Good News? Neighborhood Groups Launch Appeal of MIZ

Well, it’s no surprise that neighborhood groups are cranking up their appeal machine to go after Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) or as the City terms it, Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA). Hallelujah! That’s right, we must cheer them on. As I’ve pointed out many times, we dislike MIZ as much if not more than angry neighbors. It is a disastrous policy that will raise overall housing prices to funnel cash to inefficient non-profit producers of housing. Why would Builders and developers agree with the neighborhood appeal? That’s the man bites dog story nobody wants to talk about.

Neither Builders and developers who produce the vast majority of housing in Seattle nor neighborhood groups were involved or consulted about the Grand Bargain. For people who produce housing, additional buildable square footage offered by the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program created by the Bargain is canceled or exceeded by the costs of the fees and extra construction costs. For most people who make housing, MHA isn’t a bargain at all but an additional cost they’ll have to pass on with higher prices.

Only a few big, corporate developers signed the Grand Bargain. The hard working, family run businesses that make everything from single-family homes to mid-rise apartments don’t want this proposal to move forward. It’s hard enough to build housing today, with more and more rules and costs being added all the time. The Mayor and Council should stop this effort and simply allow the experts in design and construction make more housing.

The neighborhood groups appealing have views that are antithetical to more supply; they are, in fact, the drivers of most of the onerous regulation boosting costs and prices now. However, they are right about one thing: there was no consideration made of how the MHA proposal would be received in neighborhoods. City Hall hasn’t listened to our concerns; perhaps they’ll listen to a judge responding to this appeal.

And maybe the local media and press, incurious up till now, might scratch their heads and ask why a rentless campaigner for more housing like me would be pleased, happy even, that the same neighbors who killed small-lot development, microhousing, and ruined many opportunities in zones with abundant housing potential (low-rise zones) are trying to kill an uupzone proposal.

As I’ve chronicled, I’ve been around a long time. I have never in 20 years seen anything like the MIZ/MHA boondoggle. Someone would be eligible for some kind of award for pulling this off. But the whole thing is what Hannah Arendt described as the banality of evil; so many people assume developers want more density and that solving housing price is the same thing as building expensive subsidized housing, that it just seems obvious that the Grand Bargain really is a compromise. It isn’t. It is a slow motion rip off of people who actually pay rent and mortgages in the city.

Smart, well intended people have gone along with this debacle because, well, people said it’s a compromise, right? More market rate housing and some funds for subsidized housing. What could be wrong about that? The beauty of the neighborhood appeal is that it throws a monkey wrench into the rapidly spinning wheels of MIZ; and these are the people that strike fear in the hearts of skittish Councilmembers.  If we appealed it, the Council and press would just hand wave our appeal: it’s about profits, they’d say. The greedy developer myth is deeply embedded in the Seattle psyche.

What is the likely outcome? Well, hopefully the appeal begins the process of dropping the MIZ mess into the fires of Mount Doom — even if it’s for the wrong reasons (opposing growth and change). Angry neighbors have more sway in this town over housing policy than people who actually build housing. The other big dogs are the non-profits and socialists. I’m happy to sit back and watch them fight it out while MIZ sits on the shelf, or slowly falls apart.




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