Meet Jon Grant Campaign Villain Maria Barrientos, One of the Only Women of Color Building Affordable Housing in Seattle

JImage result for maria barrientos seattleon Grant, one of two candidates for the at-large city council Position 8, has a favored talking point that he pulls out at every opportunity: His opponent, Washington State Labor Council lobbyist Teresa Mosqueda, has taken a “maxed-out contribution from the developer who was one of the lead architects of the Grand Bargain.” The Grand Bargain was an agreement hammered out by the 28-member Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee, which included developers, nonprofit housing groups, social justice advocates, and planning experts, to require developers to build or fund affordable housing in new buildings. But it has become a kind of shorthand for selling out to developers among Seattle’s socialist-leaning left. Associating Mosqueda with the “developer architect of the Grand Bargain” is thus a way of implying she will compromise on goals like affordable housing if the developers who back her campaign tell her to do so. (“Maxed-out,” in the case of city council elections, means a contribution of $250.)

So who is this ominous deep-pocketed puppet master? Meet Maria Barrientos, principal of barrientos RYAN and one of the only women of color building affordable housing in Seattle.  Barrientos—whose business partner is also a woman—integrates affordable housing into market-rate apartment buildings in dense urban areas (like this upcoming development in Pioneer Square), and is currently developing the city’s first Passivhaus-certified mixed-use apartment building on Capitol Hill.

I called Barrientos last week to get her reaction to Grant’s characterization of her and her work, and to find out more about why she’s supporting Mosqueda. Here’s what she had to say.

On why she supports Mosqueda:

I know her through her labor organizing work, mostly. She’s a friend.  But more importantly, I like how she goes about listening to other people’s views on issues. I can honestly say I don’t agree with her on everything, but what I appreciate is any person in a public position that is able to listen and really understand the different sides of issues, weigh them respectfully, get the big picture about our city and what makes it work, which involves a dozen different things, and weigh that against the city’s visions and goals and what we’re trying to achieve. I really appreciate thoughtful people. You can’t be in a public position and be effective if you have only one small constituency.

I also maxed out with Lorena Gonzalez and Debora Juarez. I will always give to a woman of color.

On working with Grant on the HALA committee:

The difficulty with Jon’s position is that he never came to the table to work with anyone else. It was always ideological—’Here’s what we represent and what we believe, and we’re not compromising. We’re not giving.’ What do you do with that? It’s not very helpful when you’re trying to work toward solutions. And the basic inability to even understand or accept that there are a myriad of other perspectives in our city, and we have to put all these interests together—none of them are evil, they’re just different. He never participated, and he ended up marginalizing himself, because he didn’t come to the table with any ideas or solutions or input. It was just negative: ‘Here’s my ideology and I don’t want to [discuss anything else].’ It’s very difficult to work out a solution if you’re not willing to listen.

On her work as a developer:

Our company does a combination of market-rate work, affordable housing, and some collaborating with low-income housing providers. We’ve always had our foot in all three parts. We care deeply about trying to provide more affordable housing, although that’s not the only housing we develop. Back in 2010, when the economy was in the pits and there was no development going on, I spent half my time helping [the Low-Income Housing Institute] develop two low-income housing projects. I was happy to do that. The two big projects we’re working on right now  are the Othello Station project and the Pacific Hospital project. We’re partners with Homesight to develop a multicultural center [at Othello] and we are working with the Pacific Hospital PDA on a 300-unit apartment project on the north lot of their property. Half of that project is going to be affordable housing for seniors and families, and the other half will be market rate.

I find it fascinating that he’s decided to focus on a small, minority- and woman-owned firm. We’re probably considered one of the smaller firms, because we do a lot of just urban infill. All our work is only in Seattle. We don’t take big corporate national funds. It’s all local funds, local investors. I find it curious—amazing, actually—that he’s decided to focus on me of all people. We are probably the top developer in town that does affordable housing, market rate housing, and  low-income housing.

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8 thoughts on “Meet Jon Grant Campaign Villain Maria Barrientos, One of the Only Women of Color Building Affordable Housing in Seattle”

  1. I find it bizarre that developers are often viewed as bad when we have a housing shortage. Most development in this city results in a more homes. Blaming developers for housing problems is like blaming farmers during a food shortage. These are the folks that will — if we let them — build enough housing to meet our needs.

  2. Thanks, Maria for working with us at Othello (Othello Station Community Action Team). We welcome, and support, good developers of affordable housing. We wish that other neighborhoods were as hospitable as ours.

    I too was disappointed that Jon Grant was not more effective on the HALA committee.

    1. >> I too was disappointed that Jon Grant was not more effective on the HALA committee.

      Which is a really bad sign. A big part of being a politician is serving on committees and working well with people. I don’t think the average person realizes that. As the son of a politician, I heard all about it. A board member could disagree with you on every major issue, but still work with you, and help in the process. Or they could supposedly be on the same team, but be so hard to work with that they simply piss off everyone. Based on everything I’ve read, Grant is more like the latter.

  3. The only villain is a political system calling itself a “democracy,” where money plays such an outsize factor. I’m not seeking to to demonize anybody, I just want to see people who want to be leaders taking a principled stand and making it 100% clear they are accountable to no one but voters.

    1. Of course voters include everyone, not just the people you agree with. Lawyers, politicians, bankers and yes, developers are also voters who deserve to be heard. Obviously no single group should have an outsized influence, and there are legitimate questions about how the level of influence some of these constituencies have on our democracy, however I do not agree with any candidate who refuses to even listen or consider the interests of their constituents with legitimate interest in the outcome of their proposed policies.

  4. Wondering if the affordable housing she produces is long term affordable housing, or simply short-term MFTE housing that gives her tax breaks. Thanks for checking…

  5. Barrientos gives what appears to be something other than the truth when she says “I will always give to a woman of color.” According to the city’s campaign disclose website, she donated money to Jenny Durkan’s mayoral campaign in June while making no donation to Nikkita Oliver. I also do not see a record of her making any donation to Kshama Sawant.

    And there’s something a bit stronger than “other than the truth” with regards to her claim of maxing out to Debora Juarez. I couldn’t find a donation to Juarez’s 2015 campaign on the city’s website. However, I did find a donation to her opponent, the male-presenting and seemingly very white Sandy Brown.

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