Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen may have dug himself into a deep hole when he promised to double the housing levy that Seattle voters will be asked to renew in 2009. But the pledge was one of the few highlights of a Sept. 20 candidates forum held by the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness.
Rasmussen, the unopposed chair of the council’s Housing and Human Services Committee, also said he wants to pay private landlords to preserve affordable housing by allowing them to sell air rights above their buildings to developers — a “transfer of development rights,” or TDRs, currently allowed for commercial properties.
In a turnaround from an earlier position, Rasmussen also committed to maintaining the city’s number of shelter beds until permanent housing can be built or acquired as part of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness — a policy that the other candidates endorsed.
Councilmember Sally Clark and Tim Burgess, the challenger for Councilmember David Della, echoed the call for an expanded TDR program. He and Position 3 candidate Venus Velazquez also endorsed state legislation — lobbied for this year in Olympia by Rasmussen — to limit or stop the conversion of apartments to condos.
Velazquez, who is vying with Bruce Harrell for the council seat to be vacated by Peter Steinbrueck, also said the city needs to make it easier for nonprofit housing developers to acquire property — in part by making property owners give nonprofits the first shot at buying parcels that go up for sale.
More telling, however, was what one candidate didn’t say — or didn’t know. When asked if the city should use general funds to help nonprofits buy property, a question pertaining to the mayor’s well-publicized proposal to “fast-track” $3.5 million in general funds for a Plymouth Housing project, Councilmember Jean Godden was caught unawares.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question,” Godden said. “Did we approve that?”