Property Tax in Washington: Why You So Weird

The Washington State property tax is one of the most complicated in the nation

That quote is from an overview provided by MRSC which helps local governments in Washington with legal and policy guidance. I knew it was complicated. I'm digging through the data the King County Assessor's office provides so I can answer questions like "what is the average property tax paid for single family parcels in Seattle year over year?" To do that, I'm having to dig into various things including looking up the levy rates by year. I tweeted a bunch about it, but that's not terribly useful to many people so here's a blog dumping some stuff about it. Total accuracy and coherence not likely. :)

We ARE Shameless in Seattle on Housing

A friend of mine Jason Hahn who I've met in the last couple years "in politics" wrote a short little post called "Shameless in Seattle". A short quote because a longer one would be the entire post:

Today I read in the Seattle Times that there are 4,280 school-age children living in homelessness in Seattle. This is 45% more than when our city leaders supposedly declared a homelessness emergency in 2015. I say supposedly not because they didn’t really declare it but because they didn’t really do anything about it.

If a natural disaster struck West Seattle and 3 years later we still had almost 5,000 children living without a stable roof over their heads would we be ok with that? No, of course not. But here we are 3 years and countless millions of dollars later and kids are still homeless.

Jason is writing specifically about all the homeless kids in our schools but it's no less shameless how we've responded to the issue in general.

What is a housing emergency really?

I want to tell you about 417 acres of land owned by the city of Seattle, about 1% of the Seattle that does not have a road on it.

This land does not have any housing on it or city offices or facilities freely open to everyone. You have to pay money to use this land.

65%, 57%, 35%: how much Seattle land is zoned single family really?

It's a number that gets bandied about a lot. Depending on who is involved in the conversation you will have angry repudiations and corrections of that number. "Well, actually ..." followed by a claim of a wildly different number. I happened upon Rezone Seattle today which pointed me at page 421 in the appendices (pdf) of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan. That page has the end of a very long data table that breaks out the number of acres in different sub-regions of Seattle by their zoning. Since it's the end of the table it has the total acres per zoning type catalogued. Here's a picture:

Screenshot of acreage table by zoning category from previous PDF

Or so I thought. Then I re-read the data table and realized it was acres currently built to each use which would be pretty inaccurate to the question I'm trying to answer. There's a lot of grandfathered in multifamily use in our single family zones: think duplex, triplexes and even 8 and 16 and higher multi-unit apartment buildings. The catch is if you bought a property with a duplex on it and tore the duplex down, you might not be allowed to build anything but a single family home on it.

Ambrosia Salad

You may not actually know the name of this "salad", but it's that one with usually fruit and marshmallows and jello probably in a creamy base. Good ones have a variety of fruit and some coconut. Bad ones are mostly incredibly sweet creamy fluff with marshmallows and jello and if you're lucky some fruit.

I had a craving so we made some for the family holiday party after I found a Serious Eats article about the history of it.

More zoning demystifying: trying to read the "MHA upzone" maps

The city released the "final" EIS recently with "mandatory housing affordability" upzone maps. Part of the plan is to allow greater density in existing urban villages with optional even higher density if a developer builds more affordable housing. Predictably a group is already planning to appeal or somehow stop the proposal, which still has to go to the city council and the earliest it's likely to pass is next summer in 2018. Meanwhile we have 1000 people moving to Seattle every week and a huge gap in housing units being built to keep up which drives up rents (supply and demand is really a thing). Anyway, I tend to think the upzones are incredibly conservative but maybe I should look really closely. Perhaps those people planning to stop the plan have a point.

Slightly Demystifying Zoning Not Really

Zoning is one of the big topics in Seattle right now. We've been bogged down in a multi-year – I am not joking – process by which we figure out ways we can change zoning and other rules and programs related to housing so that we can make Seattle more affordable and livable. At one point, it looked like we might change the zoning on large swaths of Seattle to re-legalize pretty non-dense, by world city standards, increased housing density in much of the city. That upset a lot of people. So they went back and did some stuff and recently released some recommendations to expand where we (in theory) incentivize more affordable housing with a package of recommended zoning changes to go city-wide with. It includes a very handy map on the proposed increased zoning density and easily lets you compare existing zoning to the original proposals and the new ones.

Answering a Seattle Budget Question

If you know me, then you know that first I talk about politics way too much and also, especially during the primary, I got kind of annoyed at how often candidates proposed new things to spend money on while not really having the revenue to pay for their proposals (or having revenue sources that won't pan out for years if ever, like the city income tax). I did some basic searching and concluded that yes, indeed, the city budget has been going up. One thing I liked about Nikkita Oliver in the primary is that she really took the homelessness and housing affordability issues seriously to the degree she was unwilling to tell vocal constituencies like the bike lobby that she wouldn't consider their favorite projects off limits for budget cuts. Now, I might disagree with any one thing she would want to cut, but I like the attitude.

Seattle Voter Guide, General Election 2017

You can safely skip this post if you don't care about Seattle politics, don't care about voting, don't live in Seattle, just no politics please no no no no no, etc. But if that doesn't scare you off, read on!

Money in politics, promises and trust

Yesterday, former Seattle mayor and recent candidate Mike McGinn tweeted about recent political committee donations in our mayor's race:

I’ve been there so you can trust me on this. Corporations don’t write big checks like this without firm promises first. Lets review (1)

He then had a many tweet thread about the problems of money in politics and some local political alignments. I've been kind of stewing about it. Most of the folks I follow in Seattle politics are Moon supporters, so partly I am just seeing an ever increasing stream of Durkan criticism which wears after a while, even when you don't particularly care about the candidate. But I couldn't really figure out what it was.

Just Believe

Still image of Shephard Book from the Firefly moving holding Malcolm Reynold's face and saying "I don't care what you believe. Just believe it."

After the election last year, where I had spent time every week working for a campaign (despite working a regular job), I was crushed. But Hillary Clinton reminded me of something that I've always believed but had never taken quite so personally: goodness can only win if people stand up to do good. So I took a "leap of faith". This is awful, but I will get more involved. The Democratic party is the obvious place to help make change, so I'll find a way to participate even more.

I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition

I am finally, after sixteen years of post-college experience as a "software engineer" learning to understand and love spreadsheets. So much so that I'll inefficiently figure out how to do something in a spreadsheet to answer a question as opposed to just writing a script or dropping the data into a proper structured data store with a more programmer focused query language. But spreadsheet formulas, etc. are programming! I am fairly certain that some business spreadsheets I've seen are self-aware and planning to throttle us all. Anyway, I can do this. I am a professional.

Voter guide: I hate the mayoral primary edition!

The last few years I've been writing somewhat snarky but serious "how should you vote" blog posts. Why stop now, even if I hate the mayor's race? Also I spend about a third of my free time doing politics or thinking about it these days (why that is will wait for another post) so clearly I should offend people! So here, really late, a breezy guide to your primary ballot, if you live in Seattle, in the district I live in! If you haven't voted yet, GET YOUR BALLOT IN. Off year primaries have abysmal turnout. You have till August 1st to mail or find a dropbox. But don't wait till August 1st. Go get yours right now and get ready to fill in those bubbles. I'm waiting. Do you want me to side-eye you?! Get your ballot in and forestall my wrath.

Stop voting for white men, part 2

To followup to my previous post, yes, I meant it. I meant to use an inflammatory headline, even if the short-short version is pretty simple:

Given a choice between two candidates who are close (enough) in policy and similar (if not identical) in experience and competence, bias yourself to vote for the one that decreases future homogeneity because your assessments of candidates are probably biased.

That's all.

Stop voting for white men.

Let's pause to let some readers stop sputtering so they can pay attention. Others will no doubt angrily close the tab and move on.