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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 8, 2008 at 3:52 PM

Housing prices

Donkey-backwards

It’s rare I read or even expect good low-income-housing advice from The Times. Your Monday editorial supports my expectations [“A Hazardous Way To Price Housing,” editorial, Dec. 8].

Your true premise is to let the market decide, which you decline to say. You call incentives a “tax.” Incentives are a tax break. You bully readers with that well-known saw, “Tax a thing and you tend to get less of it.” What is true is that the market is not building affordable low-income housing. Incentives, optional or mandatory, are one way to deliver to cities some amount of housing affordable to lower-income households.

Developers will say housing for those making 60 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI) does not pencil out, though few ask to see those accounting numbers to confirm this claim.

We see too many, including a group led by former Seattle Mayor Charley Royer, pushing for incentives at 80 percent AMI (and above) and saying that lower-income segments “don’t pencil out.”

During the past dozen years, it seems to some observers that those building housing must make significant, beyond reasonable profit for consideration of any project. Times have changed. I’d be surprised if at least a few developers are not beginning to realize that having projects at all, especially those that provide truly affordable housing and a modest developer profit, exceeds the stranglehold in which developers have held cities for tax breaks, i.e. incentives, to do what the market already provides.

By extension, those most in need of this affordable housing continue to suffer. Among the missing pieces in your editorial is whether we make building affordable housing optional or mandatory. I’d guess you’d say that anything mandatory is a “tax.” For people who live by the word, you have surely gotten it donkey-backwards.

— Bill Kirlin-Hackett, Lynnwood

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