March 12, 2016 – Roger Valdez on growing Seattle smartly

There is no doubt that Roger Valdez is a controversial figure in Seattle.   The Director of Smart Growth Seattle is a paid lobbyist for a segment the development industry, and his views are often at odds with both City Hall and residents in relation to how Seattle with grow.

He has argued that developers do not hold sway in Seattle, countering the view of neighborhood activists.   And he has long advocated for changes to or removing of zoning codes as a means to stimulate development.   He opposed micro-housing regulations, and lives in a micro unit – though he may be lonely.

Valdez is a vocal proponent of “free market” solutions to housing, and largely frames the issue as simply supply and demand – with the problem being simply not enough supply.  He once said that housing was like bananas: if we produce more, prices will come down.  He suggests that impact fees and inclusionary zoning amount to a tax on development, and feels “we should be taxing what we don’t want” which includes further taxing low density Single Family zoning.  And Seattle’s intention to use Linkage Fees to further subsidize affordable units, he says, is flat out illegal.

He may be the iconic neo-liberal housing advocate, and in many ways he may appear an enigma with some of his apparently lefty leanings.

He supports using the City’s bonding capacity to produce deeply affordable units.  And he acknowledges that the affordable housing need is greatest at levels below that produced by HALA’s Grand Bargain (60% AMI) putting him in league with hard left advocates like John Fox.

Most recently Valdez has come out strongly against the HALA “Grand Bargain” because it lets downtown and SLU (and Vulcan) off the hook for delivering affordable units while at the same time shifting the burden to his constituency (the Master Builders) who were not part of the “bargaining”.

Over the years Valdez has been at odds with SNC members and neighborhood groups over micro-housing, Regulatory Reform, small lot development, incentive and inclusionary zoning, and the need to upzone more of the Single Family areas.  It may be accurate to say that he came to these issues largely with the intent to increase housing supply.  He has become immune to the concerns of residents, and to many he is the face of what is wrong with development in Seattle today.

Despite all of this, the SNC is pleased to have Roger Valdez joining us for what should be a lively and wide ranging conversation about Seattle’s housing future, the density we should embrace, bathroom sinks, and how the City may not be doing everything it can to keep the city affordable.

Roger Valdez is the Director of Smart Growth Seattle. Over the past two decades he has worked at the state, regional, and local level on issues ranging from public education to public health. He was Neighborhood Development Manager for the City of Seattle and managed King County’s efforts to implement Washington’s ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, and other work places. Most recently he was housing director at a local non-profit, managing and developing affordable housing.

[by Bill Bradburd, March 5, 2016]