The process to shape new zoning that will raise some building heights and introduce new affordability requirements for development around Capitol Hill and other dense Seattle neighborhoods came to District 3 last week as Washington Hall hosted a Mandatory Housing Affordability open house. CHS was there to hear what attendees had to say about the plan, questions, and what City Hall reps had to say about the proposals that are hoped to be the next big step in Seattle’s efforts to create a new surge of affordable housing production in the city.
The process will culminate on April 16 at Broadway Performance Hall for a public hearing before the City Council finalizes its legislation.
You can submit your comments via email email@example.com. No rush. You have until July.
Bill Bradburd, 20-year Seattle resident, a former candidate for the City Council, and a frequent critic of City Hall status quo said he came out to “see what the city’s dog and pony show was all about.”
“Ed Murray, Mike O’Brien,Vulcan representatives and the non-profit housing industry came up with this plan of upzoning everything everywhere in exchange for these low fees,” Brafburd said. “The developers signed on because the fees are low, unlike San Francisco,” the plan critic continued. “The non-profits signed on because they’re the ones getting all the money to build this stuff. So all this cheerleading of HALA happens.”
“Most new housing in Seattle is replacing one-story retail or parking lots so there’s very little physical displacements especially on Capitol Hill and MHA is going to let us build slightly taller slightly more densely, which will push down rents –- that’s what the theory and study say and then the city will get MHA money to build affordable housing in our neighborhood,” Zach Lubarsky, a technology worker and member of the Capitol Hill Renters Initiative (and a CHS reader!) said. “Development without displacement is a net good in my view.”
We heard more from Bradburd, Lubarsky, and others and share more of their conversations below.
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Council members Rob Johnson and Sally Bagshaw were in attendance along with neighborhood residents, design review board members, representatives from SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity), and the Capitol Hill Renters Initiative and more.
The open houses are designed to provide the public the opportunity to learn about what’s in the zoning proposals for their neighborhoods, and a chance for city agencies, public utilities and community groups to lobby for their input and influence. City representatives were also on hand to answer questions and get a handle on what they’ll hear later this month.
Here are ten conversations CHS heard at the District 3 & 7 MHA Open House:
1) Jay Weeldreyer currently lives in on the Eastside, graduated Seattle University in 2000, and was priced out of the city a few years later but wants to move back.
“I have an eight year old and a five year old and I’d like to get them exposed to urban environments on a regular basis and now I can’t, despite the fact I have an income that for the rest of the world is great but here is f***- all and every couple months that go by, it does less and less,” said Weeldreyer.
Weeldreyer doesn’t see single family neighborhoods as untouchable and sees the MHA program as a way for his family to get back to the city.
“The idea that single family neighborhoods are a right, and that because you got here first, it’s like squatter’s rights – it’s what they’re trying to claim. The city has the zoning mechanism at its disposal and I’m happy to see that they’re finally willing to use it. It’s way too late but it’s a solid attempt – But the stakeholders in Seattle’s growth are largely the future residents and I don’t know how Seattle can engage with them but want to come back,” he said.
2) Bill Bradburd lives near Jackson and is involved with SCALE and its efforts to shape the MHA.
Bradburd questions the genesis of the city’s up-zoning and according to him, the point of view is flawed. MHA would require 7% of units of all new developments be affordable.
“Ed Murray, Mike O’Brien, Vulcan representatives and the non-profit housing industry came up with this plan of upzoning everything everywhere in exchange for these low fees. The developers signed on because the fees are low, unlike San Francisco. The non-profits signed on because they’re the ones getting all the money to build this stuff. So all this cheerleading of HALA happens.
By the way, the Seattle for Everyone group is funded by Vulcan and Facebook: tech workers and the people buildings offices for tech workers. This is a big scam,” he said.
Bradburd and SCALE are concerned the affordable housing laws in their current state will serve to do the opposite of what it intends.
“In the Central Area they’re targeting 975 single family homes for rezoning. Of those developments MHA would potentially produce only 280 affordable units in the Central Area over 20 years, so you’re basically taking pockets of the remaining black community in the central area, up-zoning them – they’ll end up leaving, which gentrifies the neighborhood. How does that help the Central area? How does that help the black community sustain themselves there?
What’s it’s really going to do is produce a lot of town houses for tech workers. Townhouses are profitable for developers. Even if they have to pay $40,000 in fees. So, you’ll have this expensive city center surrounded by what will end up being all the affordable housing, basically clustering poor people in their own projects,” he said.
According to Bradburd, the fees that developers would have to pay in order to move said affordable units off-site are too low. He considers this to be amplified in the Central District since most of the area is targeted for low rise zoning, making all the single family neighborhood small lot townhouses when they should be making the block LR3 apartment buildings.
Low Rise 3 zones would allow various multi family buildings but would tend to encourage stacked apartments or condominiums.
“How are you going to make 7% of a four townhouse row affordable housing?” Bradburd said.
3) Lauren Squires, Transportation Planner on the Seattle Volunteer Planning Commission attended the open house as a citizen to gain insight to the district’s plan.
The Seattle Planning Commission believes “there should be a housing choice for people of all income levels and backgrounds to live in whatever neighborhood in Seattle they like. We’re supportive of the MHA and HALA to keep Seattle affordable and livable,” she said.
4) Tana Yasu with the Historical Central Area Arts and Culture Organization and a member of the Seattle Women’s Commission
Yasu is an advocate for including artists and cultural gatekeepers in the developments and design planning process as the city evolves. She is part of a new cohort of developers and artists that will attend planning meetings to ensure their point of view is included and considered.
“One of our goals is to preserve the historic and cultural presence of the African American community in the Central District because there was a time it was a red lined area and it was the only place we could live,” she said. “We started moving out as those stipulations were taken off but now it’s become a hot spot for property,” she said.
So now what?
“The developers are doing their thing and the artists, they’re artists! Things are in place that are happening. We’re not going to stop that from happening so as these neighborhoods are in transition. let’s at least sit down at the table and start the planning process together in a symphonic change that everyone is happy with,” said Yasu.
“People want to be closer to downtown and don’t want to commute and they’re moving in and raising up the property value which isn’t horrible but for people that’ve been living there, taxes are doubling and tripling over the last ten years – It’s crazy. Instead of the developers being separate and us complaining or coming in late we’re going to have dialogue from the beginning. There’s been too much push back, so they are willing to talk early on now,” she said.
5) Lisa Rutzick Design Review Program Manager says “If you work for the city or the design review process you’ll build up a thick skin.”
The design review process for new developments is open to the public, including the new effort Yasu is part of to preserve the cultural legacy alongside infrastructural progress.
“We are in the process of trying to build an eighth review board for the Central area. We pulled from the East District and the South East District to make a Central area. People are really excited so hopefully that will happen in the next few months,” said Rutzick.
6) Garwin L. is a property owner who lives in North Rainier Valley
He came to the open house to learn what his options are for building on his land and to learn what’s to come. There are some outdated maps he would like to see corrected as well, according to Garwin.
“I wanted to see what’s going on. We have vacant land that we can build on but we’re not sure what to do with it so we want to see what’s coming to the neighborhood, so we can plan ahead,” he said.
“I don’t’ have any concern with up-zoning because that’s a benefit for everyone but the more you know the better. I think it’s good news for my property. Across the street from my property is commercial, and next door is a multi-family and I’m in a single so what can I do?,” he said.
7) Steve Zemke is the Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forests’ Chair. He’s not happy with the treatment of Seattle trees with each new development.
According to Zemke, City Council passed a resolution in 2009 which instructed the Department of Planning and Development to create legislation that would strengthen the city’s requirements around tree displacement and removal, however, an ordinance has yet to be delivered.
“The idea is to get a stronger tree ordinance like in Portland Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia – That, among other things will require permits to remove trees and require a replacement when trees are removed. We’re not going to stop all trees being removed but we shouldn’t lose those environmental services those trees provide. There are plenty of places in the city like in the South end where they can use more trees. We should require that they replace either on site or off site or pay into a fund where the city can plant more trees,” he said.
The 2018 priorities for the Friends include a tree canopy impact assessment, promoting tree replacement and lobbying for arborists to register with the City.
8) Zack Lubarsky in the Tech industry and Mark Brunson, a Staffer at University of Washington arewith the Capitol Hill Renters Initiative and pro MHA
On housing developments on Capitol Hill:
Lubarsky: “Most new housing in Seattle is replacing one-story retail or parking lots so there’s very little physical displacements especially on Capitol Hill and MHA is going to let us build slightly taller slightly more densely, which will push down rents – that’s what the theory and study say and then the city will get MHA money to build affordable housing in our neighborhood. Development without displacement is a net good in my view.”
Brunson: “Yeah, also It’s important to me that everyone has a chance to live without having to own a car.”
The Capitol Hill Renter Initiative meets the second Wednesday of every month 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the 12th Avenue Arts Building
9) District 4 Councilmember Rob Johnson
Johnson’s great grandmother moved to Capitol Hill in the late 1800’s. He says he is the first generation that is unable to settle on Capitol Hill due to housing costs. “My cousins who work in non-profit, the school district or as baristas have to live further away than my cousins who are working in finance, who can afford to live closer to where they work. We need to build more housing and a lot more affordable housing.”
District 4 was the first to hold zoning deliberations, followed by 5 and 6, currently 3 and 7. The process will be complete with district 2 and 1.
According to Johnson, many cities are struggling with the same issues as Seattle in managing housing growth with affordability.
“Often times people site San Francisco’s requirement that all housing developments have 25% affordable units – Well, ask anyone who lives there, they’re not seeing the kind of market production they would need to keep pace with market growth. San Francisco encumbered developers to build affordable housing and they did it at such a astoundingly high rate that it really had a negative impact on their market rate housing, let alone their affordable housing.
When you have a limited supply and a lot of people who want to live there, it drives up the prices. In Seattle we are limiting that because we know we need more market rate housing but we want it to pay for the affordable housing too. Ours is focused in the 5-8% range so we don’t run into the same problems San Francisco is facing now,” he said.
10) Council member Sally Bagshaw, District 7
“People are mostly looking for affordable housing,” said Bagshaw of her district. “If someone has some good ideas I want to hear that”.
According to Bagshaw there is a contradiction that must be balanced in order to progress while still keeping the character of the city intact.
“It is contradictory because folks can say we’ve been here forever and it costs too much and there’s too many people coming in and there’s too much congestion and we want all those people to go away and you know that’s not going to happen. And the people who are coming back are the kids and the grandchildren and we want them here so it’s that tension between trying to create and hold on to livability and frankly the history, that people have felt so strongly about and at the same time making room for others to come in.”
“In a recent study that was done by the business community that I just received last week – over the last 15 years, our tri-counties have under produced housing for the people coming in by 175,000 units,” said Bagshaw.
The proposed zoning changes for Capitol Hill and the Central District include transitioning Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to beyond Roy to 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning that would allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout. Some of the bigger changes would also come around the Miller Community Center where planners are now proposing a less aggressive upzone than one potential alternative had originally proposed. Moving toward the Central District, most proposed changes are focused on the area around Madison and 23rd with notable exceptions around 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson where surgical upzoning has already been approved. Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the upzoning vary by “scale” and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including the rent-restricted units.
Running concurrently with the open houses is a series of formal public hearings about each of the areas — your thoughts on the plan can become part of the formal record on April 16th. After that, there will be a final, citywide public hearing followed by the council’s start of deliberations. There is a long way to go.