Everett councilmember turned failed housing vote into song

Liz Vogeli lets lyrics describe disappointment after a housing proposal for homeless students was rejected.

Liz Vogeli

Liz Vogeli

EVERETT — After a controversial vote last month, an Everett City Council member is singing to express her deep disappointment.

Liz Vogeli was in the minority when the council rejected a proposal by Housing Hope to amend two city land-use designations. The changes would have allowed the nonprofit to build 44 units of multifamily, supportive housing to serve homeless Everett School District students and families on a rare patch of vacant land in the Port Gardner neighborhood.

A council member since 2018, Vogeli took to YouTube with lyrics and a tune that she said just came to her. Vogeli said she tries in her role on the council to express her views through facts and logic, but this time she felt she still had more to say, even at the risk of ruffling her colleagues.

“It’s the activist in me, I had to put it out there,” Vogeli told The Daily Herald.

The song, which she calls “Little Bodies,” is adapted from the Malvina Reynolds 1962 song “Little Boxes,” which became a hit for folk singer Pete Seeger a year later. Vogeli, who has a background performing as a vocalist, posted it to YouTube on Oct. 30.

A note preceding her voice reads in part: “This song is in response to a vote the Everett City Council took on October 21, 2020. I’ve been advocating for more housing, in all shapes and sizes, and in all price points for quite some time.”

Lyrics written by Vogeli describe a lost opportunity for student success through safe housing.

“There was space there on the hillside/ There was space for a new home supply/ There was space for all the bodies/ … But they can’t now ‘cause we stopped it/ kept a field there for the dogs.”

Vogeli, with councilman Paul Roberts, supported the Sequoia-Norton site proposal that was ultimately rebuffed in a 4-2 vote. A historic neighborhood designation, mentioned in the song, and zoning decisions were contested aspects of the project.

According to Vogeli, the song is her personal artistic opinion, not an action as a council member. She acknowledged that the roles of advocate, artist and city councilwoman can be difficult to separate or can become blurred at times.

She insists the song isn’t trying to pick a fight with the council or the neighborhood, although her lyrics are stark and provoking. Mainly, she hopes to raise public consciousness of an issue she herself has lived through and hopes others don’t have to.

“This is my voice, this is not the council’s voice,” she said.

Council President Judy Tuohy said Vogeli’s song was a different and new opportunity for self-expression.

“She’s very passionate about this issue and I know she was disappointed in the outcome of the project and it is certainly her right to express herself,” Tuohy said. “If she wants to do that through a song, that is great.”

Tuohy, a homeowner in the Port Gardner neighborhood, voted against the amendments necessary for Housing Hope to move forward with the development. She said her decision wasn’t about the worthiness of such a project, which she said is needed.

“It is where the proposed project was to be,” Tuohy said.

As a child who experienced homelessness, Vogeli said, she slept in tents and trucks, and fell behind in school. She recalled being treated like trash and rejecting the mistreatment she received from others.

For children experiencing homelessness, who already feel like nobody cares or wants what’s best from them, Vogeli said, the council’s decision may be traumatic.

“These kids, they’re going to hear that there was a whole faction of people that didn’t want them to live in their neighborhood, essentially,” Vogeli said.

In the midst of a housing crisis that is worsened by the pandemic, Vogeli said, the Housing Hope proposal was a little piece in a puzzle to help bring relief to the vulnerable in the region.

She advocates new growth in urban settings like Everett and a move away from single-family housing in the city. In the meantime, expanding shelters to house folks will be a necessity.

“This isn’t over,” Vogeli said. “It may be over for this particular field, but we are going to be needing to build a lot more housing.”

She anticipates criticism for sharing her opinion but said there are many people who want her as an elected official to air those feelings. Vogeli said she feels responsible as a voice for those people who do not or cannot speak for themselves.

As for the song, Vogeli said, the online rendition is a quick-and-dirty version. She said there will be more added, and she plans to make a video accompaniment.

“Stay tuned,” Vogeli said.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.

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