Protective Knights or Obstructionist Villains? City Councils Attack Affordability Crises

An illustration of a handful of average-looking citizens
Seattle City Council brochure, 1974 photo by Seattle Municipal Archives is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Seattle's Protector Knights in Shining Armour? Or Obstructionist Councillor-Villains? A 1974 City Council brochure illustration presents only rumpled listeners you'd like to hug.

These days, city governments must work to balance the demands of residents of all stripes, from the comfortable and complacent to the needy and struggling. They are forced to do so while protecting citizen health from a string of dangers, everything from water and air pollution to shoddy construction. At the same time they’re faced with growing local, regional and national requirements to conserve energy, and to minimize climate change.

How to do it? The would-be shining knight that is a city council wields rules and regulations as weapons, and dons them as protective armour. Those rules and regulations must be imagined, constructed, applied and maintained. That doesn’t come easily.

A recent article in the Seattle Times explores how Seattle City Council is being forced to answer for bureaucratic delays in the production of affordable housing, navigating heavy seas of criticism from developers who accuse the city of making housebuilding more expensive.

The housing industry everywhere is not shy in pursuing its objectives of reducing or eliminating all rules and regulations that impede its pursuit of profit — effectively the fox demanding the keys to the henhouse.

However, to be fair to developers, local and regional governments would seem to be capable of tangling each other into bureaucratic knots when there isn’t even a developer in sight to blame.1

How is Seattle handling its current problems? Are there solutions in sight? Read more in the Seattle Times:  As Affordable Housing Shrinks In Seattle, Permitting Delays Keep Apartment Projects In Limbo For Months


  1. For a recent example of a regional and a local government in a face-off of bureaucratic blundering, try: Inter-Governmental Wrangling: A True Menace To Affordable Housing?