CM Rob Johnson on preserving Seattle as a city for the many

Even though City Councilmember Rob Johnson represents the 4th district, located north of the Ship Canal, he is passionate about maintaining housing affordability across all sections of the city. We recently sat down with him to discuss this issue.

Johnson recognizes the importance of protecting our most diverse and vulnerable neighborhoods, regardless of council district. He is committed to respecting the voices of all community members, always willing to listen to YCC partners and consider their ideas and concerns in shaping City policy and programs.

Johnson brings a combination of deep roots in Seattle and technical urban planning skills to his job. He is a fifth generation Seattleite, busy raising a sixth generation. His motivation for keeping Seattle an affordable place to live comes from his family ties. Among his 20 first cousins, those who chose relatively high-wage careers have been able to stay in Seattle; those who chose to be teachers or environmental activists have not.

He wants his children to be able to live in Seattle when they grow up regardless of career choice. “It isn’t easy,” he notes, “66 people are moving to Seattle every day. We are not building enough housing for all these new people, let alone building affordable housing for those who have already been displaced.”

This is why Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is so important, he says. “It’s the brass ring for which Seattle has been reaching for decades: how to get both more market rate housing and affordable housing at the same time, not in competition with each other. MHA strikes that balance. It encourages the development of market rate housing while generating resources for affordable housing.”

As new housing is built under MHA, he will make sure that the City tracks how well the program’s performance component is working to produce new affordable units quickly in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Johnson recognizes that MHA by itself is not enough. In each neighborhood where MHA rezones are being considered, Johnson makes a point of understanding neighborhood concerns and responding with companion legislation to articulate how the City will address them. For the Central Area and Chinatown-International District, this has meant a focus on reuse of publicly-owned land and other approaches to give each community a long-term ownership stake and cultural anchor as a counter to displacement.

He appreciates working with YCC and partners to understand community priorities and come up with creative and innovative approaches. He welcomes the way YCC has brought diverse voices to the table in an intentionally collaborative way, both at public meetings and in work sessions between the public meetings where diverse voices are often missing.

Johnson encourages YCC and partners to stay engaged with the citywide MHA rezones in the coming year to keep diverse voices involved and a focus on anti-displacement. “Great ideas get generated when YCC is at the table;” he says, “the outcomes are much better when YCC and partners are engaged. Finding ways to have YCC at the table with us [the Council] to find creative solutions is going to be critical.”

Johnson also anticipates another round of neighborhood-specific design-focused workshops and welcomes YCC partners’ participation. Overall, he is optimistic that Seattle can get ahead of displacement by employing all the available tools—MHA, effective use of public land, good urban planning, and continued engagement with diverse communities.

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