Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

May 20th, 2016

While our City continues to boom, attracting new jobs, development, and infrastructure, we know that not all members of our community benefit equally.  In fact, the increased pressures of our booming economy exacerbates our current housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and disproportionally harms low-income communities and communities of color. But I remain hopeful about our ability to grow and prosper without displacing the people, communities, and cultural anchors that make our city and neighborhoods great.

I have been reflecting on what it means for Seattle to grow and become a more equitable city as the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is being discussed across committees.  The Comprehensive Plan guides the city’s policy decisions around development and defines the vision we all have for a city where all people are able to thrive.  The plan includes goals and policies not only around urban growth, but also around transportation, community wellness, arts and culture, and how we engage community in planning.  To me, the plan is an opportunity to decide together what we want Seattle to look and feel like in the future.

Last May, council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored, to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into our Comprehensive Plan update.  Essentially, we asked that before making decisions about how to grow, we need to be able to define and measure displacement, beyond the antidotes we hear every day.  Who is being pushed out?  Of what neighborhoods?  And why?  How does growth impact communities differently? And how can we measure the where the greatest opportunities exist? The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has stepped up to this challenge.  OPCD has published both the Growth and Equity Analysis (GEA), which measures growth, displacement risk, and opportunity across the city, and the Equitable Development Implementation Plan (EDIP), which recommends strategies to ensure that as we grow, all communities benefit.  Staff continue to work in collaboration with communities most impacted by the threat and reality of displacement, who know best how to address their own needs as we grow.

I believe in the Growth and Equity Analysis’s Vision of an Equitable Seattle: Seattle will be a city with people of diverse cultures, races, and incomes. All people will thrive and be able to achieve their full potential regardless of race or means.  Our city’s neighborhoods will be diverse and will include community anchors, supports, goods and services and amenities so that our residents can lead healthy lives and can flourish. 

The equity analysis highlights the need for city-wide strategies as well as place-based strategies to ensure people thrive in place. This means not only considering how and where we grow, but investing in local community initiatives in places with high displacement risks and investment needs.  One example recommended in the EDIP that my office is excited to see to fruition is the Rainier Beach Innovations District (RBID).  The RBID is a community driven effort to focus transit oriented development (TOD) projects to produce decent quality jobs and create entrepreneurship opportunities for community members in Rainier Beach, bringing new economic development near the light rail station.  I believe investing in community-driven projects like the RBID are essential to our growth as a city.

In addition to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our community continues to take strides forward to achieve the goals and vision set forth in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).  We are taking essential steps toward building new, and protecting existing, affordable housing stock.

Access to quality affordable housing is key to anti-displacement.  Building new affordable housing is an essential way we are able to maintain Seattle’s racial and economic diversity and vibrancy, but it cannot be our only strategy against displacement. Keeping people in place enables communities to continue to thrive in the places they call home.  In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on housing affordability:

  • Seattle Housing Levy: Last month, the Council voted to place the Seattle Housing Levy on the August Ballot.  This Levy would create $290 million dollars to resource affordable housing.  Working with Councilmember Herbold, we added a loan program so that tenant-occupied buildings can be quickly acquired and preserved as long-term affordable rental housing or permanently affordable homeownership units.
  • Mandatory Housing Affordability: In addition to non-profit and community land trust efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, we hope to pass the Mandatory Housing Affordability- Residential legislation this summer.  This legislation would require all new multi-family and commercial development projects in the city contribute to creating 6,000 new units of affordable housing in the next ten years.  I am committed to ensuring our proposal meets this goal, and we would love to hear from you at a public hearing on June 21st.
  • Affordability in Single-Family Zones: In addition I want to see more opportunities for affordability across Seattle. Including in single family zones. I am hopeful that encouraging more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will be a big step towards this goal.
  • Tenant Protections: We are also pursuing increased tenant protections outlined in the HALA recommendations including protections that assure tenants are not discriminated against based on their source of income or background checks.  Essential to keeping people in place is assuring we protect tenants most vulnerable to being priced out of the city.

Over the coming months, my office will continue to explore creative anti-displacement strategies that create community ownership and opportunities to build on the strengths of the diverse communities that make Seattle home.  We plan to explore different models the city can pursue including:

  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land and are primarily used to create long-term affordable housing by removing land from the private market.  CLTs can also be used for commercial and retail properties.  We are looking at models locally and from around the county, such as Burlington, Vermont, which stewards 6% of the housing stock in the City. Here in Seattle, Homestead Community Land Trust has been working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families since 1992.
  • Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs offer ownership opportunities for lower-income people, and maintain affordability by limiting the resale value of the property.  We are interested in exploring how the city could support tenants interested in cooperatively owning their properties. There are many models for what these community-owned LEHCs can function and work with other models, including CLTs.

We are looking forward to working with other Councilmembers, departments, community-based organizations, tenant advocates, non-profit developers and land trusts working on creative ways to ensure development without displacement.  We hope to bring together local and national experts to learn more about how we can creatively keep people in place, and assure all of our communities benefit as Seattle grows.

Encouraging Safer Environments

April 26th, 2016

As you may have heard, last Saturday afternoon a young man, believed to be using methamphetamine, smashed a window of La Isla Restaurant in Ballard and proceeded to use a shard of glass to attack and injure two people on the sidewalk outside.

It is upsetting to see this happen in our community, and I can imagine it would have been terrifying to have experienced or witnessed it.  The question we are left with is: “how do we respond to this?” When an incident like this arises, we must ensure that our first responders are prepared to react immediately, and have the resources they need to address such situations. I want to acknowledge and thank the first responders who effectively and efficiently addressed this situation.

When thinking about safe environments generally, I am also focused on how we prevent instances like this from happening in the first place. As this work continues, I am engaging my staff in many different resources to help alleviate the public safety concerns in District 6. Much of this work comes from direct correspondence with constituents where my office has advised Multidisciplinary Outreach Teams (MDOT) to specific areas where activity is concentrated. My Office continues to engage with outreach workers and police officers to best address the community concerns.

I remain committed to implementing successful programs such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, an effort that has been proven to be more effective in moving people living in crisis to more stable situations. LEAD is a program that connects people who commit low-level drug and sex work activities to services instead of arrests. It has reduced criminal-recidivism rates by up to 60 percent and currently exists downtown and in select nearby neighborhoods. I would also like to support additional outreach workers through MDOT so that we can connect people to services instead of further isolating them. I support outreach workers on the street engaging with people who are living in crisis, sometimes because of addiction. These people are on the front line to both engage people suffering from addiction and direct them toward treatment options.

I will continue to encourage safer environments in District 6, our communities, and our city. My staff will also continue their role in engaging with constituents to meet the community needs of public safety. Supporting public safety and increasing connections for people and our communities is a collective action and I look forward to doing that work with each of you.

In Community,


Greenwood Food Bank Response

April 1st, 2016

Recently, many residents of District 6 and Seattle have contacted my Office regarding the Greenwood Food Bank, and I wanted to address your concerns. For background, in 2014, the Human Services Department (HSD) for the City of Seattle awarded 26 agencies a total of $3.1 million to provide food and meals to low income individuals and families who are food insecure from 2015-2018. These investments range from food banks, to home delivery meals, and meal site programs.

I am committed to ensuring that our City addresses the needs of people living in poverty. I took the claims of the Greenwood Food Bank very seriously and investigated the issue. I found that the media report around the Greenwood Food Bank was inaccurate. My staff, colleagues and I met with the Human Services Department (HSD) and representatives from Volunteers of America, which sponsors the food bank in question. We learned that Volunteers of America planned on relocating Greenwood Food Bank regardless city funding. The Volunteers of America has relocated their services to Bitterlake and made their consumer base aware of the move before it occurred. The majority of their consumers reside in closer proximity to the new location making travel to and from much easier. I am glad to know that the food bank has relocated to better serve its consumers and ensure access.

I want to share a bit about the process for the funding information from the City.  The Human Services Department (HSD) is responsible for awarding funds to social service agencies who provide services, including to food banks.  As directed by the Mayor, HSD began instituting funding awards through a competitive process to follow a performance-based investment practice. This means organizations and agencies needed to demonstrate their effectiveness to receive funding. Those that do not initially qualify have opportunities to work with HSD to learn about performance-based practices and to better understand the application process. Volunteers of America’s application did not reach the correct criteria for this investment cycle. But, that decision did not mean there was a loss of funding overall.  Rather, the entire amount of $3.1 million to provide meals and food remained and was allocated to fourteen other food banks.

Many of you have also asked why the funds used to acquire the bike share program could not be used towards homelessness services. I want to stress that the funds located in the transportation budget and the federal grant specific to bike share and street projects could not have been allocated for any separate projects. I do appreciate these thoughts and your participation and will continue my work in addressing homelessness.

Food access and other issues of homelessness are best addressed when we look at root causes. I was honored to have my work recently highlighted by a Food Lifeline newsletter in discussing hunger and food access. In the newsletter, I mentioned, “all of these things intersect with hunger, from climate change impacting the food supply to economic inequalities and homelessness limiting access to adequate nutrition.” I believe that by promoting policies that address income inequality, homelessness, and environmental equity, we can simultaneously impact food access.

Thank you again for contacting my office.

Investing in Bike Share – Public Ownership, Public Accountability

March 15th, 2016

In October 2014 Seattle joined many other municipalities in welcoming bike share as a component of our public transit system. One hundred and forty thousand rides later, the bike share program Pronto continues to grow, but now requires a public investment to continue operations and to expand its network.  We faced a decision to either make this investment and maintain existing service or allow the system to cease operations with the possibility of starting a new system in the future.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have received many messages from constituents both asking me to support bike share as well as to let the current program dissolve. All of your communications are extremely important to me and I use your thoughts to help guide my decision. I would like to highlight my own thoughts and explain why I am choosing to support public ownership of Pronto, with greater public oversight.

Pronto currently has 3,000 members who utilize bike share to get around. Through public testimony and constituent messages, it has become very clear to me that bike share is essential to many Seattle residents. A robust bike share system has succeeded with public investment in many cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. Some have suggested that bike share should be operated by a private company. Only one municipality has a completely private system – New York City – which is sustained through a massively larger population, high usage by tourists, and a distinctly concentrated network in the wealthier areas of the City. I have serious concerns that a completely privatized program in Seattle would be similarly focused and only serve higher income neighborhoods. In contrast, a public system that incorporates community input will result in a more sustainable and equitable system for our city, and will complement our burgeoning public transportation network of bus and light rail.

Now that the city has recommitted to our bike share system through this investment, here are some improvements I expect to see in the remainder of 2016:

  • Repositioning some of the stations to better serve the needs of existing and potential users. Ensuring that stations are both visible and accessible is a key to success and with over a year’s worth of data I expect some underperforming stations will be moved to better locations.
  • Coordinating existing service with new light rail infrastructure. This weekend new light rail stations open on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium.  While both have Pronto stations within a few blocks, there are opportunities to work with Sound Transit to reposition bike stations closer to the light rail stations.
  • Increased marketing efforts.  Now that the uncertainty about the future of bike share has been removed and warm weather is just around the corner, promotion of the existing system will increase and hopefully attract new users.
  • Better access for low income riders.  While a low income program currently exists, it can be expanded to coordinate with other low income transportation resources, such as the ORCA Lift program and discounted car-share options.

As we look to expand the system in 2017, you can expect to see more stations and more bikes, which means both better access in the areas currently served by Pronto and a reach into new neighborhoods.  A bigger network will mean many new opportunities for people to use the system.  This will also be an opportunity to streamline membership through a shared ORCA card, design the system to better work for low income communities and people whose first language isn’t English, and possibly employ newer technologies such as electric assist bikes.

I continue to appreciate the comments and agree with some of the critiques of Pronto and I have heard a call for greater public oversight. At the Full Council meeting yesterday, I sponsored an amendment that calls for more Council input in evaluating the request for proposals, so that we can better ensure the ideas above come to fruition.

Public ownership of bike share is an exciting proposition. I am choosing to build upon our current base of 3,000 Pronto members and our bike sharing infrastructure, and I sincerely believe that with our support bike share will expand, increase membership, and continue to be an integral piece of our transit system. All other modes of transportation have experienced similar growing pains. Now is the time for us to invest in this mode of sustainable transportation.

In Community,




It has come to the attention of this Office that the Councilmember was originally provided incorrect information and the number of members for Pronto is currently 1,900. It is important to also note that policy decisions for this issue were actually based on the number of trips, which is not correlated with the number of memberships.

Delta 5’s Victory ‘A win for the planet’

January 15th, 2016

SEATTLE, Washington – Councilmember Mike O’Brien issued the following statement regarding today’s ruling in the Delta 5 case, in which five climate activists used civil disobedience to blockade a train transporting Bakken shale oil at the Delta rail yard in Everett. The jury in the case ruled the Delta 5 were not guilty of obstruction and will face no jail time. Earlier this week, Snohomish County Judge Anthony Howard allowed the Delta 5 to defend their civil disobedience using “necessary defense,” a justification that their actions were necessary to help stop climate change.

“Today’s victory for Delta 5 is uncommon, unprecedented, and further proof that the tide is turning. Together, they risked their lives on those tracks in an act of civil disobedience for the climate.”

“Congress has repeatedly chosen to ignore the threat of climate change, making direct action to fight climate change not only warranted but necessary. I will continue to do what I can personally and professionally to both regulate coal and oil trains here in Seattle and participate in the broader movement to fight climate change.”

“Abbey, Michael, Patrick, Jackie and Liz helped secure a win for the planet and are on the right side of history. Today I stand with the Delta 5 who, with today’s ruling, helped remind the world of the huge risks oil trains pose to our community.”

# # #

My 2016 Inauguration Speech

January 5th, 2016

(Remarks presented as prepared, see Seattle Channel for the full video and remarks as delivered.)

Mike & Courtney Inauguration 2016

Mike after being sworn in by Courtney Burnett Lauer

This is a new beginning for me, but so many of the challenges we face are not new, and Courtney’s story really embodies some of our biggest challenges in the coming years.

Courtney and her family moved to Seattle like so many of us, looking for a better opportunity for her family.

But the promise of new opportunity doesn’t come true for everyone, and Courtney, her husband and their three kids found themselves sleeping in Woodland Park, struggling to stay fed, warm and dry each day.

After spending time in the park, in motels, and in Nickelsville, Courtney and her family were able to find a home in transitional housing, where they live today.

But even that is not the stable, secure housing that she needs for peace of mind and for her children to be able to settle into their schools. Courtney needs to be out of her current apartment by the end of March.

To make matters worse, she actually has a Section 8 voucher that she could use to help house her and her family in Seattle, if only she could find a place in the city that will accommodate her family and take her voucher. That voucher expires at the end of February, and after that we don’t know what her family will do.

We hear too many stories like Courtney’s in Seattle.

Seattle is changing rapidly, and while our economy is booming today, too many people are struggling to survive in our city.

We all know the rent is too damn high, we all know we are severely short of the number of affordable housing units we need, and we all know Seattle is currently under a state of emergency around homelessness.

We must do something to address this cognitive dissonance of economic realities in our city, where some families are feeling the boom and others are feeling the bust.

In my new term as Councilmember to District 6, I will continue working on these issues that are gripping the city—housing affordability and homelessness—because I know my district is feeling them too.

We must center the experiences of families like Courtney’s, families struggling to find a place to call home. We must focus on addressing the challenges they face if we are going to be a truly equitable city.

So in the coming year, I want to focus on ensuring the next Seattle Housing Levy is as big and robust as possible, so we can create more affordable housing for more people who need it.

That means we also need to continue outreach and engagement with every neighborhood in Seattle around this Grand Bargain we reached last year, to ensure that the 20,000 new affordable units it calls for and the 6,000 new units that private development will help create can come to fruition.

This Council must also continue fighting for more shelter and safe places to be at night for people who don’t have a place of their own to call home. Families like Courtney’s aren’t well served by our current shelter system, and no child should experience homelessness, so we must do more, try more, and yes, even invest more if it means getting more people and families inside at night.

Of course, I am also excited to take on the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, and with the passage of Move Seattle last fall this Council has much work to do to ensure those projects that are fix streets, building new bike lanes and sidewalks, and creating a more reliable and accessible transit system are all coming in on time and on budget.

And we must continue Seattle’s leadership on fighting climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, especially with regards to our transportation system.

But at the end of the day, we cannot forget about Courtney and her family and their struggles to get by in this city, which many of us, myself included, consider one of the finest cities in the world.

But we must show that Seattle is great, not just say it. And showing it means finding new solutions to old problems like housing, homelessness and poverty.

2015 Year in Review

December 31st, 2015

SHell NO!It feels like an understatement to say that 2015 has been an incredible year. Seattle continues to be at the forefront of a bold, progressive movement in our country, continually demonstrating that cities can lead the way forward to a just economy and healthy environment.

Of course, we face huge challenges too, particularly with regard to issues like housing affordability and homelessness, but we are facing our challenges head on. I believe we are making progress in some areas and breaking new ground in others.

Here are some of the gains we made in 2015 in the areas of equitable development, transportation, sustainability, and social and racial justice.

Equitable Development – Seattle continues to grow in population and jobs, meaning that our economy is also soaring right now. Nevertheless, many people in Seattle are left out of this boom time. Rapid growth and rising rents are contributing to displacement of communities and cultural anchors. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by this displacement. The ongoing fight for more affordable housing is about ensuring that Seattle is a place where all people have the opportunity to live and prosper. We want to preserve the diversity of people, communities, and neighborhoods that makes Seattle so special.

This was my final year as Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, and in that committee we spent a lot of time focusing on issues of equitable development that we started exploring in 2014. I also chaired the new Select Committee on Housing Affordability, which Council created to engage with Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) recommendations, which came out in July.

  • In May Council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into Major Comprehensive Plan update that is under development in the new Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) (learn more at seattle.gov). This resolution means our future planning will consider displacement risk factors when targeting growth and future infrastructure investments. In the budget process this fall, we also created a new position in OPCD that will be responsible for incorporating an equity analysis into all of our future planning work.
  • This year also saw some tremendous gains in our fight for more affordable housing in Seattle. For the first time in our city, all new multifamily residential and commercial development will be required to help produce new affordable housing as a result of the “Grand Bargain” that was struck between the City, developers (both for profit and non-profit), and affordable housing advocates. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program (a.k.a., “Commercial Linkage Fee”) are the main components of this bargain and are direct descendants of the linkage fee legislation my office has been working on for the past two years. The Grand Bargain will also require future upzones in our multifamily and mixed-use zones (coming in 2017), and 2016 will see the City conducting extensive outreach and engagement over these proposals.
  • This year also saw my office laying the foundation for legislation we plan to pursue in 2016 to expand opportunities for more backyard cottages and mother-in-law units throughout the city (known as “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs, and “detached accessory dwelling units,” or DADUs). We hosted a couple of public presentations on the issue and helped produce this report.
  • Finally, through partnerships with many in the community and Councilmember Licata’s office, we strengthened tenants’ rights in Seattle by eliminating loopholes in our Just Cause Eviction Ordinance to prevent landlords from drastically raising rents on low-income tenants for the purpose of evicting them without providing relocation assistance.

Sustainability & Transportation – I will always remember 2015 as the year Seattle said a big “SHell No!” to drilling in the Arctic. But it wasn’t all about the kayaktivism, as I really tried to focus my work on supporting community-led efforts against the exploitation of our natural resources for profit. I also had a chance to go to Paris to be a part of the global climate conference there, and it was incredible to see what cities are doing around the world to make meaningful strides towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

The fight for the future of our life on this planet is not just about standing up to big oil. In fact, the most important thing we can do locally is to create viable alternatives for people to get around without the use of fossil fuels, and that is where my passion for expanding transit access and improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure comes from. We must offer people choices and other ways to get around. This will be my top priority as the new Chair of the Sustainability and Transportation Committee in 2016.

  • I worked with community members and organizations from South Park, Georgetown, and Delridge to create and adopt Resolution 31567, establishing a greater role for the City of Seattle in remedying one of the largest environmental and economic injustices in our city – the Duwamish Superfund site. This resolution will help us coordinate outreach efforts in the cleanup area and identify ongoing City projects that serve resident, tribal, and fishing communities in the Duwamish River Valley.
  • While we continued our ongoing work to fight oil trains from endangering our city, this year’s real battle over fossil fuels took place in Elliot Bay. I joined with activists and organizers from Seattle and across the country protest Shell Oil’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. This fight came to Seattle when Shell made secret plans with the Port of Seattle to store their drilling rigs in Elliott Bay. For the first time in my life, I participated in civil disobedience that put me at risk of arrest by joining with others to blockade the oil rig from leaving the Port and heading up to the Arctic. Additionally, I authored Resolution 31576 stating that the City of Seattle opposes drilling in the Arctic. We also worked with the Mayor to request that our Department of Planning and Development review the permits the Port held for Terminal 5 to determine whether they were appropriate for Shell’s proposed use there. Altogether, our combined actions help win in the court of public opinion. In late September, Shell announced they were no longer pursuing Arctic oil exploration due to, among other things, the “unpredictable regulatory environment” that our actions helped create.
  • I owe a big thank you to all who supported the Move Seattle Levy this past November, because without this additional funding, we would not be able to make the investments needed to help create the transportation choices we want to see in the city. The Move Seattle Levy includes great projects in every part of the city. I am particularly excited for funding for a new infill light rail station at Graham Street along the current Link line in Southeast Seattle. I am also thrilled over funding to help build a new pedestrian bridge over I-5 to connect North Seattle College and the neighborhoods on the West side of the freeway with the future light rail stop at Northgate. Move Seattle funds will also help us build more projects in our Bike and Pedestrian Master Plans, as well as more safe routes to schools for our students.
  • I am also very excited about a new investment that I championed in the budget that will expand access to ORCA cards for low-income students in Seattle Public Schools. Currently, middle and high school students who live more than 1.5 miles or 2 miles, respectively, from their school must walk or drive to and from school every day. This makes it difficult for many students to get to school on time or participate in after school activities, and many students in some neighborhoods fear for their safety. So a group of students at Rainier Beach High School began advocating for more bus passes for these students, and we were able to secure $1 million in City funding to work with King County Metro and Seattle Public Schools to help get thousands more ORCA cards into students hands. We are still working out the details now, but are hoping to get these cards to students by February of 2016.

Racial & Social Justice – We have made great strides towards racial and social justice in this country and our city, but we still have so much further to go. I am proud of some of our accomplishments this year and know that we will continue our progress in the years to come.

  • It has been a number of years in the making, but early in 2015 we finally passed our Priority Hire Ordinance, which is about making sure that we are hiring locally when we put our tax dollars into local public works projects. Through this new process, we will also be creating new career pathways for people historically facing barriers to the construction field. This was over two years of work by my office, many in City government, and numerous stakeholders, and is something we can all be proud of.
  • Seattle took some big steps to address the homeless crisis we are experiencing. Early in the year, we passed a bill to permit up to three homeless encampments in the city. While not a long-term solution to homelessness, I believe an encampment can be a safer place for someone to be than under a bridge, as well as a place where folks can live in community with others and get access to the services they may need to get back on their feet. We opened two new encampments in Ballard and Interbay this fall and will be monitoring them closely to see what we can learn and improve upon. We also passed a state of emergency on homelessness and dedicated over $7.5 million in new, one-time funding in the City’s budget to help tackle the urgent need in our communities. This work is ongoing and will be a major focus of 2016, but it is clear we need to continue taking action to help ensure everyone has a roof over their heads.
  • This year I also worked with a number of young activists and organizers of color to adopt Resolution 31614, stating the City of Seattle’s vision to detain zero young people and develop new policies and strategies to eliminate the need for youth detention. The criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates youth of color—for example, two-thirds of 2012 bookings to the youth detention center were young people of color, though they make up a far smaller proportion of the population. Additionally, we secured $500,000 in the 2016 budget for small grants to help fund community-based alternatives to youth detention.
  • Just this month, City Council passed the Voice for Drivers legislation that my office championed in partnership with people who drive in a for-hire capacity for a living. While we have made great gains for workers in Seattle with new labor standards and increased minimum wage, we know that drivers in the for-hire industry are left out by virtue of their status as independent contractors. This means that many African and Southeast Asian immigrants and their communities miss out on those gains too, as they make up the vast majority of drivers in this industry. Past efforts at regulating this industry have come up short, so I put forward this legislation to give drivers at taxi, for-hire and transportation network companies (e.g., Uber, Lyft) a voice on the job and the opportunity to negotiate for better pay and working conditions. What we are seeing in this industry is a race to the bottom, but we know workers are stronger when they organize together to use their collective voice to make an impact in their working conditions. We have seen this throughout the history of this country, from factory workers that came together to fight for safer working conditions and the 8-hour workday over 100 years ago to the fast food workers who are leading the Fight for $15 today.
  • Finally, I am thrilled to say that Honest Elections are coming to Seattle. This initiative approved by voters is something I have long been fighting for, and was all about getting money out of politics and creating a public financing system for local elections. When fundraising is no longer the most important aspect of running for office, we open the door to candidates who previously could not access the wealthy people who make up the donor class in politics. When candidates are not spending all their time making fundraising calls, they are spending more of their valuable time talking to more voters about the issues most important to them, many of whom are disenfranchised and have never been asked to participate in the political process in this way. Honest Elections is just another example of Seattle leading the way on progressive new solutions to the problems of inequity we continue to face.

As you can see, it has been an incredible, busy year here for me and my staff. We are honored to serve you and are excited to continue working to bring about a city that embodies our vision of a city that works for our people and protects our planet. Thank you for your engagement on these and other issues throughout the year.

Happy Holidays,
Mike O’Brien


Update on Affordable Housing Work

September 3rd, 2015

I continually hear from people in our city struggling to keep up with rising rents. That is why I have been working to ensure that as Seattle grows, new development helps pay for new affordable housing.

For me, this work dates back to 2013, when the Council debated the rezone and affordability requirements in South Lake Union. During that rezone, it become clear that we could not meet Seattle’s affordability needs with voluntary programs and tax subsidies. I knew then we would need a citywide, mandatory program that required affordable housing to be included in new market-rate development.

We are lucky to have a booming technology sector attracting high-wage jobs and skilled workers to Seattle, but this growth also required us to pause and ask how will we continue to be affordable for all the residents and workers who do not have those high-wage jobs?  And who will pay for the infrastructure to serve them?

I’ve met the workers in security works and janitorial jobs created by the tech boom in Seattle.  These community members deserve to live in the city with the ability to walk and ride transit to work, just as much as the high-paid tech workers in the same building. See more about our affordable housing needs and the history of Council’s work in this area on this infographic from a previous blog post.

So I was excited to stand with Mayor Murray to announce the introduction of the legislation behind the “Grand Bargain.” The Grand Bargain itself represents 6,000 desperately needed, new affordable units that we cannot build fast enough—especially not for those in need today. The two key components of this bill are the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program—which will require affordable units are produced with new residential development—and the Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program, more commonly known as the commercial linkage fee—which will ensure that fees collected on commercial development will support new affordable housing construction. These 6,000 new units will be in addition to the thousands of units that the City funds with an expanded housing levy, multi-family tax exemptions, and state and federal resources. All told, we are aiming to create 20,000 new affordable units over the next ten years.

The Council has begun our legislative process in the Select Committee on Housing Affordability, which I will be Chairing. Here are three of the first items we took up in the committee:

  • Resolution 31609 – A resolution that lays out the Council’s workplan for addressing the HALA recommendations and other affordable housing goals.
  • A Resolution to lay out the framework for developing the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. This resolution establishes the Council’s specific intent in considering future upzones to implement a citywide mandatory inclusionary zoning program for multifamily residential development and an affordable housing impact mitigation program for commercial development. It also establishes minimum expectations for planning studies and public outreach and engagement that must precede Council consideration of implementing legislation.
  • An ordinance to implement the Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program, more commonly known as the Commercial Linkage Fee. We will get to work on this legislation first and my goal is to pass something by the end of this year. That said, it too relies on future upzones, so it will not go into effect and begin collecting fees until we implement the MIH program, sometime in 2017. This bill had its own public hearing on September 30, 2015 at 5:30 in Council Chambers.

Finally, we held a Public Hearing on Wednesday, September 9 (flyer) on this housing affordability work, and we need your voices to weigh in on the issues you see with affordability in Seattle. The HALA Committee has spoken. Now it is your turn. If you are a worker or family who can’t afford housing in the City, we want to hear from you about the unit types and neighborhoods that best meet your housing needs.  If you are a home-owner or advocate working in solidarity, we need to hear that you are ready to make your neighborhood accessible to individuals and families across the economic spectrum and that inclusionary housing has neighborhood support.

I hope you will join us at public hearings and/or weigh in with Councilmembers by emailing us at council@seattle.gov. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions by emailing mike.obrien@seattle.gov or calling 206-684-8800.



A Voice for Drivers

August 31st, 2015

For the past few years, Seattle has been on a mission to make sure that every worker in this city has the opportunity to earn a living wage. We’ve made wage theft a crime, expanded paid sick and safe leave to workers across the city, and instituted a new minimum wage that will see workers many making $15 in another year and a half.

Yet we know that for all of our progress, there are workers in some industries and some communities that are still left behind. More specifically, we know that drivers in the for hire industry are left out from many of these gains, which means that many African and Southeast Asian immigrants are left out too, since they make up the vast majority of drivers in this industry.

So I am proud to announce the next step in Seattle’s fight for economic justice. It is an industry specific approach that will bring incredible new opportunities to our immigrant and refugee communities.

Next week, I will introduce legislation that would give drivers at taxi, for-hire and transportation network companies a voice on the job and the opportunity to negotiate for better pay and working conditions.

We know workers in a company or industry are stronger when they organize together to use their collective voice to make an impact in their working conditions. We’ve seen this throughout the history of this country, from factory workers that came together to fight for safer working conditions and the 8-hour workday over 100 years ago to the fast food workers who are leading the Fight for $15 today.

What we are seeing today in the ride-for-hire industry is a race to the bottom. Last week I met with a driver that works for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar who told me that after he got done with his 2014 taxes, factoring in both all his taxes and his deductions, he took home an average $2.75/hour.

This young man actually left a job paying minimum wage with the hope and promise that he could make even more money and set his own schedule by driving for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

Yet instead of fulfilling that promise, he wakes up every morning and hopes he’ll be able to get access to the apps and rides he needs to make his car payment, pay his rent, afford food and clothes and maybe even have something left over to put in the bank or go to the movies.

He is willing to work hard and he does, often putting in 60 hour weeks just to get by. He’s willing to invest in his own success, as evidenced when he went into debt to his friends and family so he could buy the car he needed to drive professionally.

But despite this willingness to succeed, the companies he works for have set artificially low rates, less than $2/mile. They charge a buck a ride for insurance, even though the drivers must also carry their own personal insurance. They pass along a regulatory fee that is charged to the companies. And after all that, they take 20% commissions out of whatever is left. In this young man’s case, he is also still paying off that car that his company helped finance for him, so they take another $100 out of each paycheck.

And like so many other drivers in his situation, he feels stuck. He knows that on his own he is powerless to change his situation. Together with his fellow drivers, he may just have a chance.

This young man’s situation is illustrative of the broader issue these drivers face. Classified by their employers as independent contractors, these drivers have no right to the basic workplace protections many of us take for granted–such as the minimum wage, overtime, restroom and meal breaks, access to social insurance programs like unemployment insurance, protection from retaliation, the list goes on.

These companies like Uber and Lyft are making billions off these drivers, yet the drivers have no say in their role with the companies. They are taking advantage of an unfair working situation for the drivers, and we must innovate and try a new approach to help these drivers realize Seattle’s dream that everyone can make a living wage.

To further this point about the race to the bottom, I think it is helpful to compare these business practices utilized by Uber and others to an employer widely recognized—at least here in Seattle—as being bad for workers: Walmart.

Even Walmart has to pay their employees minimum wage, give them bathroom breaks, and pay them overtime if they put in more than their 40 hours/week. Uber does not.

When Walmart wants to expand and add a new store in a new city, they have to raise the capital and bear the risk of the expansion. Uber comes into a city and demands that the drivers put up the capital and bear the risk for their company’s expansion.

When Walmart wants to offer a deep discount to help drive more business, those discounts come out of corporate profits, not their employees paychecks. When Uber offers 20% off for the weekend, that discount comes straight out of the drivers’ paychecks, and Uber still gets its 20% commission.

We have got to stop this race to the bottom. It goes against everything we are trying to do here in Seattle to fight income inequality. It goes against everything we are trying to do here in Seattle to create the opportunities for our immigrant and refugee communities to pursue their dreams and to support their families and communities.

So we are innovating. We are trying something new. For the first time, the City will play a key role in helping give these drivers a voice and a chance to organize and come together to negotiate with these companies over the issues they are facing on the job.

Here is how this legislation would work:

  1. All drivers who have a Seattle for-hire vehicle licenses that have performed a minimum threshold of trips will be eligible for collective representation (this includes drivers who meet these criteria that work for Taxi, For-Hire, and/or Transportation Network Companies).
  2. The City of Seattle will certify organizations as eligible Driver Representative Organizations. In order to qualify, these organizations must:
    • Be registered as non-profit organizations in the State of Washington.
    • Have organization bylaws that give drivers the right to be members of the organization and participate in the democratic control of the organization.
    • Have experience in reaching consensus agreements with, or related to, employers and contractors.
  1. Driver Representative Organizations will receive a list of eligible drivers at each company from the City and have 120 days to demonstrate that a majority of drivers for a specific company choose to be represented.
  2. Once verified, the Driver Representative Organization will have the ability to engage in collective bargaining over pay and working conditions on behalf of those represented drivers.
  3. The City of Seattle will review any final collective bargaining agreements to ensure compliance with City code.

This is unlike anything we have tried or seen tried before. But we know we have to try something. We’ve tried regulation before, and we have seen both in Seattle and in cities around the world how averse these companies are to any regulation. So we are taking a new approach—giving power to the workers to negotiate directly with their employers.

This is truly groundbreaking legislation supported by the likes of the App-Based Drivers Association, the National Employment Law Project, Working Washington, One America, Puget Sound Sage, and the Sierra Club. These groups support this because they both value the transportation choice that this industry provides, but also believe that companies in Seattle should pay their workers fairly, and everyone should have the opportunity to earn a living wage.

I hope you will join me in supporting a voice for drivers by supporting this legislation.

Proposed Changes to Single Family Zones

July 17th, 2015

There has been a lot of discussion and disagreement about some of the recommendations that came out of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee (HALA), specifically around the recommendations regarding the future of our single family zones. It appears that even among some members of the HALA committee there are different interpretations about the single family zone recommendations. Regardless of the intent of the members of HALA, the recommendations are now before the City Council, and we will be making decisions on which recommendations we will be moving forward and in what form and on what timeline.

I am writing today with my position on the recommendations and the role that single family zoned land should play in addressing affordability.

  • On Backyard Cottages: The HALA report suggests expanding opportunities for backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in our single family neighborhoods. I support this recommendation. These housing types are already allowed in all single family zones in Seattle and often provide more affordable opportunities for people to live in our great neighborhoods without dramatically changing the physical scale of the neighborhood. Last fall the council passed Resolution 31547 asking DPD and HALA to explore ways the encourage more of these housing types in our single family neighborhoods.
  • On Rezoning Single Family lots to Multi-Family: The report also suggests rezoning a small portion of single family property within our urban villages and along arterials with frequent transit to multi-family or mixed-use zoning (see this map of proposed changes). This would amount to a change to only 6% of all of the land currently zoned for single family use. Along with Downtown and South Lake Union, our urban villages throughout the city are where we have chosen to direct the vast majority of our growth in Seattle. Most land in our urban villages is already zoned commercial or multi-family (see this map for detail), and I believe that in order to provide additional zoning capacity for multi-family uses, it makes the most sense to first look to our urban villages.

The idea of rezoning single family properties along arterials with access to frequent transit is intriguing and requires further exploration and study. I can envision areas where this would make sense and areas where it would not. I believe this portion of the recommendation should be examined on a case by case basis with particular focus on ensuring that areas where we decide to allow multi-family housing are well served by transit and other amenities that residents would need.

  • On other changes to Single Family Zones: Many people are concerned that the HALA recommendations call for rezoning all single family zoning to multi-family zoning. I do not support zoning changes that would lead to rapid redevelopment of our single family zones and the replacement of existing single family housing with newly constructed multi-family housing. I don’t believe this will help with affordability. However, if there are creative ways to allow families to convert existing housing in single family zones to allow families to share a house, beyond the mother-in-law apartment model we already have, I am open to exploring that. On properties where redevelopment makes more sense for structural reasons or out of necessity, I would like to see the new buildings take the same size and scale of buildings already allowed in the neighborhood, even if it means more people live in those buildings.

A critical factor for me in evaluating policies in these areas will be supporting policies that maintain existing structures in single family zones and opposing policies that encourage replacement of existing housing stock within the single family zone.

I want to also share a bit about process going forward. None of these changes will happen without significant City Council deliberation and public input. This fall, the Council plans to craft and pass a resolution that would identify which of the recommendations from HALA we plan to prioritize in our upcoming work, what committees that work will go through, and what the anticipated timeline for that work is. We may also use the resolution as an opportunity to clarify the Council’s interpretation of any HALA recommendations that are causing confusion. This resolution itself will go through its own public process which will include at least three special committee meetings and a public hearing between now and the end of September. Our first meeting of the Select Committee on Housing Affordability will be this coming Monday, July 20, where we will receive a briefing on the whole HALA package of recommendations. You can sign up here to receive the agendas for these meetings via email.

With the exception of the ordinance to create the Commercial Linkage Fee for Affordable Housing, which I intend to pass in 2015, all other ordinances will happen in 2016 or later.

I will soon have another post describing the historic agreement we reached in the HALA negotiations that will sets a progressive new paradigm for development in Seattle—soon all new buildings in the city will include or contribute to affordable housing.

Thanks and let me know if you have any additional questions, comments or concerns.

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