Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Urbanists and Advocates Agree that Linkage Fees are “An Essential Tool for Affordability”

A local urbanist, Owen Pickford, in a popular urbanist magazine literally called “The Urbanist,” recently published a call to urbanist action to support linkage fees.  His article provides the strongest evidence yet that a linkage fee will build a better Seattle. Pickford methodically unpacks somewhat misleading arguments we’ve heard for a decade and half from big property owners and developers.  He then calls on his fellow urbanists to heal their myopia and see the bigger picture:

“(w)e can remain the smallest voice in this debate. We can continue to conflate regulatory costs with housing limits. We can continue to ignore the problem of increasing land values. We can continue advocating only for policies that lead to displacement and segregation. We can expend our energy fighting against regulatory costs when we should be fighting for reduced housing limits. We can continue to use narratives that explain-away evidence rather than seeking to understand. We can continue to give people the perception that we are adversaries of affordable housing and integration by opposing a policy that evidence shows would be beneficial.”

Source: The Urbanist, May 7th, 2015, "Why Urbanists Must Support Linkage Fees. . . "

Source: The Urbanist, May 7th, 2015, “Why Urbanists Must Support Linkage Fees. . . “

What’s an urbanist?

Urbanism is defined by Miriam Webster as “a) the characteristic way of life of city dwellers, or b) the study of the physical needs of urban societies,” but is often understood as a movement for urban density, walkability, public transportation, and other modern urban “aesthetics.”  Much appealing to the urbanist aesthetic is a value known as “vibrancy” which often goes hand-in-hand with the value of diversity, a.k.a. integration. However, the land-use and other policy decisions required to support both racial and economic diversity are often an afterthought, rather than a priority of decision-makers.

In our most recent op-ed, Puget Sound Sage also made the case for inclusionary housing programs by demonstrating a linkage fee will help prevent us from perpetuating land use patterns that perpetuate de facto segregation. De facto segregation is segregation inherited from a time of de jure segregation, like racial covenants or redlining. Linkage fees ask developers to set aside a small portion of new units as affordable or contribute to the city’s affordable housing fund. Because it would be applied broadly across the city, it requires only a modest contribution, but would become one of Seattle’s best tools to create affordable homes for low and moderate wage workers and families, because it would create new affordable housing within city limits, and mitigate the impacts of rising rents. Therefore, a linkage fee helps to prevent displacement, and contribute to the racial and economic diversity that both urbanists and social justice advocates hold dear.

The Growing Together Coalition, co-led by Puget Sound Sage and Housing Development Consortium, represents hundreds of individual signatories and over 50 organizational endorsers, including the some of the largest human service providers, faith, labor, housing, environmental, and social justice organizations in Seattle. All believe that the City of Seattle must pass an inclusionary housing program like the linkage fee, which would enable Seattle’s workers and their families to live near their jobs in the city.The Growing Together Coalition is pro-economic-growth, pro-density, pro-transit, pro-public investment, as well as pro-integration.

Pickford’s urbanism mirrors that of the Growing Together Coalition.  Pickford highlights that linkage fee opponents have been detrimental to the plight of urbanists because they conflate height and density limits with regulatory costs like a linkage fee.  He says this is a “mistake [that] has been detrimental to urbanists’ goals, creating an adversarial relationship between urbanists and affordable housing advocates. Furthermore, blurring the lines between housing limits and regulatory costs induces urbanists to overlook the most important factor in housing affordability: land values.”

In fact, Pickford’s article (which we will explain in layman’s terms in a separate post): 1) demonstrates that regulations like a linkage fee actually reduce land values, the increase of which contribute to our housing crisis for everyone, not just the extremely low-income; 2) provides evidence that linkage fees do not reduce supply of market-rate housing, but increase affordable housing production; and 3) calls on urbanists and social justice advocates to stand together because they ultimately share the same values.

This concept is not new – urbanists like Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the linkage fee legislation and others have long-supported social justice policies. If a linkage fee is not passed, the city would miss a significant opportunity to create thousands of permanently affordable homes where persons of color and people with lower incomes are experiencing displacement, like Southeast Seattle.  This means that Seattle will not be “vibrant” or diverse, values that urbanists hold dear.  In fact, demographic changes indicate that Seattle is becoming less diverse.

Last, Mayor Murray’s goals of creating 20,000 new affordable housing units in the next decade cannot be realized without a developer contribution program, even with the much needed renewal of the taxpayer supported Housing Levy. It is time to put to bed how linkage fees will end density as we know it, for good, if we want to live our values as urbanists and support economic growth, density and integration.

If you would like to stand with the 50+ organizational endorsers and individual petition signers in support of a linkage fee, visit our coalition website today!

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