As you may recall, the Seattle City Council is considering a moratorium on building aPodments, a type of small, affordable rental that houses lots of tenants in what are essentially dorm rooms inside of town houses. They're popular, they produce affordable rents without any government subsidies, and they drive neighborhood homeowners nuts (poor people could live nearby!). Listening to those concerns, Council Member Tom Rasmussen has floated a freeze of their construction. I posted recently about why I disagree with Rasmussen, noting that he owns a large, expensive home in West Seattle, and followed up by asking every member of the council if they support a moratorium.
Most council members skirted the question, saying they hadn't seen a bill or they wanted to remain open to conversation, so I pressed harder on Council President Sally Clark (who also chaired the land use committee for several years):
From: Dominic Holden Sent: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:33 AM To: Clark, Sally Subject: Backing a moratorium on aPodments
Are you supportive or opposed? Since the impact is unambiguous—either it freezes construction of them or doesn't—you don't need to see legislation first. So... yes or no?
Dominic Holden News Editor, The Stranger
Clark, Sally wrote:
Hi, Dominic — Sorry. I breezed by this yesterday and didn't get back to you.
I heard you posted Rasmussen's home (a pic?). Did you really do that? Could that be taken as intimidation? I'm really not comfortable with the idea that we shouldn't discuss all the options. We may discard options through debate, but this thing about "don't even talk about it" is a little weird.
Council President Sally J. Clark
From: Dominic Holden Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 6:09 PM To: Clark, Sally Cc: Rasmussen, Tom Subject: Re: Backing a moratorium on aPodments
Thanks for writing back.
First, nobody said "don't even talk about it" or that you "shouldn't discuss all the options." That's a straw man. I asked if you support a moratorium. You can discuss all the options while still opposing a moratorium. I'm sure there are many options you would oppose, like mandating them in single family housing zones, but you'd still be allowed to talk about it. You know this issue inside and out—I interviewed you about it four years ago—so it's reasonable to press you for a decisive, informed opinion. And it's reasonable to expect an answer without you trying to dodge this by pretending there's censorship at play. So do you support a moratorium?
Second, I posted a link to the online King County report for Tom's property, which includes a photo, but to say I posted a photo is false. Could that be taken as intimidation? No. That's preposterous. Tom's property info comes up with a quick Google search—it's readily accessible information online for any land owner, and an elected figure has no presumption of privacy of data that's already very public. Also, I didn't tell people to do anything threatening with that information—I posted it because it was relevant to the story. Tom was floating a freeze on a type of affordable housing; the fact that Tom lives in a big, expensive house with lovely water views is pertinent.
Clark, Sally wrote:
No, no. You should own that putting the link out there is intended to intimidate. It's intended to make Tom look like he doesn't care about or understand affordability.
Have I misconstrued these fb posts?
"What an unbelievable asshole. City council member Tom Rasmussen wants to freeze construction of affordable housing."
"Even considering a moratorium is nuts."
I think aPods/micros should go through streamlined design review and that we need to get our own house in order when it comes to counting units for the purpose of permitting and multi-family tax exemption. I'm working on how we get there. Interim regulations (moratorium isn't an accurate description) are one option, but they're a serious step and I'd want to be sure it's necessary. That's the best I can give you this week.
From: Dominic Holden Date: March 19, 2013 5:40:03 PM PDT To: "Clark, Sally" Subject: Re: Backing a moratorium on aPodments
This is the decisive Sally Clark I wish we saw more.
But in this case, your bold advocacy is being used as a shield to deflect from a real policy discussion. Still, to address this distraction, there is no intimidation of anyone going on here. Tom's address is easily found online—it's not like there are a lot of Tom Rasmussens running around—and the internet where people read about his home, on our blog, is the same internet where it's easy for anyone to pull up a property report. His property is also relevant, as the man considering a bill to freeze aPodment construction, because it concerns the size of people's homes, their income, and how much they pay for that home.
You quoted a few comments on my Facebook page—those aren't on Slog, but if you want to bring those up, I stand behind them. I said Tom was being an asshole because I think he was being an asshole. He was floating a moratorium on a popular form of affordable housing. Honestly.
You're now defending him using an intellectually dishonest attempt at deflection, trying to pose city council members as the victims. You're not a victim—you make a huge salary and you make decisions that affect a half-million people, but when someone criticizes you, you put on a victimhood performance as ironic as priests in the Catholic Church.
But unlike altar boys and people who do business before your dais, not everyone is going to genuflect. You're dodging a simple question—if you support a moratorium, an unambiguous policy position—by saying you're remaining open minded. You can be open minded and you can have a conversation about your options, but you can also put a limit on how far you're willing to go. You wouldn't support a ban all construction in moneyed South Lake Union, right? Then you can oppose a moratorium.
I just wish you could be half as bold when it comes to housing the poor as sending an e-mail.
Call me a dick if you want for linking to Rasmussen's property report or butting heads with Clark, but the nonprofits that represent low-income tenants are often too overworked to fight these fights. Moreover, they usually need to preserve relationships with council members (for future funding) and aren't willing to be so blunt. So yeah, I'm being kinda dickish here because I think someone needs to be.
In my campaign of dickishness, I assigned trusty news intern Ben Steiner to help me get their positions on the record. Rasmussen needs seven votes to pass an emergency bill. If three council members are opposed, his moratorium is dead. So I wondered if thee council members would have the guts that Clark, Licata, Burgess lack. Of course, some council members were equally squirrelly: Champion of the Poor Nick Licata weaseled out twice when asked if he would oppose a moratorium; so did Council Member Tim Burgess.
But not every council member was so evasive.
Council Member Richard Conlin opposes a moratorium, he said in this e-mail:
I do not support a moratorium. There are some land use code changes that are needed to ensure that micro units are covered in the city's regulatory system but we can accomplish that through the normal land use code legislative process.
Councilmember Richard Conlin
Council Member Mike O'Brien's opposition was equally clear:
I do not support a moratorium on the private development of affordable housing. At a time when the city is struggling to meet its affordable housing goals, private development that is helping fill a housing need is a good thing. I think there are some legitimate concerns about the process, but I also think we can make some reasonable fixes to our zoning and design codes to address those concerns. I encourage DPD to get to work right away to develop some options for Council to consider in the very near future.
Council Member Bruce Harrell was opposed to a moratorium, but he left wiggle room:
If a moratorium were presented tomorrow, I would not support it. I have supported moratoriums in the past, as have everyone else here when compelling arguments have been made but I have heard no such arguments in this matter; heck, there isn't even any paperwork on this issue. I have heard anecdotally there were something like 40 developments being planned and the parking issue seems to drive concerns from those opposing them (which I have not) but that in and of itself does not support a moratorium and I have publicly stated my support for all kinds of affordable housing, including these types of dwelling units, even though many may find them undesirable. The fact is, these units provide valuable affordable housing for an important segment of our population.
Kudos to Conlin and O'Brien for having the guts to defend poor renters (and a kudos—with caveats—to a slightly less gutsy Harrell).
I hope that the council has a thorough conversation about aPodments—do they need administrative review from the city, should neighbors be notified, should there be a comment procedure?—because that is a valid conversation to have. But in the meantime, Rasmussen's repugnant moratorium appears dead.