Tuesday, The Seattle Times got their hands on a leaked draft of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda report.
What is that?
Mayor Ed Murray convened a panel called the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee a while back and asked them to prepare a series of recommendations regarding Seattle’s housing issues and what can be done to improve the city’s outlook. The report is expected to get to Murray’s desk next Monday where he will then decide which recommendations he likes. What he likes will then be submitted in the form of a bill to the Seattle City Council.
How big is this report?
Big. There’s 67 recommendations spread out across four categories: Affordable Housing Funding, Housing Supply, Tenant Support and Strategies to Increase Efficiency.
Sounds great. What’s the problem?
One recommendation in particular has a lot of people up in arms. Specifically, a recommendation to get rid of single-family zoning. Here’s what they said:
In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic level of Single Family zoning is no longer either realistic or sustainable. HALA recommends allowing more flexibility and variety of housing in Single Family zones to increase the economic and demographic diversity of those who are able to live in these family oriented neighborhoods. In fact, HALA recommends we abandon the term “single family zone” and refer to such areas as low-density residential zones.
Just sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook. What’s the big deal?
For some people, this means the end of Seattle neighborhoods as we know them. Anyone who is against the idea of seeing big development in traditionally-residential neighborhoods is concerned that this kind of recommendation will lead to more of that. “More 6-story buildings where there were 4 stories before, more 7-story buildings where there were 6-stories before,” as an overview letter attached to the draft says.
Well, The Urbanist went into overdrive to explain why it’s a bit more of the latter. As they explain it, single family zoning came after many of Seattle’s traditionally residential neighborhoods had already formed. They also argue the recommendation isn’t actually focused on bigger developments but instead for an increased production of ADUs and DADUs as well as the creation of “test areas” for new low density residential development.
What’s the right recommendation for Seattle?
Well that’s an ongoing discussion but if you believe that the city has a fundamental right to encourage more development in order to provide accessible housing for everyone who lives here, then you’re probably on the side of this recommendation. If you believe the city should make it a priority to maintain the look and feel of your neighborhood, then you’re against the recommendation.
Are there other recommendations in there worth considering?
Sure. Many folks are also keeping a close eye on a recommendation to increase maximum building heights in all multifamily areas. Tied to the single family zoning recommendation, this one will also have an affect on the way Seattle grows up (literally). Also, a recommendation to get rid of minimum parking requirements is sure to rankle a whole lot of folks (looking at you, Jason Rantz) but can also be seen as a forward-looking measure for a metropolitan region moving away from cars and towards more public transit.
The committee also sets a goal of 50,000 new housing units to be built over the next 10 years with the hope that 20,000 of them would be income-restricted as affordable housing.
Are we about to get inundated with heated arguments, insane theories, veiled race-baiting and wild city council meetings?
You betcha. Grab some popcorn and be ready.
Senior Director, Coldwell Banker New Homes Division
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