Sunday, July 24, 2005

Conversations with Sam Yoon

A couple of Saturday's ago I was at a Ward Meeting where Sam indicated that we need to make the process easier for developers (such as me) to build housing. I asked him how he would SPECIFICALLY make the process easier. He indicated the process: financing, ISD, BRA, but had no specific plans or ideas as to how it could be improved. So as not to beleaguer the point Sam and I agreed to speak later about any questions I had for his campaign. He indicated at this meeting on saturday that his three issues were education, housing and youth.

To Sam's credit, he returned my call later that day and we spoke about the campaign. I pointed out that he had indicated to a number of groups that he would have supported the Neighborhood Stabilization bill which is essentially rent control. I had smelt some wiggle room when listening to his speeches so I asked him directly, "if you are elected, are you going to reintroduce the Neighborhood Stabilization bill?" He answered "No, I won't reintroduce the bill." (The key words I had continually heard him say were "would have supported" which leaves him open to do anything in the future)
I then pressed further and said "Sam, you've indicated that housing and education are your two main issues. Can you tell me one piece of legislation you will introduce that deals with these two issues." He answered very candidly, "Kevin, from what I understand being a city councilor is much like running for city council. You are always running around and it is sort of like triage, you have to decide what issues to tackle as they come up. I admire that you have taken the time and effort to come up with specific plans and proposals to make the city better, but I am just trying to spend my time letting people get to know who I am. I don't have the time or the resources to spell things out like you did." (editors note: Sam announced he was running for office last fall and has raised around $100,000 according to him. Kevin announced his candidicy in March of this year and has raised around $25,000) Sam continued "when I am in office I will have to decide where to spend my political capital."
Sam then reversed roles and asked me "why don't you support the Neighborhood Stabilization bill?" I explained that I believe housing is a supply and demand issue and I don't believe in an artificial government price control that has been shown not to work, and where I am sure the rich and connected people with influence in the government will be able to get around the system. What we really need to do is get rid of the city's excess property, and build more housing.
We then talked a bit about the Open Meeting Law. He was amazed to hear that councilors meet in closed sessions in groups of 6 without public notice and he said that he thought this didn't sound good but that he wasn't really up on the issue.
We exchanged pleasantries and I thanked him for his time and candor.

Two days later we were both at a Ward meeting in Jamaica Plain and my fiance Dr. Clara Lora warned me to speak before Sam because he often takes my ideas. Sure enough Sam was chosen to speak before me. He started out by saying that his three issues were education, housing and public safety. (I checked my notes and sure enough two days earlier he had said the issues were education, housing, and youth---was there a structural change in his campaign over the weekend?) He then went on to talk about housing, and I almost fell out of my chair as he said "Now I would have supported the Neighborhood Stabilization bill but that is only a band-aid, HOUSING IS REALLY A SUPPLY AND DEMAND ISSUE AND WE NEED TO WORK ON CREATING MORE SUPPLY!" He was using my exact words that I had explained to him on Saturday!! With no credit like "Kevin McCrea explained this to me and I like his idea"

Anyway, this is just another example of why I'm running. We need to hold politicians accountable. We need them to spell out specifically what they are going to do and what they stand for. Sam Yoon is a very smart gentleman, who is quick on his feet and has done very good work on housing issues in the past. But, that doesn't explain what he is going to do if elected and I for one would like to know what my elected officials plan on doing if they get in. I do believe that Sam Yoon is a good person who could be a good councilor, but as the song says "if you don't stand for something, you can fall for anything"

Remember, if you hear candidates talk about open, honest, transparent government or getting rid of excess government property to help the supply side of the housing problem, the ideas came from me and can be seen on the website, www.electkevin.us.

goodnight,
kevin

11 comments:

Rich B said...

Hi Kevin--

Like the way you challenged Sam about housing. But as a fellow small-investor developer, I think you need to address the costs of housing.

- Investors hate uncertainty. When you buy a piece of property you need to know how long it will take for approvals and what you can do with it. Uncertainty in these areas can add 20% or more to the break-even price, or worse yet, add another abandoned weed-infested vacant building to the long list.

- Builder's-risk and other types of insurance has gone up a LOT since 9/11. Any thoughts on what to do about gouging by insurers?

- Contractor bids have gone WAY up the past 3 years, without necessarily a hike in worker pay. Any thoughts on how to create housing for less, without so much profits to the middlemen?

- In high-desirability neighborhoods, even vacant lots or burnt-out buildings cost too much per square foot to be worth developing, at least as anything other than luxury condos. (I have a fancy spreadsheet to analyze these things, it's a sorry situation.)

- Federal mortgage lending policy--which makes bigger loans available for a lower monthly payment--has distorted the housing market and, by itself in just 5 years, pushed housing prices beyond the reach of most individuals. What can a local government do to curb risky lending?

Thanks!

Cos said...

Kevin - As you know I am very interested in the Stabilization Act and made sure to clarify Sam's position on it earlier this year. The exactly question he answered for DFA-Boston was not whether he "would have supported it" but whether he would vote for it if it is reintroduced. Once he decided to answer yes to that question, he's remained consistent. He also says he himself won't reintroduce it - that's fine, it's not his focus, and someone else can reintroduce it, probably Felix Arroyo if not Gibran Rivera.

I think it's a bit silly to say that he stole your idea merely because he says we need more supply. I think we all understand that supply is an important part any housing solution, and I'm pretty sure I've heard every single candidate (yes, including Sam) say so before. We ALSO need "band-aids" like the stabilization act, to cover the wounds we're already suffering from - simply working on more supply is simply not going to address them. The family being forced out of their home next month doesn't care that you're going to build more homes in two years that may or may not slow the growth of prices in some parts of Boston a few years later.

I think there's a clear contrast here between you and Sam, in that he understands this need, and even if it's not his primary focus, he won't be an obstacle to addressing this pressing need. I absolutely do not think that saying we have to work on supply is some special idea that only you have. It's like saying, when talking about schools, that we want good teachers. It's something every candidate should and would say.

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