Durkan Wins: Good News and Bad News for Housing

Jenny Durkan was elected Seattle’s first woman Mayor in almost a hundred years in a landslide last night over Cary Moon. It wasn’t even close. And Teresa Mosqueda won with a similarly convincing margin over rent control supporter Jon Grant, his second big lost in two years. Scott Lindsay, who had the support of many builders, was squashed by incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes, who got more than 70 percent of the vote. There are many ways to look at this election and its results, and over the weeks ahead things will take a more clear shape, but here’s my initial thoughts what this election might mean for housing. Who won and who lost?


The Latino Community

As I have written before, I worked for almost a decade to create a Washington State that better reflected the growing Hispanic community. In the 1990s I worked to create a Hispanic Political Action Committee in Pierce County, and eventually ran for office myself. After last night Seattle will have three Latina’s on the the City Council, something that we would have thought impossible twenty years ago. Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, and Debra Juarez are all accomplished, intelligent, and gifted politicians. I haven’t agreed much with them over the last two years and probably won’t in the years ahead, but their accomplishment is worth noting.

Still Juarez and Gonzalez have voted again and again with Councilmember Sawant, supporting unhelpful and counterproductive legislation impacting tenants and landlords. Neither have used their own political capital to form a new voice on housing issues. Perhaps Teresa Mosqueda having crushed Sawant and socialist backed Grant will feel like she’s got the ability to do that.

Downtown Lawyers and Developers 

I won’t call the people behind Durkan’s campaign The Establishment because I’m not sure such a thing exists. I do know that the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce believes that Jenny Durkan will make developers build 20,000 units of subsidized housing. Clearly, downtown developers who fund the Chamber and backed Durkan know that when they said “developers” the didn’t mean themselves. Durkan and the downtown crowd have been relentless in pushing Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) even now that they don’t have to — all the Downtown and South Lake Union upzones have passed. Maybe now that the election is over, they’ll cut the rest of us lose from the boondoggle which will make many projects outside of Downtown infeasible, raise prices to make them work, and in the end will be found in violation of state law.

The Non-Profit Housing Industrial Complex 

Big spending non-profit housing developers flocked to Durkan’s camp because they believed she’d carry on former Mayor Murray’s MIZ program without asking too many questions. I think they’re right. Durkan was fond of saying, “We need more affordable housing” rather than “we need more housing so that it will be affordable.” Look for the non-profits to fight even harder to wring money out of the production of market rate housing.

Neighbors Angry About Homeless Camps 

Durkan did have a back bone about one thing: she wouldn’t say she’d end the sweeps of homeless camps. Instead, she redefined the term in a pretty convincing way. She’d often say, “They aren’t sweeps at all!” and she’d talk about how much work went into moving people out of public areas and rights of way with services and compassion. But still, she sounded a tone not unlike current Mayor Burgess; a line has to be drawn somewhere. It’s likely that efforts will continue to remove campers and camps from public areas in manner consistent with what Mayor Murray had been doing already.



As I pointed out, so called “urbanists” went big for Cary Moon. While its still impossible to know what an urbanist is, we do know that they gravitated toward her message of “missing middle” housing. The problem is that the urbanist seems to think that this kind of housing — townhouses, courtyard housing, and flex housing — is built by the Keebler Elves or Smurfs. Urbanists tend to live in a world of ideals in which elected officials do the “right thing” in spite of economic reality, specifically angry neighbors guarding the equity in their single-family homes from lower prices from increased production and the fact that housing is a product financed by banks and investors. While we do need housing that is somewhere between single-family housing and apartments, Moon and her urbanists adherents seem blind to the fact that it is being built already — by small and medium sized builders in the low-rise zones.

Big Foot Hunters and The Stranger 

The Stranger’s Election Control Board or whatever it’s called got its ass kicked last night. It was a long time coming. There is no doubt that The Stranger, Seattle’s only alternative paper, carries a lot of weight in the town. They believe (with good reason) that they elected Sawant, and so the stunning defeat of Moon and Grant means that many of their loyal readers consciously ignored their “cheat sheet.” The Stranger will say that they had dissenters who supported Mosqueda. That’s true, but what about Durkan? The Stranger hated Durkan and made it clear. And the whole notion supported by resident throw back deconstructionist and performance artist Charles Mudede that Chinese mobsters are buying up all the housing and leaving it empty to launder money was also rejected — and I think that wasn’t an accident. People get that the notion is nonsense.

The Electoral Process 

I’ve never seen candidates, at any level including the 2016 Republican debates (“My hands are fine Little Marco!”), in which candidates pandered and were more humiliated than this one. I was stunned when Nikkita Oliver basically said that Jenny Durkan had lived all her life working for the “patriarchy” during the People’s Party debate. Durkan should have rebuked that characterization sternly and firmly, but she just went along with it. As Donald Trump would say, “believe me,” I don’t have a lot of respect or admiration for politicians, but there comes a point when one’s personal integrity is worth more than some dumb office. Candidates in Seattle seem to be less and less worried about the gauntlet of abuse dished out by lefties, socialists, communists, anarchists, and every other variety of people angry about something in order to get elected. It’s part of Sawant’s legacy and it is unraveling the ability of elected leaders to make rational decisions about housing policy.

Winner or Losers?

Angry Neighbors against MIZ 

Angry neighbors are amusing. They stomp around town upset about traffic and the big buildings and all the techies and development and they chase the young kids off their lawns. They also believe they are the most downtrodden and exploited and crushed underfoot people in Seattle as they water their lawns with a copy of the New York Times under their arms. Who is keeping them miserable in their million dollar craftsmen? Amazon and greedy developers and land lords. That’s right, angry neighbors spend lots of time worrying about how much rent a single mom is paying for rent. Why? Well, it’s a red herring. They could care less. But from their hippie days they knew that it had to be about the poor; they know they’re not. It’s unclear whether Jenny Durkan (who is kind of like these folks in many ways, at least demographically) will listen to them or whether she’ll join Councilmember Johnson and plow them down. It’s a risky thing to do.

Builders, Developers, and People Who Manage Housing 

So many builders and developers and people in the business told me, “Durkan is better” or “She’s the lesser of two evils” or more frequently, “She’s gotta say all that nonsense. Just wait till she’s elected.” Well, I’ve never liked that kind of candidate, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge candidate that makes you believe its all just a song and dance. Well why won’t that candidate become an elected official that gives us a song and dance later on? On the other hand, a experienced lawyer said, “Durkan will be able to stand up to Lisa Herbold.” Now that, I think is true. Herbold is the smartest and most principle driven person on the City Council. Sawant is an artist. Art is important. But it is different than policy. Herbold really knows what she’s doing when it comes to making policy. I think it is true that Moon would have likely been easier to push around than Durkan. Maybe. I don’t know. Whether Durkan will take another look at MIZ is hard to say. Will she give us high level people to work on nuts and bolts permitting issues? Maybe. We’ll have to see.

A City on the Brink 

We’re in real trouble. Unfortunately, when it comes to housing, the people who Durkan has been listening to think the world consists of what they see outside their downtown conference room windows. They really aren’t concerned about the larger economic issues driving housing demand. As I’ve said before, a Vulcan lobbyist told me, “We don’t build single-family housing.” Right. Vulcan doesn’t. But their employees live in single-family and so do many Amazon employees that work in Vulcan built offices — that is if they can find the housing. Downtown is short sited. Neighbors are suspicious and worried about the wealth in their homes. Advocates for the poor are bitter and angry at people who are making money. The press is mostly uncurious about the Grand Bargain and why big shot developers downtown would want to pay fees on building housing. And elected officials behave like 5 year olds playing soccer; clustered around the ball forgetting that the point is to spread out, pass, and make a goal. Meanwhile 1000 people move here everyday and thousands will sleep in tents, under bridges, and in their cars.


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