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“Secret Memo”: Primary Election Bad News for Developers and Landlords

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Author of the secret memo? Your crack team of PSARA 2015 primary election investigators has discovered a secret post-primary election memo issued by one of Seattle’s big developers and landlords. While we’re continuing to analyze the document for authenticity (fingerprint and handwriting analyses, etc.), we believe the memo bears a striking resemblance to what Seattle’s big developers and landlords are probably thinking in the wake of the August primary. Read on!

Aug. 20, 2015

Dear fellow developers and big landlords:

The results from Seattle’s 2015 primary elections are in, and if there’s a single message I want to convey to you it’s this: We’d better double-down our efforts in the general election or we will be facing big problems in 2016 – like new laws forcing business to subsidize affordable workforce and retiree housing, making it harder for us to kick out tenants when we want to, forcing us to fix up rundown units for tenants who complain, and even…rent control. Yikes!

It seems that working people and their friends, having won a historic increase in the minimum wage, have now set their sights on what they quaintly call “making Seattle affordable for all.” And you know what that means for us: less money in our bank accounts and lower profits for all the hard-working landlords and property developers out there.

Let’s face it, we’ve had a good run lately. Housing prices are going through the roof – average home prices in Seattle are now over half a million dollars, an 11% increase in just the last year (more money for us!). New downtown luxury condos are selling like hotcakes (again, more money for us!). And we’re raising rents across the city – 30% in just the last four years (yep, that’s more for us again!).

But I have to share with you that this wonderful profit-taking is at risk. In the primary election several candidates made “affordable housing for all” a top issue. And guess what? They beat our candidates or exceeded expectations. If we don’t reverse this trend, we’re in trouble. Can you imagine being forced by Big Government to build housing that is affordable to baristas, office workers, bus drivers, machinists, and such?

Now I know what you’re thinking: Don’t worry, Jack, the conservative-leaning seniors will vote in droves in November.

Well, I have news for you: Seniors in Seattle are rallying to our opponents’ message about affordable housing. We’ve recently learned that many of them are living on fixed incomes and can’t afford the new rents. We’re going to need to convince them that rising housing costs are inevitable, that housing is a complex issue, and there’s little they can do about it. The Seattle Times editorial board has promised me they will drill down this point relentlessly.

Our problem? Take West Seattle’s District 1, for example: along with the Chamber of Commerce, landlords plunked down $73,000 to support Shannon Braddock. She came in second, behind Lisa Herbold. Do you know Lisa Herbold? She’s the long-time aide to Councilmember Nick Licata – no friend of us landlords and big developers. She’s for making developers pay for affordable housing. She’s for tenants’ rights. And she’s for letting Seattle decide if it wants rent control. She’s dangerous to our interests. We have to defeat Lisa Herbold.

Over in central Seattle’s District 3, that crazy socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant – leader of the affordable housing movement – did well, scoring 52% of the vote. But I’m pleased to report that her opponent Pamela Banks polled respectably – 34%. That makes the District 3 race competitive. I want to thank the 100-plus big developers, landlords, bankers, timber company executives, hotel operators, and private equity partners who gave to Banks’ campaign. And a special shout-out to my friend, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden, who gave big to Banks. (Side note: Sorry, Brad, about losing your court case blocking airport living wages.)

In the at-large District 8 race, we’ve got our stalwart Council President, Tim Burgess. But guess what? He’s in trouble! Burgess, the incumbent, only got 46% of the vote – much worse, by comparison, than Sawant – and his November opponent, Jon Grant, is former director of the Tenant Union. Now if there are two words that we never want to see put together it’s “tenant” and “union.” But that’s Grant – standing up for renters. We must defeat him. Burgess outspent Grant by $177,000 to $38,000 in the primary. We will all have to open up our checkbooks to ensure Grant is defeated. (Special thanks again to Brad Tilden for the $950 Alaska Airlines contribution to Burgess.)

In District 4 (U-District and northeast Seattle), landlords and the Chamber teamed up with the Washington Restaurant Association to back Rob Johnson, donating $74,000. Johnson came in first, but with only 33% of the vote. His opponent, Michael Maddux, got 25%. Like our other opponents, Maddux also wants to limit housing costs. This race could go either way in November.

So please – open your checkbooks! Call your CEO friends! Do whatever is necessary to defeat this populist surge for “affordable housing!” What’s at stake is our profits, our ability to run our properties any damn way we like, and nothing less than our Free Enterprise Way of Life.

Sincerely yours,

Jack D. Rent III

Jonathan Rosenblum is a member of PSARA. He has served as a consultant to City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s reelection campaign.

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