NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Seattle mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan issued a statement on Aug. 22, on her continued opposition to Cary Moon’s proposal to tax “foreign buyers” after a Seattle Times story came out, which revealed that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office declared the proposal “illegal” and the “King County assessor has denounced the entire approach, saying such taxes are unneeded and could stoke anti-Asian sentiments.”
“There’s no doubt that the defining issue for the next mayor is the affordability crisis, which is why I have proposed specific solutions to address the issue. However, creating government databases based on national origin and imposing taxes on foreign investors is illegal, contrary to our progressive values, and wrong. It is also not a real solution,” the former U.S. Attorney’s statement said.
Starting last year, British Columbia began taxing foreign buyers and empty investment properties in Vancouver, and Moon has made it a signature issue in her plan as the first 100 days as mayor.
“It is a fact that speculators and non-resident profiteers are driving up prices and exacerbating Seattle’s housing crisis, but we don’t know the real depth or dynamic of this problem because no one wants to look,” the plan reads. “As mayor, I will order the immediate collection and analysis of this critical information. This information would include the number of housing units bought by corporations, shell companies, and private equity firms, and the number of homes not purchased as a primary residence, so we can get a clear picture of the impact speculation is having on the market.”
Moon has been careful to use the term “nonresident owners,” rather than “foreign buyers.” However, an April piece Moon co-wrote for The Stranger did discuss Chinese buyers shifting their focus away from Vancouver and toward Seattle.
Durkan’s spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said, “Changing the name to ‘non-resident’ does not change the fact that this started as anti-Chinese buyer tax. Seattle has a dark history of discrimination against people of Asian descent, such as the Chinese Exclusion laws and the mass internment of Japanese. We cannot go there — particularly in the age of (President Donald) Trump.”
Moon released a statement on Aug. 22 that said, “It’s disappointing to see [Durkan] defending profiteers and Wall Street interests who are inflating Seattle’s housing market for their own gain.” It went on to say, “Calling efforts to address the affordability crisis and escalating rents ‘anti-Chinese’ and ‘Trumpian’ is misleading and disingenuous. We need a solution to protect our housing stock as homes for people who live and work here, particularly communities of color who are already being pushed out.”
“It’s unfortunate that Cary Moon is doubling down on her plans, which officials across Seattle are rejecting because of concerns that it’s discriminatory and illegal,” said Durkan.
King County Assessor John Wilson told the Seattle Times, “I would not support any policy response that could lead to racial bias or anything that smacks of the Chinese Exclusion laws from two centuries ago.” He also said the luxury-home market is not driving our affordability crisis. It is simple supply and demand of housing priced for working people.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold had approached Wilson about revealing the identities of wealthy buyers who make purchases in the name of limited-liability companies (LLCs). He said he didn’t believe Herbold was motivated by racism. But he warned about where a “slippery slope” from any database or list of foreign buyers could lead.
Herbold says Wilson misunderstood her request, saying her goal was not to identify buyers by their nationalities. Herbold now plans to ask for a city review of vacant homes, to determine just how many investors are parking their money and letting them sit empty. ■