Tim Burgess: New Mayor Has Mixed Record on Housing

If you want to read a well written if really long article on our new Mayor, Tim Burgess, check out Hayat Norimine’s article on him, “Is Consensus Gone After Tim Burgess?” I’ve known Burgess for a decade. He spent a fair amount of time in the offices adjacent to the ones taken by The Great City Initiative run by Mike McGinn during the 2007 campaign. Burgess was at my wedding in 2009 at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, and I interviewed to be his legislative aid when my final stint with Councilmember Steinbrueck ended in 2007. We’ve had much correspondence over the years and as many agreements as disagreements. I believe that Burgess is a man who truly has dedicated himself to public service. However, I see him not so much as the conservative on the Council who graduated to Mayor but as the public servant transformed by his times.

I’ll never forget getting an e-mail in February in 2012 from Councilmember Burgess.

Hi, Roger. We haven’t spoken in a long time, but I just read your Publicola piece on election money. I think an equally significant factor is that people like you and others don’t affirm Council members when they do step out and lead on growth/density issues.

Where we’re you when I tried so hard last year to add just one more floor in Pioneer Square? We had the votes until the other side weighed in. When there was no counter argument offered my colleagues collapsed and I pulled back rather than suffer a defeat for the density position. Where we’re you when I led the Roosevelt effort which resulted in a strong win for concentrated density?

You and others need to point out the victories and those leading the way if you intend to strengthen the backbone of local officials. Make sense?

I responded.

C’mon Tim.

Really. Do you want me to go back and link to the several posts I did praising you?




Shall I go on. I am an admirer of your work on this issue. That I have not praised you lately is no indication of that admiration going away.

And if you feel lumped in I am sorry.

He wrote back soon after.

OK, you score one.  Of the three links you provided below I had only seen the one about Publicola’s winners and losers.  I just read the other two.  Thank you.

I guess I’m frustrated by the slowness of the massive land use bureaucracy which just keeps slogging away.  We may finally upzone North Beacon Hill in March or early February.  And I have failed again this year to persuade DPD to start corridor planning along Rainier Ave or Aurora; “we don’t have the funds for that.”

But I am working on getting an elementary school in South Lake Union as part of that upzone; schools being key place anchors.  Creating magnetic places is sooooo very important for all the reasons you know and I just wish we would get our butts in gear!  My apologies for pouting.

Later, on microhousing, I sat in the front row and gave dagger eyes to Burgess when he said something like, “some people say that what we’re passing will cause harm to microhousing. Those people would be wrong. This will help microhousing.” I was not happy, especially since a reporter showed me an email from Mayor Ed Murray threatening a veto because that’s exactly what the legislation would do. So I let the Councilmember know my thoughts.

Hi Tim,

I think in all my years (about 20 now) of watching politics and politicians talk about legislation they’ve passed, your statement at the end of the microhousing hearing last week is right at the top in terms of it’s studied denial of what you actually did.
It would have been one thing to have acknowledged that this legislation would change things, perhaps resulting in fewer units (which is what the Chair and your central staff would affirm), but quite another to bet even more of the Council’s credibility by saying, as you did, that this will “allow more.”
You said that you hoped that a there wouldn’t be “a few [that] characterize our actions as somehow limiting options” for housing. I think you know that this DOES exactly that. To state publicly the opposite is truly disappointing and I think doesn’t reflect well on you, your role as Council President, as an elected official, and frankly as a community leader.
We spent many hours explaining why this legislation limits options and choices not just for our members, but for future residents of our city. You weren’t listening. And to try to get in front of what is sure to be lots of criticism by many people, you attempt to inoculate yourself by simply denying the facts (and repeating over and over that “this is good legislation.”)
Apparently, however, one of the “few” you mentioned, is the Mayor. He obviously has been listening.
I’m actually embarrassed by the familiar tone. I never refer to elected officials by their first name. But I felt familiar enough with Burgess to convey that message to him using his first name. I shouldn’t have done that. But the Councilmember responded in a good natured but disdainful way.
Sorry, Roger, we disagree completely on this issue and I’m very comfortable with that. Remember last year, everyone told us that if we changed incentive zoning in SLU we would cripple development. Right.
I had to point out that..
Well, I don’t mind disagreement either. It’s at the heart of our process. But when you cite SLU and IZ the facts tell a different story.
“Given the historic low participation rate in IZ under its existing encumbrances, it would seem obvious that increasing the requirements for affordable housing will only tip the scales further toward non-participation, in which case zero affordable housing is produced. When the toll is raised, the gains made from the projects that still opt in to the Program will be offset by the increasing portion of projects that decline. And this inherent “diminishing returns” aspect of IZ is why it should never be expected to have a consequential impact on Seattle’s affordable housing needs.”
What I don’t feel comfortable with is ignoring the facts for political expediency.
Minimums sizes on micros, downzones of the low-rise capacity, and more and more fees won’t hurt profits –that’s not the point– it does hurt the person with less money to spend on housing because of each of things means higher rents and less supply and choice.
Perhaps you’ll take a different approach on the impact/linkage fee.
Glad to make our case there if we can.
I could go on. However, my point is that Burgess has always been engaged at the heart of housing issues and he has taken the time to respond to me honestly and seriously and with candor. He’s a good man and a worthy public servant who I believe takes his job very seriously.
But we’ve hardly seen eye to eye on housing. And I don’t think that he was as strong as he could and should have been in opposing — not just politely balancing — the wacky and out of sync performances of his colleague Councilmember Sawant. I know that I tried working with Sawant, offering to partner with her to push for edgy legislation to find a way to free up surplus City owned land to build housing. She listened, but it didn’t fit her narrative to work with a capitalist. And, in the end, I think she got bored of the wonkiness of the issue.
I can imagine the frustration Councilmember Burgess must have felt trying to deal with the emotional intensity of Sawant’s followers. But owed it to all of us people actually trying to make policy to do more. I feel like in the end, he was changed more by the tide than he shaped that tide. We needed consensus builders for more rational housing policy but it seemed like Burgess caved to many of the proposals offered by Sawant, even, at one point, passing a resolution in favor of rent control handing Sawant a victory.
I think Burgess was made for this moment, however. It’s almost as if this is his moment. I absolutely trust that he’ll put the city’s interests first, not his own legacy, during his 71 days as Mayor; and this I think will assure that he’ll legacy will end up being one of integrity and public service. I hope he doesn’t prove me wrong.

Comments are closed.