Rob Johnson’s Misleading Housing Claims

by Jon Lisbin

Rob Johnson is a Seattle City Council member and chair of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee; a position which gives him significant sway over the zoning policies the city adopts.

Based on a blog article by John Fox in Outside City Hall, I felt compelled to look further into Johnson’s oft repeated claim that the city of Seattle is “adding 40 new people a day but building only 12 housing units per day.”  I was then a bit shocked on Feb 21, when he stated at a full council meeting, that 70 people are moving here daily.  During this session he persuaded a majority of the council members to support upzones (increased building height) in the University District while rejecting very reasonable amendments proposed by Council members Mike O’Brien and Lisa Herbold.

The fact is that the latest US census shows that Seattle is adding a “net” 40 people per day so his recent 70 claim is likely from another source; the Washington State Office of Financial Management.  The real false statement seems to be the denominator of 12 new housing units being built per day.

  • What’s misleading about that statement is that the average HH has two persons. Also Rob is using data from the height of the population boom between 2015 to 2016 for the numerator (added residents) and data from 2010 to 2016, which includes years prior to the housing boom, for the denominator (added housing).   Ladies and gentlemen, this is why they say statistics are misleading. Thanks Rob!
  • What’s false about that statement is that Dupre+Scott, an apartment based market research firm, projects about 30 new apartments  openings per day, in the Puget Sound area, between 2015 and 2018. They predict almost 10,000 new units will open in Seattle alone in 2017 or 27.3 per day.

So, if you’re comparing apples to apples (time period and location) the 40 to 70 new visitors a day between 2015 and 2016 closely correspond  with 27.3 market rate apartment openings in 2017.  With the average occupancy rate of 2 persons per HH, the new units should accommodate 55 primarily highly compensated tech workers (averaging Rob’s 40 and 70 per day number).  So now we have about 55 new residents per day and apartment openings that accommodate every last one of them. Are you happy now Mr. Bezos?

Instead of 12 new units per day and 70 new residents (per Rob Johnson’s misleading rhetoric); we’re even at 55 a piece!!!  Kapish? The fact is these numbers are supported by the city’s own information which shows, between 2012 and 2016, development is keeping pace with population growth and we don’t need no stinkin’ upzones!

city-population-and-hh-growth-2012-2016source:  City of Seattle

So, what we have here is the chair of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee, whose job it is to help formulate and facilitate land use Zoning policy that affect hundreds of thousands of Seattle residents, feeding citizens and his fellow council members misleading statistics in order to promote his and his benefactors urbanist agenda.

In addition, Council member Johnson has also used divisive “Trumpian” references to denigrate and suppress the voice of neighborhood activists;

“It’s really disturbing for me when I hear somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district council’s stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico.  I see these things as actually linked.” – City Council member Rob Johnson

Combined these statements are misleading, slanderous and false.  Please write and call your City Council representatives and let them know your voices must be heard before more unnecessary upzones come to a neighborhood near you!


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