Ross: Would you live next to poor people?

Sep 30, 2021, 5:50 AM | Updated: 9:31 am
Bruce Harrell (left) and Lorena Gonzalez (right), the two candidates for Seattle's next mayor. (Pho...
Bruce Harrell (left) and Lorena Gonzalez (right), the two candidates for Seattle's next mayor. (Photo credit: Associated Press / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Associated Press / Facebook)

During last night’s debate between the two candidates for Mayor of Seattle the issue of zoning came up.

Candidate Lorena Gonzales says she would change the single-family zoning laws:

“The result of doing nothing to increase housing choice or only biting around the margins citywide, means that wealthy, exclusive neighborhoods get to stay exclusive and only available to the wealthiest among us. So I believe in order to have equity in this city and in order to fulfill our racial equity values,  we need more housing choices everywhere in this city — not just in a handful of concentrated areas of the city. That’s why, unlike my opponent, I believe that we need to allow affordable rental housing community land trust and more affordable types of housing to be built in our residential neighborhoods. That’s the kind of city I want to live in. It’s the kind of city I’m committed to building.”

Candidate Bruce Harrell said he’s also in favor of upzoning, but would not force it on neighborhoods that don’t want it:

“We should not dictate the policy, we should work with neighborhoods and find out where it makes sense. We have so much underutilizing zoning that’s passed here in this city — there’s some low hanging fruit that we can capture.”

But how about dealing with the real reason neighborhoods resist this idea? It’s because for people who live in single-family neighborhoods, their homes are their financial security.

So when a well-kept, owner-occupied house is replaced with rent-controlled apartments – neighbors begin to worry.

They know that maintaining any building is expensive. And they worry that any property subject to rent control or an eviction moratorium could force the owner to skip the maintenance.

There is research showing upzoning can be a plus. Studies have found that rental housing built by nonprofits that are committed to maintaining the building – regardless of the income of the occupants – can actually raise property values.

But if your housing program creates a bunch of buildings with weeds in the yard and gaps in the siding, the neighbors who can afford to leave, will. Then, instead of diversity, you have another poor neighborhood, and a lot of upset homeowners.

If, however, you can demonstrate that affordable housing can look sharp, and guarantee that it will be well-kept, maybe some of that resistance would melt away all on its own.

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Ross: Would you live next to poor people?