?

Housing frenzy: Why in the middle of a pandemic are housing prices rising fast and inventories staying so low ($)?

Spokane Reform: Commissioners in Spokane County won’t try to block an expanded county commission slated for 2022–also addressing apparent violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Convention center boom: Even though nobody is going to conventions, new and expanded convention centers are booming during the pandemic ($).

Where’s the action?: The new federal pedestrian safety “action” plan is light on action and heavy on studies, Streetsblog says.

Death sprial: Massive transit cuts come to Washington, D.C. amid pandemic financial woes.

Pierce County coup attempt: Several right-wing legislators and the county executive are trying to force a hostile takeover of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department ($).

Obvious connection: Despite their geographic closeness, Fairfax County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland lack a quick transit connection, but that could change.

Market response: How are developers in Seattle responding to parking reform?

Incentives can work: Vancouver added over 11,000 rental units to the housing market in 2019 due to the vacant housing tax.

NZ climate emergency: New Zealand has declared a climate emergency to speed up actions to address it.

Charlotte LRT again: Charlotte’s mayor is calling for a 2021 transit referendum to try expanding CATS light rail again as well as bus and bike improvements.

Ditch Rahm: Transportation advocates are encouraging President-elect Joe Biden to skip Rahm Emanuel as transportation secretary. Rahm appears to have started his own whisper campaign so his candidacy may not be as serious as thought.

Beyond forests: Scientists say that wildfire management needs to go well beyond forests.

Walk/bike boom: Mobile phone data suggests that there is a biking and walking boom outside of Boston.

Teens stuck at home: The pandemic city leaves teens with few outlets to do what teens do.

Urban diplomacy: Bloomberg CityLab explains how cities can help President-elect Joe Biden repair American diplomacy.

Economic picks: President-elect Joe Biden has announced his top picks for economic roles in his administration ($).

Vancity congestion charge: Vancouver is moving forward with a congestion charge program, dubbed a “mobility pricing scheme”, for implementation by 2025.

Twenty is plenty: Portland’s 20 mph signs show that they have reduced top tier speeds.

ADUs in Denver: Denver joins in on the accessory dwelling unit trend seeking new legislation to encourage them.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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Daniel Thompson

The article about the dispute between the Renton City Council and the King Co. Regional Housing Authority in Publicola touches on the deep divisions between East and West King Co. on the approach to homelessness, the past success or lack of success on this issue to date despite spending nearly $1 billion/year in federal, state and regional funds, and the power struggle within the Regional Housing Authority itself between East and West KC.

The goal of the Regional Housing Authority is to consolidate the over 100 different housing/homeless agencies, and to provide a framework to allocate funding based on objective results. Not surprisingly East and West King Co. see this issue differently.

Recently the King Co. Council approved a 1/10th of one percent sales tax increase to address affordable housing. King Co. executive Constantine wants to use the revenue for emergency housing. His plan is to buy distressed hotels, mostly in cities outside Seattle, and to house the homeless there.

Not surprisingly those non-Seattle cities don’t want their hotels, even if distressed, serving as homeless shelters, and often see this problem as a Seattle problem They hope that when the pandemic ends the hotels can spur tourism, which is big part of the reason Constantine wants to get the homeless off Seattle’s streets. Tourism is a huge revenue and job source for Seattle, and King Co. just loaned the Convention Center $100 million to help complete its renovation.

It isn’t very hard for cities like Renton or Kent to figure out who will get these homeless from Seattle when they have issues of their own, whereas Seattle figures it is bearing the brunt of the homeless problem. At the same time the eastside thinks King Co. and Seattle have created a homeless industrial complex with all the funding rather than addressing the problem. $1 billion/year is a lot of money, with few results to show for it.

However, under the state law allowing the sale tax increase cities could allocate revenue raised in their city from the 1/10th increase to their own cities if the King Co. Council did not enact the regional tax by Sept. 30, and in a colossal error the Council failed to enact the tax by Sept. 30. Since then nearly every eastside city has opted out of the county wide tax and allocated their tax revenue to their own housing funds because they have so little trust in Constantine or the King Co. Council.

The eastside cities fundamentally disagree with the idea you provide a hotel room to a homeless person without the services to deal with the underlying problems, and Constantine’s plan does not focus on treatment. Renton has seen the results of this plan firsthand. Basically they got Seattle’s homeless without treatment services or the funding to deal with the issues of health care, 911 calls, police, and complaints from nearby businesses.

The eastside cities believe in the original paradigm for treating homelessness, which begins with a shelter mat or cot, treatment and sobriety, then an enhanced shelter room, then subsidized affordable housing followed by non-affordable housing, which requires work and sobriety.

The eastside cities think it will never be affordable to simply supply every homeless person with a hotel room forever without treatment and movement to non-subsidized affordable housing at some point, whereas Constantine and others are beginning to wonder if housing must precede treatment (outside of Seattle ideally). There are many problems with moving someone from the street to a shelter mat or cot, including crowding, safety, and loss of possessions. For many a tent is better than a shelter cot, especially if you don’t want to get sober.

So the eastside focuses on affordable housing — both subsidized and non-subsidized — through agencies like ARCH because they believe the end of the paradigm is affordable housing for those who work for it, while King Co. and Seattle focus on the homeless emergency on the street.

In the past King Co. was heavily influenced by Seattle’s council, but many on the eastside think Seattle’s council has gone mad. With the economic emergence of the eastside from Issaquah to Bellevue to Redmond the eastside is now a major funder of King Co., and wants more decision making authority. A good prescient example was ST subarea equity that requires revenue raised under ST taxes be spent in that subarea, before the eastside became an economic engine with much fewer social costs (including aging infrastructure) than Seattle.

You know the eastside is winning this dispute when the regional authority’s response to Renton’s Council’s limiting the shelter in the Red Lion and requiring liability guarantees is to write a letter to the Renton Council stating their displeasure. Because otherwise Renton will withdraw from a program Renton sees as unfair every which way: of course it and not Medina gets the homeless, and Seattle transfers its untreated homeless to Renton without the financial assistance to truly deal with the underlying problems or rehabilitate these chronic homeless.

I think this is just the beginning of a deep rift between East and West King Co., that I could see leading to a move to divide King Co. which is geographically too large and culturally too opposed today.