Lies, Damn Lies, and Semantics

The Urbanist blog is ┬áthat charging a stiff linkage fee on new development will have zero impact on the cost of housing, because it will “only” depress land values. They also repeat the claim that “housing prices increased dramatically” over recent years.

One issue with their claim is that their statistics mostly cover the years between 1990 and 2000, which makes them basically irrelevant to what’s happening in Seattle in 2015. (The one chart used to show gentrification between 2000 and 2010 really only shows rents increasing in South Lake Union, a data problem the blog brushes aside by saying other neighborhoods “didn’t qualify to be measured for gentrification” during those 10 years. Nonetheless, the blog’s Owen Pickford concludes, the anecdotes out there about mass gentrification “seem sincere.”

Another issue is that the situation in Seattle isn’t as simple as the mantra “affordability crisis” suggests. Currently, we’re in a boom cycle, when rents go up. Over the years, though, rents fluctuate, as the attached chart showing annual average rents over time makes clear. We can’t extrapolate long-term trends from an 8.5 percent rent increase during one year when tons of new apartments were coming on the market. Instead, we have to look at what has actually happened over time, and what has happened is that trends have fluctuated.

Additionally, Pickford uses the fact that more minority-led households tend to be severely cost-burdened to demonstrate that gentrification is rampant in Seattle. Again, the problem is that the chart he uses shows only a snapshot of the affordability situation in the 2006 to 2010 time frame. A snapshot is the opposite of a trend. Nowhere does that data indicate whether those numbers are going up, going down, or remaining stable.

Finally, the blog engages in some pretty weird revisionist history, claiming few “urbanists” have showed up at public meetings to testify in favor of city housing subsidies. Instead, they say, meetings have been “stacked with various affordable housing, social justice, and labor organizations advocating for the entire HALA package, including upzones.” What may be hard to fathom, when you divide the world into “urbanists” and “Social Justice and Affordable Housing Advocates” (caps Pickford’s), is that those folks ARE urbanists. The only people who have trouble with this concept are those who can’t fathom that big-U urbanists and housing advocates are working in concert. They’re less interested than bloggers and commenters at places like the Urbanist in semantics and Special Capitalized Factions, and more interested in making shit happen.

One thought on “Lies, Damn Lies, and Semantics”

  1. The data presented here suggests that in the last 21 years, there were only 3-4 years in which rent did not go up in Seattle in large apartment buildings. And for the last 20 years, in those years when rent did go up, it tended to be higher than inflation. Given stagnating and even declining real wages for the bottom 50%, I don’t see why this would then lead you to put scare quotes around “affordability crisis”.

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