Can a Seattle mayor really do anything about affordable housing?
Congratulations are in order for the women that rose to the top of Seattle’s mayoral race. The Emerald City will have the first female mayor since 1926. Either Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon will take the reigns of a city that is booming like never before in its history.
The boom feels like an explosion to many that occupy the bottom rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. So brace yourself for the constant drumbeat about affordability.
Affordable Housing! Wage Increase! Tax The Rich! This will be the rallying call until this election is over. Promises will be made. Promises that cannot and will not be kept.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Can someone please point me to a major city in America, or the world for that matter, where the people do not end up being organized along the axis of income? Is it different in Chicago or Dallas? Did we miss something here that is happening in New York or Los Angeles?
So what are we talking about here?
Affordability is an unattainable pipe dream.
Nothing I can say here will stop one of these women from being the next mayor, but maybe I can help dial back the hysteria around “affordable housing.” Affordable Housing is a myth in Seattle. It’s a ghost. And while we’re at it, throw in Bellevue and Mercer Island. Kirkland and Juanita. Fremont and Ballard. Even Tacoma and Everett. It’s not going to happen.
There is not a politician that can solve this problem. The market forces are just too strong.
I recently traveled to a city that did the most radical experiment in trying to fix this. I went to Havana, Cuba. My favorite souvenir was a plaque I found in a flea market. It has a relief of the island, an image of Fidel, and the words “Free Cuba, January 1, 1959.” The revolution would place this plaque next to the front door of houses when they took them away from wealthy owners. When you saw this plaque, the building was now a possession of the people.
This is an over simplification, but the thought was to take the poor people, and just put them in these big houses. Now that everyone has housing, Fidel took on wages next. Everyone makes the same amount of money and gets a ration card.
When I was there, if you were a dentist, you make $28 a month. Engineer, $28. Surgeon, $28. Teacher, yep, you guessed it $28. In theory, this form of society was suppose to be the ultimate expression of fairness. All the people would have their basic needs met by the government. People would work hard to support the greater good out of their patriotism and good will. They really thought this would work and it was better than a capitalist system.
Only one problem — it failed miserably. The country turned into a dictatorship. There are offices in every neighborhood where you could go and rat out your neighbor when they broke the rules.
Cuba is clearly an extreme example. But what are we talking about here?
What exactly is Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon going to do about affordable housing? Are they going to slap a metaphorical plaque on the buildings occupied by the “haves” and then give them to the “have nots?” Are they going to create affordability through levies? Are they going to wave some kind of magic wand that builds things faster?
Unfortunately for many people, they will be on the losing end of a booming Seattle. If history holds, the losers will be overly represented by minority people.
I wish there was a simple answer to it. I believe in fairness, too. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. Regardless of who we elect as mayor of Seattle, it will continue to evolve just like every other major city in the world has — along economic lines.
If you want to make the world a more fair place, then it starts with you. People can choose to charge whatever they want to rent their properties. But I don’t think you’re going to see a 2 bedroom, 2 bath in Kirkland for $600 any time soon.
That’s what we’re talking about.
“What Are We Talking About Here” can be heard every weekday at 4:50 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. on the Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.