Q: Socially Responsible Development

Seattle takes a strong stance in favor of environmentally sustainable development. Do you believe that Seattle also encourages socially responsible development? What does socially responsible development mean to you, and in the absence of any policy incentives, how does it come about? How can it be encouraged with policy?

Mike McGinn:

McGinnSeattle can do a lot more to encourage socially responsible development. In order to create an equitable and affordable city, we have to ensure that new development results in quality, affordable housing that also provides significant public benefit. This is the core of socially responsible development – when developers are contributing to the surrounding community and providing affordable housing, neighborhood amenities like parks and open spaces, retail space and uses that support the local economy, and a development that is reflective of the local community, they are creating a socially responsible development.

It’s up to decision makers to ensure that the incentives we have to encourage creation of these benefits truly act as an incentive. I believe we need to periodically evaluate and improve the city’s affordable housing tools so that we can build more affordable units across the city. To that end, I have convened an advisory group led by Tom Tierney to look at affordable housing incentive programs across the city.

This group is exploring how the city can incentivize the inclusion of more affordable housing in developments, and making recommendations on how to improve the Multi Family Tax Exemption and Incentive Zoning programs. With the advice of this committee, I will amend the Incentive Zoning program in 2014.  Next year the city will also begin a major update to our Comprehensive Plan, including updating the Housing Element.  As a part of this effort, I plan to look at other tools the city uses or could use to increase production of affordable housing.

Beyond affordable housing tools, we can also encourage socially responsible development in other ways where the City has leverage. Alley vacations are a good example of a situation in which the City has more leverage to ensure that new development provides significant public good in exchange for the sale of public land to a private developer. In the case of Whole Foods, I have taken the position that the city is under no obligation to sell public property to a company that will depress wages and benefits for workers at existing grocery stores in the same neighborhood. This city is fortunate in that we are growing and prospering, but too many people are left out of that prosperity. This is true not only here but nationwide, where we have had decades of rising inequality. And this is not just a theoretical discussion — it has real impacts on people that work in our city. Will the person ringing up groceries have good health benefits? Will those who stock the shelves with the food we buy be able to live in this city?

When the alley vacation issue came before me I took a close look at what the law permitted me to do. Our City ordinances, as explained in my recommendation letter to Peter Hahn, allow me to look at economic development, and wages and benefits, as a factor in deciding whether a proposed street vacation provides a public benefit. I anticipate using this tool in the future to help influence the way our built environment impacts the social and economic fabric of our city.

In the absence of policy incentives (and aside from the current regulatory environment), we mostly have the goodwill of developers and the pressures of public input at play in shaping development. Developers with the intention of creating quality projects that enhance and reflect the surrounding community are a boon to this city.

Ed Murray:

MurrayDevelopment is socially responsible to the extent its function, design, planning and execution are each informed and guided by a commitment to promoting the flourishing of persons, while respecting their autonomy and, if feasible, mitigating the effects of past injustices.  There are trade-offs here, of course, but this imperative functions as a broad ideal to which we should aspire. Seen this way, environmental sustainability is simply one component of a broader social responsibility agenda.

So our goal must be to broaden our social responsibility agenda. Underserved populations and communities have development needs that go unmet.  For instance, non-profit and neighborhood advocacy groups in the Central District need dedicated space of their own, and we still lack a GLBT community center.

In the absence of policy incentives, if socially responsible development continued, it would be the result from forms of public pressure.  The mayor has a bully pulpit, and needs to use it to promote more socially responsible development practices. To consistently secure socially responsible development we need to ensure a transparent and reliable public process, and policy incentives backed by the force of law. We can do better than current practice on both these counts.

Richard Conlin:

McGinnYes, I believe that Seattle encourages socially responsible development, and we do have policy incentives for it, although there are more incentives that we can add. Our Comprehensive Plan – Towards a Sustainable Seattle — is built around four core values that Seattle residents identified through a community engagement process – environmental stewardship, economic opportunity, community, and social justice. We cannot achieve our goals unless we successfully integrate achieving all of those values. Socially responsible development responds to the needs of all of our communities, is informed by our Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), and ensures that all of us share the benefits of prosperity – and are engaged in making decisions about our future.

To achieve those goals requires us to create innovative land use and community development policies that are respectful of our existing communities and lay the groundwork for future generations. Socially responsible development integrates all forms of housing opportunities into our neighborhoods, supports an educational system that eliminates disparities, provides a social safety net that protects the lost, the least, and the left behind, and provides services and institutions that serve every community with respect for unique cultural and social attributes.

The most salient issue facing us today is how to ensure that affordable housing and transportation choices are integrated and accessible to all. My task as the Council’s land use chair and representative on the Sound Transit Board is to bring these two things together. We have just achieved a signal success with the Capitol Hill Development Agreement, which allows additional height and density around the station in return for 36% of new housing units being affordable and the community receiving a series of benefits such as a plaza that can host the Farmers Market and the opportunity for a new community center. And the buildings will be required to meet high environmental standards, while proposers will get extra credit for providing more affordable housing and/or greener buildings. This is how we work together as a community to make social justice and environmental sustainability happen.

The Superfund cleanup of the Duwamish River offers another opportunity to integrate environmental stewardship and social responsibility. I have worked with the community and the decision makers to ensure that the cleanup generates jobs for community members, and that the outcomes will support sustaining the working class communities of Georgetown and South Park and maintain our manufacturing base while opening up the river as a great amenity for our city and the surrounding neighborhoods. This kind of integrated strategy is another example of how we can – and must – achieve both social and environmental goals together.

Finally, we should continue to support and expand local business ownership, cooperatives, and buy-local initiatives like our ‘Only in Seattle’ program. In order to do this, we should expand our business services and assistance to small and medium size businesses and promote and partner with residents to impart and encourage entrepreneurial skills.

Kshama Sawant:

sawantSocially responsible development takes into account the unique situation, needs, and voices of under-served communities in sculpting and carrying out plans to build housing, businesses, schools, hospitals, public buildings, and public spaces; expanding social services; implementing laws and regulations; deciding where funding should be allocated; and other aspects of economic development. Sculpting and carrying out plans for development in a socially responsible manner means acknowledging where the greatest needs exist, respecting cultural and ethnic diversity, upholding civil and human rights without exception, and prioritizing the interests of working people and the poor over the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

Seattle certainly has reasons to tout its green credentials in development plans, but oftentimes this is accomplished at the expense of the welfare of the already most marginalized communities in Seattle, particularly communities of color, low-income people, and the homeless. However, community development that is environmentally sustainable as well as socially sustainable is not mutually exclusive, but in fact can compliment one another nicely where political will and prioritization exists. The city needs to explore policies that will encourage economic development that will serve underprivileged communities while being earth-friendly as well, and adequately fund these projects. This is only likely to happen if communities in Seattle build campaigns to pressure their elected officials into taking concrete action in favor of people’s actual needs. The role of my independent campaign for city council is to give working class people this political power and expression in a leadership structure otherwise completely dominated by Democrats friendly to big business and the rich.

Sally Bagshaw:

BagshawI believe environmentally sustainable development is also socially responsible development. Climate change requires us to think regionally and globally to address the impacts of population increases over the next decades. Density that allows neighbors to live near where they work, transportation alternatives to give everyone an option to a single-occupancy vehicle, sidewalk and pedestrian developments that allow residents to safely walk throughout our city, safe and separated Neighborhood Greenways and cycletracks are examples that fit into both the environmentally sustainable and socially responsible columns. By encouraging one, we achieve them both. Seattle is currently leading the pack, but we can always do more.

One of the best ways the City Council can encourage more socially responsible development is by requiring housing developers to build more price controlled units in their market rate buildings. A report published by Harvard University and the University of California, “The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures”, recently gained a lot of national attention because of its finding that cities (and regions) with a smaller middle class witnessed lower rates of upward mobility. It also drew the correlation that upward mobility was dependent on households with different income levels intermingling. Economically segregated communities did very little to help the economically disadvantaged members of the community. Seattle faired pretty well in comparison, but we can do more to promote policies that foster more economically diverse communities.

Sam Bellomio:

BellomioSeattle has a poor social justice record. While we have 10,000 people homeless every single night, we build arenas for billionaires. While we see 50,000 people asking for financial assistance to pay their rent, Seattle Housing Authority pays its director $200,000 a year (which violates federal law and moral responsibility). Our elected officials do a great job of ceremoniously supporting the poor and working class but a horrible job of actually doing it.

We need to stop Sally Bagshaw from destroying what we have built, our city. It is her committee that is in charge of the Parks Department that threatened a church with fines if they continued to feed homeless in the parks. She did not StandUP to this abuse and instead wrote a letter to the Mayor to remove a homeless encampment, with no plan to provide alternate housing.

The only way to develop our beautiful city in a socially responsible way is to include the citizens into the discussions. The problem is that, while we slave away at our jobs to make this city what it is, the council regularly holds its council meetings during work hours, 930am and 2pm. These times allow the large developers the ability to shape and manipulate the dialogue in their favor. Stop the corruption and vote for Sam Bellomio!

Nick Licata:

LicataSocially responsible development means ensuring that our city’s growth has benefits for all its residents across several metrics that together make a city livable. Socially responsible development requires an understanding though all stages of development that Seattle needs more than growth for growth’s sake.

The city must use development opportunities to pursue social growth in our community. That means ensuring that housing is affordable to people of all incomes. It means ensuring that the development takes into consideration the needs of all our residents to work and play. A truly socially responsible development will take into account all of these things and more.

In the absence of any policy incentives, socially responsible development necessarily must come from public action and public lobbying. The City Council can and should respond to these public calls for consideration of more variables that make a city livable when we approve new developments. The City Council can encourage this kind of public engagement by enacting policy incentives that reward development that includes these variables. In this way, the development community can, in time, become a partner with the goals of both our city’s residents and the goals of socially responsible development.

One example of the Council responding to public action towards change is the recent passage in a Council committee of legislation that I’ve co-sponsored to create a construction careers initiative that will seek to “expand access to economic opportunity by increasing construction employment and providing career ladders for those historically facing barriers to jobs in the construction industry, including women, people of color, and otherwise disadvantaged individuals.”

This Council action came about because the Construction Jobs Equity Coalition (CJEC) successfully made the case to Councilmembers that new city legislation is necessary to ensure that a portion of the thousands of construction jobs created by City-funded “Capital Improvement Projects” over the next decade go to the local residents and communities hardest hit by the economic recession.

Mike O’Brien:

o'brienI believe environmentally sustainable development is an important part of socially responsible development. But socially responsible development (SRD) must also consider neighborhood makeup and character.

In the absence of policy incentives, purely profit-driven development can result in transformations to neighborhoods that displace families and entire communities of people, particularly communities of color and lower-income communities. Socially responsible development, and policies to encourage it, must promote vibrant, diverse communities across race and class.

In addition to people, SRD must also consider the historic character of places. Of course all neighborhoods change and grow over time. But smart policies can help us preserve historic buildings and storefronts while accommodating needed growth and density.

Finally, I believe the best of SRD also promotes healthy and active living and is connected to public transit in ways that only come about through policy incentives and extensive stakeholder and community involvement.

Albert Shen:

ShenTo me, socially responsible development means development with not only environmental consideration but also developments that provides access to transportation, education and community resources as well as economic development opportunities. Currently, I do not believe Seattle develops socially responsibly in the underserved communities of color as many ethnic communities are still struggling with recovering from the great economic recession. For example, in the Seattle Chinatown/ID the current Street Car construction is having an enormous negative economic impact on the local small immigrant businesses. Many businesses are down 30% in revenue and some businesses have closed up shop because of the hardship of the construction. If the City is going to develop transportation projects they need to find economic ways to mitigate the extra hardship on communities of color as they do not have the resources for lobbyists or consultants to help with government mitigation. As the City continues to grow in density, the City Council needs a policy that will support many of these businesses during construction so that some of our most treasured family business can survive and thrive after projects are completed. The overall policy should be that business should not be forced to shut down and if they are to undergo hardship during construction then they should have assistance to survive the construction and thrive upon completion.

The other key part of socially responsible development is for minority businesses to have access to government contracts to perform the work. Economic disparity in government contracting continues to be a major hurdle because of the passage of I-200 in 1998. I face institutional barriers on a daily basis as my business is a minority owned civil engineering business. My opponent is touting a targeted workforce in local government contracting. Though on the surface this sounds really noble, I believe it is very disingenuous toward the minority communities. In order to truly solve economic disparity in minority/immigrant communities we need to address who owns the work and not who is just doing the work. Ownership of work thru successful minority companies will lead to those companies to give back to their local communities thru additional work and community giving. As an Asian American owned firm, I have a policy to give 10% of my profit back to my community. This is the only way to achieve economic equality because if just mainstream companies hire local community members then when those projects are completed, then those jobs are gone and there is no sustainable way to continue work for workers. As a city council member, I will advocate for a policy of higher % goal inclusion on government contracts on professional services and construction contracts. I will set up a committee to continuous monitor all city contracts city wide and hold all city departments accountable to ensure minority businesses are getting access to sustainable government contracts. I will also want to ensure that minority business owners are achieving equal economic mobility as their mainstream peers.

Bruce Harrell:

HarrellSocially responsible development can be championed by a strong mayor. It is encouraged by Seattle stakeholders through our values as a city. As a part of doing business here, we strongly encourage new construction projects to utilize skilled labor and offer safe, living wage jobs for its workers. Socially responsible development also includes providing opportunities for minority and women owned business to compete for capital projects and build new infrastructure which maintains and protects the character of the community where the project is housed. We try to encourage socially responsible development through the DPD design review process, which includes a public comment component. In the absence of specific policy incentives, the City’s local leadership must actively engage in communicating its vision for the City—publicly promoting positive outcomes and speaking out against negative impacts. In addition, elected officials should consider policy which mandates certain development minimums (e.g. apprenticeship programs, wage standards), especially as concerns public works projects.

Peter Steinbrueck:

SteinbrueckSocially responsible development (SRD) is project development in the built environment that, besides the physical and environmental, addresses human, community, and social needs. These can include everything from human health, walkability, public safety, historic and cultural connections, to social equity, jobs, housing affordability, and childcare.

The City of Seattle encourages SRD (but generally does not mandate) through its many Comprehensive Plan policies, programs, tax abatement, incentive zoning, development regulations, historic districts and landmarks ordinance. SRD is also carried out through the city’s partnership with Seattle Housing Authority and its redevelopment projects such as New Holly, Rainier Vista, High Point, and Yesler Terrace, and since 1984, the Seattle Housing Levy Program.

The Seattle Planning Commission’s proposed Transit Communities amendment (2012) to the Land Use Element of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan is a good example of social policies and goals intended to guide healthy, environmentally responsible development.

Transit Community policies integrated with land use and development support the City’s decision-making process regarding public infrastructure investment and capital projects, land use and zoning changes, and transportation improvements. Transit Communities define place-types, such as walkable compact communities with easy access to transit. The ten-minute “walkshed” defines the geography of a transit community, informs development and identifies additional best practice methods to successfully plan for SRD within the framework of transit-friendly communities.