Chris Rufo: Microsoft’s $500 million investment should be a wake-up call for Seattle
Microsoft is spending $500 million in the Puget Sound region to develop affordable housing and tackle homelessness. But it’s the nature of the deal itself that highlights the sometimes tumultuous relationship between the City of Seattle and local business.
Much of the $500 million is for below-market loans for low-income housing, and also market-rate middle-income housing. As part of the investment, mayors from several of the Eastside cities (that will benefit) signed a “Statement of Mayors,” which outlines a commitment to relaxing building and zoning codes, reducing taxes on developers, among other pro-growth reforms.
“The only mayor that didn’t sign the statement was Jenny Durkan,” former city council candidate Christopher Rufo told The Saul Spady Show. “All of the middle-income housing investments are going to the Eastside, and not a dollar is going to go within Seattle city limits.”
Rufo previously planned to challenge Mike O’Brien in 2019’s Seattle City Council election, but ended his campaign after he said he and his family received harassment and threats. For Rufo, this distinction in Seattle’s commitment is a sign of the widening gulf between Seattle and big tech, and is a major impediment to collectively solving issues like housing and homelessness.
“We have competing models in King County. The Eastside cities like Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, feature public leadership that views Microsoft and other companies as a partner, where in Seattle, we’re increasingly viewing our big tech companies as an adversary,” he said.
“This announcement really made me wonder: If the city could be a good partner, would other companies in Seattle step up for a similar investment? Or is the bridge so far burned that our biggest companies, like Amazon and others in Seattle, won’t even think about this kind of investment because they can’t trust the city, they can’t trust the leadership, and they don’t want to deal with someone who treats them like adversaries.”
Upon examining Microsoft’s “Statement of Mayors,” Rufo found the reforms to be rational and economically literate, a measure which he believes will lead to tens of thousands of units.
“Yet had the head tax passed, it would have taken them 50 years to build just 10,000 units with that money,” he said.
“I hope this is a wake-up call for cities. We have tech companies that are sitting on large amounts of cash, and we should be figuring out how we can work together to address the challenges we’re facing, including housing, transportation, and homelessness,” Rufo said. “We’re not going to solve them without our city’s biggest businesses.”
“We need to figure out how we can do this collaboratively, not punitively and not coercively.”