McGinn In Again: Maybe We Have a Chance on Slowing, Stopping MIZ

Former Mayor Mike McGinn is running for Mayor against incumbent Mayor Ed Murray. The current Mayor has stubbornly clung to the concept of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ), a scheme that requires the inclusion of rent restricted housing in every new housing project. If a project doesn’t include rent restricted housing, then it must pay a square footage charge to the City which in turn funnels that cash to non-profit housing developers, who in turn will build ridiculously expensive subsidized housing in several years. This won’t do anything to lower over all housing prices, in fact in will increase them as projects rationalize the additional costs by raising their prices. The Mayor and his staff have called this Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) and it was the product of a “Grand Bargain” between Vulcan’s lobbyists, a lawyer that charges non-profit housing projects for legal advice, non-profit developers, and Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

What did Mike McGinn say about the so called Grand Bargain in his announcement speech yesterday?

That is why housing costs, like our budget and taxes, must also be a priority. I commend Ed Murray for asking stakeholders to bring forward their best ideas to address housing. HALA – the Housing and Livability Agenda – has some good ideas in there. But ideas are not enough. If you want public support, the public has to be involved. You can’t tell them that a bunch of people in a room have made a “Grand Bargain” when the people most affected – the public – didn’t have a seat at the table. I’m reminded of the old proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And we have far to go.

If elected, immediately upon taking office, I would launch true neighborhood driven planning across the city. Invite everyone – those who think we’re growing too fast, those who think we need to build more housing fast. Homeowners, renters, builders. And let’s have it out.

Let’s take this apart. First, it was pointed out to me by someone that when McGinn says, “the public” he doesn’t necessarily mean us, hardworking builders who build single-family, low-rise, and apartment housing. That is, perhaps he’s pandering to angry neighbors who simply don’t want any more growth at all, and certainly don’t want any additional density even if it comes with an exaction on all new housing for subsidies. Is McGinn send a dawg whistle message to embittered neighbors in Wallingford, for example, that want to grind all new housing development to a halt?

Maybe. But lets’ consider the second paragraph.

McGinn sounds like he might simply be hitting pause on the whole mess of MIZ outside Downtown and South Lake Union. Maybe if he gets elected, “immediately upon taking office,” MIZ gets shut off. That’s exactly what we’ve asked for. Second, he’s sounding a similar call to one I’ve made before, and that is go back to the promise of neighborhood planning 20 years ago when there was a real Grand Bargain struck between single-family neighbors and the need for more growth in already dense areas. This is something we would likely support since it makes the angry neighbors promise to support growth in areas already zoned for density in exchange for leaving single-family, single-family.

Who knows. But based on the plain reading of these two paragraphs I am hopeful. I have had many, many differences over the years with McGinn, someone who I’ve known well and personally for over a decade. I’ve also supported his work at the Seattle Great City Initiative, working as a volunteer and paid staff, and I contributed to his first and re-election campaign. Once McGinn got over months of turmoil starting his term, his staff was very responsive and we got answers and more certainty about what the executive branch was up to. We didn’t always get what we wanted, but we at least got clearer signals, and certainty matters in development.

On the other hand, McGinn has demonstrated an annoying me-too drift to the left that I find worrisome. I think he likes being associated with the cool kids and the socialists and social justice crowd that is so hopelessly confused about economics and doesn’t seem to want to understand how housing actually works. McGinn is smart. He gets how the economics of housing works. He also gets politics. And the politics of Seattle is deeply and deliberately self-defeating, promoting the notion that taxing and adding costs to housing somehow punishes developers and helps poor people. It doesn’t. Can he appeal to those people rhetorically, but support the creation of a process and policy that leads to more housing, lower prices, and, as he put it, saving us from being San Francisco? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

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