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Let the Housing Revisionism Begin
Following Housing Hope's latest defeat, Mayor Cassie Franklin is already trying to cover for her role in the Council's endorsement of an anti-housing agenda.
Welcome back to Local Crank. Meetings this week—
Council Majority Sides With Anti-Housing Activists
Last Wednesday, the City Council rendered its final decision on Housing Hope’s revised plans for the Sequoia Norton Site, a supportive housing project located in the Port Gardner neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, a majority on the council decided to endorse the prejudiced, classist, and hateful rhetoric of anti-housing activists and deny the zone change. Following the supportive housing moratorium in 2019, the City Council passed an ordinance in January 2020 that banned such projects in single-family zones. Therefore, Housing Hope was forced to redesign their plans and appeal for a rezoning of the site.
This latest defeat follows a 6–2 defeat with the Historical Commission and 3–3 deadlock on the Planning Commission. The Council received written comments from 23 people: four against the project, nineteen in favor. Similarly, testimony during the meeting on October 21st was mostly positive towards Housing Hope’s proposal, so if it wasn’t a public outcry that pressured councilmembers, what was it?
Each councilmember cited different reasons. Scott Murphy dismissed the public comments that were overwhelmingly in favor as “mostly not coming from that neighborhood”. Indeed, Residents for Norton Playfield in their letter to the council, disclosed all 269 of their supporters located near the proposed development saying that they “are not NIMBYs” but that other neighborhoods didn’t have their “equitable” share of supportive housing units. Ken Ries, spokesperson for RNP, cited cherry-picked 911 call data in order to characterize supportive housing projects as attracting crime.
Murphy’s objections focused mostly on the fact that families won’t be evicted once their Everett Public Schools student graduates. “Literally in two or three years of completion, this project could become a housing project that would house primarily families or individuals without any students,” Murphy cautioned, “the whole pretense that this exclusively is going to be for housing homeless students is not accurate”. He voted no.
Brenda Stonecipher described the decision as “heartwrenching” partly because it was being “framed unfairly”. She said that the choice on rezoning isn’t “a decision between homeless students and property owners, or as a choice between homeless students and open space”. Stonecipher described this as a mere land use decision and, drawing from her experience on the Planning Commission, concluded that this choice should be made outside of a “heated moment”. She voted no.
Council President Judy Tuohy and lone-Republican Scott Bader also voted no sealing the project’s fate.
The Sequoia Norton Site was always going to be an uphill battle. In June 2019, Councilmember Stonecipher attended a meeting of the Port Gardner Neighborhood Association where Housing Hope presented their plans for a new housing development. Two days later, she and Judy Tuohy introduced an emergency ordinance to ban all supportive housing developments in the City of Everett.
An emergency ordinance, if approved, requires no public comment prior to its passage—all three readings and the action take place at the same time. So on a Monday, Brenda Stonecipher sympathized with the pearl-clutching of Port Gardner homeowners, then by Wednesday immediately banned the further development of the project they were worried about. Almost a year and a half later, Tuohy and Stonecipher haven’t changed their minds at all. Not after the emotional testimony from those who opened up about how howing changed thier lives; not after experts thoroughly explained the research around the benefits of stable housing.
This is Literally NIMBY
All of the dissenting councilmembers were able to articulate the need for housing, but their objections to this housing had nothing to do with whether the demand has been demonstrated. No, instead opponents obfuscated their reasoning with vauge descriptions boiling down to “this simply isn’t the right place”. One predominant theme in these comments were qualified with “this isn’t NIMBYism, I support housing”. But it is.
Since Residents for Norton Playfield decided to disclose their supporter list (with addresses), a simple mapping of these address reveals that their opposition to the Sequoia Norton Site is—quite literally—Not In My Backyard:
Mayor Cassie Going on Defense
In the lead up to the vote, Mayor Cassie has been changing her tone in order to provide cover for overseeing the City Council—again—take the side of anti-housing activists. On October 15th, six days before the City Council’s vote, Mayor Cassie proclaimed that week to be “Affordable Housing Week” recognizing that Everett “is prioritizing housing poeple even as the COVID-19 pandemic layers an immediate housing emergency on top of the long-term crisis”. Considering that just three months prior her government was sweeping encampments in blatant disregard to CDC guidelines, this “proclaimation” rings completely hollow.
A few days later, Mayor Cassie reacted to an article from The Herald that said she had “no recommendation” for the Sequoia Norton Site. “I’d like to clarify that I have strongly supported it since first proposed,” she said, “For those who have asked about my earlier support for this project, see the recording of the December 4, 2019 Council Meeting”. So, I did.
Mayor Cassie started off her comment by directly agreeing with the key talking point from Residents for Norton Playfield: Housing Hope was not transparent enough with homeowners near the project. “Growth is not without its challenges and any time there is growth in our neighborhoods, there is going to be significant fear and really valid concerns,” she said opening her statement. Disclosing that she lives in the neighborhood where the project is being proposed, Mayor Cassie said “there was an initial lack of transparency from the school district and Housing Hope regarding this plan”.
"I've been quiet up here, because I don't vote. I work with the staff to implement whatever policy the council passes, but I don't vote,” she continued, "I encourage you to edit [the housing ordinance passed in 2016] and make the changes necessary to protect the neighbors, to protect the neighborhood, to protect the character”. On the subject of neighborhood character, the mayor added that it is, “one of the things that makes Everett so special, wonderful, and a vibrant place to live.”
In closing, Mayor Cassie told the council that she was hopeful residents will work with any developer to “create these vital housing projects and preserve green space, which we absolutely need to protect in our city”.
Does that sound like a statement giving a full-throated defense of Housing Hope’s project? From my interpretation, it sounds like Mayor Cassie was totally fine with supportive housing projects being banned in single-family zones, as she seems to echo some of the “concerns” that anti-housing activists were campaigning on. Therefore, I’m confused why she would dig this up ten months later and point to it as some sort of sign of support if it wasn’t a lame attempt to try and save face.
Fact of the matter is that Cassie Franklin has completely failed some of her early supporters’ expectations that she would be a champion for housing. I fear that she has cornered herself politically. To the left, she is another continuation of the broken, self-serving, regressive neoliberal policies that have plagued city politics for eons. To the right, she is another socially concious liberal who isn’t doing austerty enough, who isn’t cozying up to the cops enough, who is being too friendly to our unsheltered comrades.
This city’s leadership has to change if we want to aggressively tackle the housing crisis. Each councilmember, in one way or another, has breathlessly talked about how they’re doing what’s “right” about the housing crisis. This includes Brenda Stonecipher, the original architect of the supportive housing moratorium. It also includes Scott Bader, the Republican on the council who also has consistantly voted against the Housing Hope project.
There must be a left movement with a serious agenda whose end goal is to not only change the dominant political narrative in this city, but also win power and materially change it. No more empty promises, no more working class betrayals. The new districts of about 10,000 people are small enough to campaign for some real, radical change.
Thank you for reading!
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