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Cagey issue overshadowed by Seattle mayor’s resignation

(AP Photo/file)

One of the cagiest issues debated Tuesday by the Seattle mayoral candidates, overshadowed by the resignation of Mayor Ed Murray, was whether to tax foreign buyers purchasing property in the city.

RELATED: Moon and Durkan debate the issues

Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan called opponent Cary Moon’s speculation to do so “xenophobic.” That’s about as serious a charge as you can make about a fellow liberal in Seattle.

Cary Moon responded.

It’s funny. The way you described it is exactly the way I described the solution. Let’s tax vacant properties. Let’s tax folks buying … homes just for the investment value. Let’s tax corporate ownership. I think that folks in the Chinese community were misinformed — maliciously misinformed, possibly — because I’ve never, ever-ever suggested a tax based on the location where people are from. I’ve said a tax on the activity to disincentivize it and make it less attractive and less lucrative for them so people go elsewhere with their money, or private equity firms or Wall Street firms go elsewhere with their money.

Durkan doubled down on her criticism.

“Words matter,” she said. “… and when you write an article that says Chinese money will be targeting Seattle next, if you’re a Chinese person who reads that, you may think that’s who you’re targeting. So I think we have to be very careful …”

Foreign buyers

Seattle leaders have debated the issue. Lisa Herbold, a council member, asked City Attorney Pete Holmes if such a tax on vacant properties and foreign buyers would be legal. She also asked King County Assessor John Wilson. The answer was a resounding “no.”

Last year, it was reported that property in Seattle was beginning to get more looks than in Vancouver B.C., where foreign buyers have been gobbling up real estate for years. One report found that while foreign investment shot up in Seattle, it saw a more than 80 percent decrease in the city north of the border. The cause, people speculated, was an additional 15 percent property tax on residential real estate purchased by foreign investors. The Vancouver Sun reported the share of sales volume from foreign buyers decreased from 16.5 percent in the metro area to 4 percent in less than a year.

Despite the tax, home prices in Vancouver continue to rise. As The Seattle Times pointed out, some wonder whether buyers are masking their identities when they make a purchase.

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