Sunday, September 22, 2019

Olympia housing post in two parts: Answering a question on Ron Rants and asking a question on Samuel Stein


Both of these came up at the same time, so I'm doing them in one post.

1. Answering Steve Salmi's question here first:
...Dan Leahy was right to “follow the money” regarding tax breaks for developers – including Ron Rants. Olympia would do well to display greater transparency in its decision making if it wishes to build the credibility of Missing Middle initiatives. 
For the sake of historical honesty, it would also be helpful to know if Ron Rants is now being subsidized to undo the very problems he helped to create – both as an elected official and a development industry leader.
On the first go around on this post, I actually noticed a few places where Ron Rants, in fact, sounded like a 2010s era urbanist.

First from May 1980:
Fellow commissioner Ron Rants said the existing policy didn't mesh with his personal view. The city should be encouraging mixed housing, he remarked. Mix housing includes having duplexes in single-family neighborhoods.
Then in September 1980:
Rants said the city, in fact, should encourage denser living patterns within city limits, to put an end to what he called rapid leap-frog growth to the county.
I will say that Steve's point that the city commission, which was on its way out in the early 80s, was certainly the body that laid the groundwork for a series of downzoning in the 80s and 90s, they didn't seem to be enthusiastic about putting on the density brakes. In fact, to me, it seems like the same populist dynamics that put in the city council form of government where the same dynamics that were also arguing for exclusive single-family zoning throughout the city.

2. In the past few months, the opponents of denser and less expensive housing in Olympia have started using Sam Stein's "Capital City" like a cudgel. Without really explaining how Stein's arguments about how the modern real estate industry works in regards to single-family zoning, they simply state that more options for buildings (for-profit, non-profit or government) would just allow for more building and builders are bad.

While this behavior does fall into the broader "why NIMBYs just hate developers" thing, it doesn't really center Stein's arguments in Olympia's history of downzoning. I poked around Stein's book for discussion on downzoning on a broader scale, like what happened in Olympia or Los Angeles in the last 50 years. 

A historic district, a contextual rezoning––which means changing the zoning rules to match what’s there right now––or a downzoning, which means in the future people will only be able to build smaller than what’s here right now. So it wasn’t even, I said neighborhood before, but it’s really block by block, block by block by race, so white blocks––predominantly white blocks––got protected, predominantly African American, Latino, and Asian blocks were subject to big, new development. And so, the result of that ends up looking like integration. If you look at those prior, mostly Black, Latino, and Asian blocks, and you see there was this luxury development that was built and suddenly all these white people moved in, now something else is happening. But at the same time, they cut off the ability to build out low-income and mixed-race development on those white blocks. And so, they were channeling integration in one way and cutting it off in the other. It’s like a one-way street that’s going––there’s a one way street and you’re moving in the wrong direction. If we want to do integration, we need to unsegregate those white spaces. The problem is not the concentration of people of color in neighborhoods that they built up over a long period of segregation and disinvestment. So that in many cities the integration that’s happening is the exact wrong way to do it.
In context to Olympia and the Northwest, this brings up a few things for me.

One, we've seen how the debate over changing single-family neighborhoods into "ghettos" has affected the course of Olympia housing policy. Calling people racists in historic terms is not fun, but I'm just going to leave that there.

Two, people who trot out Stein are also unironically talking about "nodes" of high-density growth in Olympia. There are places where added density that could take place in single-family neighborhoods should more appropriately go. And, unsurprisingly, when you poke around a block group map of white distribution around Olympia, places with a lot of apartments (existing "nodes") also have the fewest white people.

So, to my question: how is Stein's discussion of protecting white neighborhoods not like what happened and is happening in Olympia?

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