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5 final questions for District 3: model city, transit choices, ‘newcomers,’ design review, home owners

Election Day in all its postmark-required glory is only a week away — Tuesday, November 3rd. Lots of questions have been asked of District 3 candidates City Council incumbent Kshama Sawant and challenger Pamela Banks — but not all of them. Last week, we asked CHS readers to vote on 5 final questions for the candidates. The top questions — and answers from the Sawant and Banks campaigns — are below. CHS is also having final conversations with the candidates — more on those, soon.

1) Pick a model city/neighborhood somewhere else and explain why we should emulate them

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.25.56 PMB: People compare Seattle to Portland, Boston and Denmark. I don’t like that thinking, honestly, Seattle isn’t Portland or Denmark. We have our own unique history, resources, and challenges, and we need to focus on the future of our city. We need to push our own limits to keep Seattle the diverse, vibrant, creative, inclusive, booming city we know it can be – a model to the rest of the country and the world.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.26.03 PMS: I am running for re-election because I believe our city should be affordable and livable for everyone who works here. We cannot allow Seattle to be turned into a playground for the rich, or allow thousands of working people and people of color to continue to be displaced from our city.But the problems of Seattle are not an exception. As long as the Billionaire Class dominates our society in its interests, we will continue to see widespread social ills, and economic and racial inequality everywhere.

But there are examples.

Vienna has made major gains for affordable housing in its history. Particularly when a strong socialist movement led to the taxing of developers to build the Gemeindebauten, which are public housing projects of high quality and high density. Karl Marx Hof is one of the most well-known examples of this, and it’s built with transit in mind, next to a major rail station. At one point the high quality public homes in Vienna housed a majority of working people. Vienna also has rent control. Unfortunately, in recent decades the Austrian and Viennese governments have embraced the politics of austerity, as forced on all of Europe by the investor class and its institutions. As a result, funding for the construction of these types of housing projects have been cut, along with many other essential services. The SPÖ (Socialist Party of Austria) has proposed a program to restore funding for those types of housing:

Or there’s Berlin, a dense city well-served by transit. They adopted rent control very recently, in July 2015, and it has already brought down rents by 3%. The city is also building 30,000 new housing units over the next decade, which is a start but they clearly need to do more. More here:

2) How many miles a week do you log traveling through our neighborhood in something other than a car? Bus, bike, foot, skateboard, etc.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.25.56 PMB: I walk a lot and take the bus several time a week. I moved into my neighborhood specifically so I would have that luxury. My office, my grocery store, my favorite coffee shop are all within walking distance. Now that I’m out canvassing for the campaign, I’m probably doing an extra 3-4 miles a day. It’s a great workout.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.26.03 PMS: I get around the city on foot, by bus and by carpool. I almost never drive alone. But the key transportation issues facing our neighborhoods and our city are terrible traffic and underfunded mass transit. Seattle faces the fourth worst traffic in the nation. We need to create viable and safe alternatives to car-based transit so people can stop driving. We need to fund a major expansion of bus and rail service, paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. We need a Millionaire’s Tax, Business Head Tax, increased Commercial Parking Fees, and excise taxes on big box stores and banks. The Move Seattle levy is also critical to this discussion. While I disagree with property taxes as the sole funding source, I strongly support this levy. It is expected to fund important public infrastructure projects, many of which, including building and repairing sidewalks, are long overdue. It also devotes money to vital street upgrades which will make neighborhood intersections safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users.

3) In lieu of bemoaning change/newcomers, give examples of how you will integrate newcomers to D3’s cultural & physical neighborhoods

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.25.56 PMB: Seattleites love to talk about “the old days” and everything that’s changing. I think fundamentally, it’s not a problem of new people moving into the city. Seattle is a great city, it’s an amazing place to live, work and play, of course people want to live here. Honestly how could you come here and see Mt. Rainier commuting south on Rainier or from I-90, we’re surrounded by water, with mild weather who wouldn’t want to live here?I’ve said this a lot, I’ve lived in the Central District for 20 years. I’ve watched it change. People move into this neighborhood because the houses were affordable and close to downtown. They moved here because they like the neighborhood. It was diverse, it’s got great restaurants, great parks and cultural significant and buildings. I attend many community meetings and over time it’s becoming clear that we’re having problems bringing long time residents and the new residents together. If you attend an East Pac meeting the attendance is 95% white, if you attend the African American Advisory Council is 95% Black. They’re both discussing similar issue however the attendance reflects the serious issues of gentrification that has occurred throughout the district and across this city.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that there’s a simple fix. We can host block parties, have cultural specific events, attend National Night Out and have the best outreach and inclusion plans to get old and new residents to come together as one, BUT this is not the reality. Until people are ready to get out of their “comfort zones” and have discussions on race, class, equity and social justice we will be dealing with these issues.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.26.03 PMS: Affordable housing is essential to ensuring newcomers have an opportunity to be welcomed into District 3, and give more people a chance to live here. We need to build tens of thousands of new affordable housing units by taxing developers with the maximum “linkage fee” and using the city’s excess bonding capacity.We need to defend low income housing as our movement did in defeating the “Stepping Forward” proposal at Seattle Housing Authority, stopping 400% rent hikes for 7,000 of our community members, including many East African immigrants.

We need rent control to end economic evictions and protect existing affordable housing, and stop the gentrification of historically diverse neighborhoods like the Central District.

We need an LGBTQ community center in Capitol Hill, the historic home of the LGBTQ community in our city. Seattle is the only major city in the U.S. without one.

We need to support small businesses and make our community more walkable, with projects like the pedestrian plaza pilot project on Pike, which can also help create a shared sense of community.

4) How would you fix the city’s Design Review process?

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.25.56 PMB: It’s all about access and input. This process should be easier, more engaging, and faster. It’s absurd that people can’t comment online. Most people don’t have time to spare to come to meetings, especially on short notice. It’s an easy fix to give people more notice of meetings, to put out information in simple language instead of technical jargon, and to put a questionnaire online.We also need to think of projects more holistically, how do projects fit into the neighborhood? What do they offer in terms of living space, retail, arts space, culture, meeting spots, nightlife? How do they look? We have a rigid set of guidelines that focus on dimensions. This leads developers to build the biggest thing they can on the property and we get a glut of ugly grey and beige boxes taking over neighborhoods. People wouldn’t be so resistant to increasing density if the projects enhanced the character of the neighborhood. I think the 12th Ave Arts building is a good example. It’s visually interesting and the mix of affordable housing, retail, and arts space is a perfect fit for the area.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.26.03 PMS: The city’s current process can sometimes take far too long, and can be bureaucratic. While it needs serious adjustment, the design process is essential because it’s the only opportunity communities have to weigh in on what goes in their neighborhood. I support review and improvement of the current process. And that review must be fully accountable to ordinary working people, because big developers would like to use arguments for expediency to remove all oversight.

5) How do your policies improve the lives of District 3 residents who own their homes?

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.25.56 PMB: This is such an important question. A lot of times when we’re thinking about affordability, we only think about rents, especially in terms of District 3 because we a large rental population. But we also have homeowners who are facing difficulty because of gentrification and property taxes. That’s one major cause of the loss of African-American culture in the Central District. I bought my house 20 years ago. It’s now worth about double what I paid for it. It doesn’t sound like a problem, but for older people or people on fixed incomes the tax increases that come with that hit really hard. And then there are realtors and/or developers coming around, preying on people to purchase their homes with cash. I get a note in the mail at least once a week offering to buy my house.At the Urban League, the housing program helps people who have received default or foreclosure notices get their mortgage get back on track. We have programs to help new homeowners find mortgages and get any assistance they need. We definitely need more programs at the city level that help people stay in their homes by lowering property taxes for low-income homeowners, offering services to help people get out from underwater mortgages, give young people the tools they need to buy a first home.

But we also need policies that make our neighborhoods great places to live over the long haul. In District 3 we have real problems with safety; gun violence, property crimes, and hate crimes are all on the rise. We need our police officers to be responsive and engaged, and we need a councilmember who will demand that accountability. In terms of transportation, our streets are a mess in so many ways. We’re dropping the ball when it comes to transit projects and street improvements. We’re doing so many things – trolleys, bike lanes, rapid ride. They’re all great in theory, but the execution hasn’t always been right. There are two problems here. First, the coordination isn’t there. We’re not thinking about how the pedestrians and cyclists and cars and trucks and trolleys interact with each other. Second, the city isn’t asking the people who use these streets every day for input. I talk to people along 23rd or in Montlake and they’re very frustrated with the process.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.26.03 PMS: Many District 3 homeowners, especially those in the Central Area, faced the threat of foreclosure during the 2008 financial crisis. This produced a dramatic increase in gentrification, and many D3 residents lost their homes or struggled to keep them: city’s own study found that this threat still exists, with mortgage companies having committed fraud in mortgage documents that could call into question a homeowner’s title to their own property.

We need mortgage relief for homeowners. Over 16,500 Seattle families have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2008. The city needs to stop dragging its feet and finally implement a principal reduction program for underwater homeowners to keep more families from losing their homes.

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15 thoughts on “5 final questions for District 3: model city, transit choices, ‘newcomers,’ design review, home owners

  1. Last week, at a meeting of community groups discussing additional funding opportunities for more effective community outreach in Seattle, I sat all morning at a table across from Pamela Banks. I do not live in Seattle, and did not realize Ms. Banks was a Seattle City Council candidate until the end of the meeting, but would like to share my favorable impression of her.

    Pamela Banks is very smart and clearly knows the city and its programs, services and challenges. She discussed the importance of afforadable housing, and the importance of community building from the ground up, not from City Hall down. She clearly understands that neighborhoods matter in Seattle.

    When I realized that she was running for the Seattle City Council I thought; “what a gift it would be to has such a talented individual representing my neighborhood” She was so impressive.

    I just wanted to share that Pam Banks is a talent, and clearly will be accessible to Seattle city residents, if you gift her with your vote in this election. She represents what all communities need to their political leadership.

    Mark Ufkes
    White Center

  2. four things vienna’s housing policy doesn’t have that sawant wants to double down on:
    1. exclusionary zoning
    2. proliferation of single family housing
    3. developer exactions
    4. design review

    also, berlin didn’t ‘adopt rent control very recently’ – for decades, all of germany has had a system of tenancy controls limiting the amount rent can be increased over a certain time period. recently, the federal government voted to allow that number to be lowered from 15% to 10% in main cities, and berlin opted to adopt the more stringent policy. german rent control is likely the most equitable model. it should be noted, like vienna, there is no single family zoning in berlin. berlin also rocks a solid 8% of housing as single family (detached or attached), versus seattle’s 49%.

  3. Sawant can”t even maintain focus on district 3 when responding to emailed questions, what makes residents think that she will work for us if re-elected?
    Sawant has an agenda that dies not involve the issues in District 3, she chose to run for this district because of the large population of young and easily influenced residents.
    I hope that the residents of district 3 are able to see through the catchy one liner campaign posters on every telephone pole in Seattle and are able to see that we can finally get some attention in the CD that is not just lip service.
    I don’t think Banks is an ideal candidate, the urban league is a mess and is probably not something I would be thrilled to have in a resume, but I do think she will fight for the CD and the people that live here.

    • > Sawant can”t even maintain focus on district 3 when responding to emailed questions, what makes residents think that she will work for us if re-elected?

      The question literally asked what other place should Seattle look to. Take off your political blinders and stop drinking establishment cool aid.

    • All I was doing was sharing my impression of the talent and ability I found in a candidate for the Seattle City Council. I had never met Pam Banks before, but I was so impressed with her positive, insightful impression, it spurred to me share my thoughts. Ridicle for such a simple comment shared in honesty is the tool of the insecure.

      Mark Ufkes
      White Center

      • Mark, I didn’t read it as ridicule. This council election is marked by a very heavy emphasis placed on being a **district 3** resident who is focuses on **district 3** issues. As if the things that affect district 3 residents are unique problems that only a local entrenched community member can solve. And so your comment is ironic in the true sense of the word.

  4. Here is the best quote yet on rent control from a recent nyt article. Is this really what anyone would want to legislate?

    ‘It helps, of course, if your rent is manageable. Though they’ve been together for more than a decade, Stefan Weisman and his partner, Sean Mills, both college professors who teach in Queens, have each held onto their separate rent-stabilized apartments in the city. “It’s totally a New York story,” said Mr. Mills, who has lived in the same Cobble Hill duplex for 22 years that he rents for approximately $2,070 a month. “It’s the kind of thing that you don’t give up without a really good reason,” he said, acknowledging, “you would think that a strong and solid and consistent relationship would be the best reason of all.” Mr. Weisman pays about $1,500 for his two-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen.’

    The article goes on to discuss them buying a second vacation home. Rent control.

    • When I lived in SF, I had a whole bunch of friends who were Apple millionaires living in rent controlled housing.

      Rent control is nothing more than applying a union seniority system to housing.

    • That is one example. But on the whole if you’re concerned about “the rich get richer” policies, rent control should not be at the top of your list. Rather that lack of income tax while having a high sales tax should be, among other things.

  5. “We need mortgage relief for homeowners”. Because rent control isn’t enough- now we should also make house payments?

    Great idea! I wonder how many renters will still think that’s a good idea if THEIR taxes help pay for it, and it doesn’t get dumped onto property taxes? Yeah–renters can pay other peoples’ mortgage payments! Awesome!

  6. Man, Sawant sounds awful.

    I’ve always wondered how someone can be pro-mass transit, but also anti-growth. Sustainable mass transit is proportional to the population. You need more people (i.e., newcomers in large apartment complexes) to fund more mass transit, or you raise the fares.

    Seattle’s future is dense and urban. We should embrace it and figure out how to do it in a Seattle way, instead of being closed minded and xenophobic.

    • In what way is Sawant xenophobic? Actually it seems to this point the “Seattle way” (the majority way) is close minded and xenophobic, not someone challenging politics as usual.

  7. Rent control is a complex issue. As a homeowner in District 3 with tenants/roommates, yearly property tax increases are always a source of debate. Negate increased costs as a whole through a weighted increase in rent based on room cost, or absorb the costs as the homeowner. The costs of initiatives funded through property taxes (though necessary) are an added burden that fall disproportionately on the lower classes. I support rent stabilization, but would struggle with the inability to raise rent if my property taxes continued to rise by 2-3 thousand every year.

    I’m still undecided on this years election. I find Sawant inaccessible, and developer’s contributions to Bank’s campaign concerning. I appreciate Sawant’s unwavering commitment to rent control, but I find her answers vague in terms of policy. I greatly appreciated Bank’s answers to #3, and #4, so much so that I find myself leaning in her direction.