Statement on Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee

Voices needed for an expansion of public housing, for a major increase in developer fees, for taxing the wealthy, and for rent control
September 24, 2014

Yesterday, Mayor Murray announced his proposal for the formation of a Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee.

I welcome any serious steps to address this urgent issue. As we all know, our city is facing a deep housing crisis. We are experiencing the fastest rising rents in the country, along with a severe shortage in affordable housing, with no end in sight on the basis of current policies.

Seattle has become a playground for wealthy developers who are receiving sweetheart deals, making enormous profits and who are given virtually free rein over our neighborhoods. The process of gentrification is pushing people of color, working class, youth, low income people, and even sections of the middle class out of our city. Clearly, something urgently needs to be done.

A committee that focuses on affordable housing could play a role in addressing this crisis. I was happy to see the Tenants Union, Centro de la Raza and a few other community organizations represented in the Mayor’s proposal.

However, I have very serious concerns about the overall makeup and balance of this committee. People of color, renters, and labor are all dramatically underrepresented, while developer and business interests dominate in the current proposal.

Why has the Mayor excluded representatives from the minority communities most affected by the housing crisis? Why has the Mayor excluded representatives from the East African community, who have played a leading role in fighting against the Seattle Housing Authority’s recent ‘Stepping Forward’ proposal, which would dramatically increase rents for the poorest people in our community? Why has the Mayor excluded the renters living in low income housing?

Instead, the Mayor has invited Andrew Lofton, the Executive Director of SHA, the same person who has initiated the ‘Stepping Forward’ program, in the face of vehement opposition from the SHA tenants!

The courageous and determined manner in which tenants have challenged the SHA proposal at the recent public hearings shows both that they are willing to build a movement to fight for their rights and that those concerned about affordable housing should stand with them.

The Seattle Displacement Coalition and other tenants’ rights organizations were asked by the Mayor to make a list of recommend committee members. None of the recommended low-income advocates were included in Mayor’s proposal.

I have reached out to the Mayor to sit down and discuss how to improve the composition of this housing committee so it actually represents the majority of this city who are suffering under the weight of the housing crisis.

To address the crisis of affordable housing, we need new voices and new ideas, not the same failed free-market fundamentalism and big developer representation. Where are the voices on this committee advocating for the solutions proposed by Nick Licata and me, as well as others, in recent months? Where are the voices for rent control, for city-funded publicly owned housing, for a major increase in developer fees, and for taxing the wealthy to expand funding? All are obviously under-represented.

The current proposed committee composition needs to be significantly improved in order to have a real chance of addressing the affordable housing crisis in our city. Seattle does not need yet another business-dominated committee perpetuating the same status quo policies which are failing the majority.

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