Jim Wallis, the longtime leader of the progressive Christian activist group Sojourners, is credited with coining the phrase that “a budget is a moral document” — meaning that for government budgets, the assumptions, priorities and choices made in those hundreds of pages of annual line items have impacts on the lives of real people. Budgets are the moral choices of the political leaders who pass them.
By many measures then, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $4.8 billion 2015-16 budget for the City of Seattle is an immoral document.
Murray’s office has been promoting the inclusion of $1.5 million in new services (and funding to cover previous unbudgeted shelter costs) to address Seattle’s exploding homeless population.
The fact that 2015 will be Year 10 of King County’s “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness” might suggest that more status quo, Band-Aid approaches to housing and homelessness won’t work any better next year than they have in the past decade. Murray might, just possibly, ask why more people than ever are living on our streets.
Actually, he does, sort of: His budget includes money for two years of study by a new Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee to determine why Seattle doesn’t have enough affordable housing. Think of it as Seattle’s “45,921-Year Plan to Create Affordable Housing.”
Murray’s approach is like paying 20 people to dig a hole while you pay a 21st person to study why your hole keeps getting deeper. Seattle doesn’t need to study its affordable housing problem: the answer is breathtakingly obvious. When you spend decades tearing down existing affordable housing to make way for record numbers of new, high-priced housing (a staggering 25,000 new units just in the past three years, with far more in the pipeline), when you basically underwrite developers’ massive new schemes in the name of a particularly upscale kind of density and when every discretionary transportation dollar is spent not on transportation but on improving real estate values, this is what you get.
For each of the past four years, Seattle has had the highest rent increases of any large U.S. city, and 2014 will be no exception. Even the middle class is being priced out of the city, a phenomenon that is an entirely predictable consequence of years of budgets just like the one Murray is proposing. “Studying” the issue is a polite way to justify continuing to make the problem worse for at least the next two years.
By any objective measure, Seattle is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom. There hasn’t been this much new construction since gold was discovered in the Yukon. Downtown and South Lake Union alone have scores of new high-rises under construction, and neighborhoods across the city are riddled with detours and orange cones to accommodate the cranes. Unemployment is relatively low; retail districts are bustling.
But all this is coming at a price. The environmental, anti-sprawl veneer given to the city’s zealous promotion of marketrate density dulls pretty quickly when working- and middle-class residents are forced to move to Renton or Everett to find affordable rents. Then they need cars to commute because of inadequate public transit that is impractical for anyone needing to travel on, say, evenings or weekends, or with multiple stops.
Most people aren’t young, able-bodied and childless; we can’t just bicycle everywhere. (For those who try to stay in Seattle, not to worry: We’ll have more patrol officers to deal with you.)
The mayor’s budget doubles down on the vision of former Mayor McGinn of an idealized Seattle in which most of its residents are childless, 30-something, well-paid hipster tech workers. Some of us are, but most of us aren’t.
Sadly, the moral of Murray’s budget story is that the rest of us don’t much matter.
Article Title: Mayor Murray’s proposed budget promotes an idealized Seattle, just like former Mayor Mike McGinn’s budget