Last week we heard about the Seattle City Council’s plan to ease the affordable housing and homelessness situation. The plan is to impose a tax of 26 cents per hour per employee affecting 3% of Seattle’s largest businesses. $20M of the $75M they plan to raise with this tax will come from Amazon alone, so it’s not surprising Amazon has reacted quickly by halting construction of their new downtown tower, which puts 7,000 jobs in jeopardy. Over 131 other businesses have also objected in a letter sent to the city council stating it doesn’t make sense to punish the companies bringing more jobs to the region.

I think this quote from the letter sums it up nicely.

“This is like telling a classroom that the students who do the most homework will be singled out for detention.”

Blaming the lack of affordable housing on these businesses is just unfair. The reality is that we live in a geographically closed-off area with mountains on one side and water on the other. Land is scarce. The land we have that we can build on is only increasing in value.  In addition, the costs of materials are constantly rising, as are labor costs; not to mention there are the unbelievably onerous development costs placed on builders and developers. The end result is stratospheric prices.

Initiatives like “head taxes” end up driving out employers, their employees and all of the related industries major companies employ.

What could be some other solutions?

  • Ease the restrictions placed on condo developers
  • Repeal and replace the Growth Management Act
  • Expand and change the urban growth boundaries

California’s State Energy Commission is expected to approve new energy standards requiring solar panels on the roofs of most new homes, condos and apartment buildings from 2020 onward. This will make California the first state to have a solar panel requirement. While this would increase construction costs $25K – $35K, it would also give the builders “compliance credits” to help offset some of this. Homeowners will benefit by saving up to $60K in operating costs from the energy produced over the equipment’s expected lifespan of 25 years.

We have seen solar technology utilized more and more in Western Washington home building as well. Many builders are now offering solar as an option and some are even making it standard. In short, we’re moving even closer to having a solar component as the norm. Usually we are not too far behind California when it comes to these types of shifts.