How to Make SLU an Affordable Neighborhood


Right off the bat you're wrong, Nick:

It's never going to an affordable neighborhood if the only "local grocery store" is Whole Foods! (aka Whole Paycheck)
Word up.
Offer a radical upzone plan for any developer that honestly and fully plays ball. Like maybe say "you get the rights to build Seattle's tallest building in the DT core if you facilitate x 1BR units at $975/mo and x Studios at $800/mo in SLU" and watch them fall all over themselves.
California as a model for anything urban planning is hilarious. I guess we're going to sprawl/pave right up to the Cascade mountains' treeline then. Quit taxing density and let the supply increase! Towers, mid-rise, accessory dwelling units, aPodments... we need them all, and more of them!

For the billionth time: a standard basket of goods at Whole Foods is cheaper than at QFC.
NO!!!! The problem that is constantly ignored by the City Council is the fact there is no affordable housing for mid-level workers who make OVER your proposed max but no where near enough to afford $2000 a fucking month for a one bedroom or studio!!!

I know the city council won't listen to the comment section but it would be nice if they would pretend they did
Cato @6, I can guarantee you that Licata (and/or his LAs) are watching this comment thread closely. They are listening, even if they won't join the conversation.
Won't South Lake Union merely become the H1B shanty town that the business interests planning to be tenants of the area want it to be?
While I love the concept of making SLU an affordable neighborhood, the reality is Seattle is not an affordable city.

I'd much rather see the money from the overpriced lakeview properties in SLU used to build far more affordable SROs and city owned aPodments in neighborhoods that are cheaper. Like anywhere on the light rail line, including NE 65th and Roosevelt.

Right now the working class lives in Renton and Kent and works here. There's the problem.
Charge developers a fee if they don't build high enough. Small, squat buildings should be fined.
Fuck it, while we're at it let's regulate that menu prices at Flying Fish correlate to your income. Reservations and recent paystubs required to be served.
This fails two major lessons of basic economics:
1. Don't tax the thing you want more of.
2. Rent control reduces the incentive to build more.

Taxing density is a terrible idea. But if the only way to work with you Lesser Seattlites is a plan like this, I'll take that compromise. Taxing the hell out of something we want is mildly better than straight outlawing it (hey we finally legalized pot, now let's work on legalizing affordable housing).
Why do the fees increase from $22 to $96? That's what I'm not clear on.
I have to agree wholeheartedly with #6. If you're going to subsidize housing in South Lake Union, why not do it in a way that actually alleviates the price pressure for the majority of people that will be working there. Someone working and living in SLU and making $50,000/year is going to pay nearly half their after-tax income on housing if they want a decent apartment. This subsidy brings the target for someone making $36,000/year down to about 1/3rd of their income, which is fine, but ideally that would be the case for all income levels.

We need to increase the housing density across the board, in SLU and nearby neighborhoods. Give the tax credits to people who want to put high-density condos and apartments on Queen Anne and Capitol hill, bring the overall price of the market down. More people are moving to Seattle than there are new apartments being built, and cutting off a section of the existing housing for low-income people isn't going to help the overall market.

#3 also is hitting the nail on the head. Yeah, no one wants to lose their view of the lake, but we NEED more high-rise and high-density buildings somewhere in Seattle...
@9 - No. No. No. You are so dumb.

@6 - If you are making upwards of $45k and want to live alone, this plan will open up the rental market by taking your current competition for space elsewhere. Expanding affordable housing for lower incomes will help housing become more available for middle income people.

Overall, in addition to adding affordable housing, I would like to see Seattle deal with the problem of people investing in residential real estate (2nd homes, vacation homes) that remains empty most of the year. Allowing more mother-in-law units would also be nice.
The thing is 1200 a month is not affordable to a person making 45k a year. A 45k a year paycheck pays about 1500 per pay period. 40% post tax income is terrible rent
2nd homes probably make up less than 2% of all housing stock in seattle
1. A tax on density would look recur over time. A fee on adding density is paid once or for a fixed amount of time.

These buildings will rent themselves for at least fifty years. The well-maintained buildings will rent for a hundred or more.

Developers gonna develop. So long as the city lets them add units at a substantially lower cost than building new infrastructure, they'll build where they can charge the highest rents.

Streetcar? Buses? Close to work? Vibrant? -- Nah, you're right. No one wants to live in Seattle.

2. Charge the fee just long enough for the free market to fill in the "rich enough to not afford housing" gaps.

3. Neighborhoods need families to be neighborhoods. Please encourage parks, open spaces, libraries and all that other stuff.

and please please please someone import some soul down there. I feel like I'm a sperm swimming in Paul Allen's wet dream when I cut from Eastlake to Westlake.
These "affordable" units will fill with young white people -- the same people who would have gone to this neighborhood or others like it anyways. No immigrants or people of color are going to be renting there. Why would they want to? They're not going to be working at Amazon. You think immigrants are going to want to drive from downtown to their jobs in the Kent Valley every day?
@15 so you actually think the working class doesn't live in Renton and Kent?

Strange. I'd say you're the dumb one.

Look, the ship sailed on SLU being a low rent neighborhood, about 15 years ago.
@18, soul isn't something you can import. It isn't something you can buy from Amazon; no one associated with Amazon has ever been within ten miles of soul, and would recoil in horror if they ever did. Ditto all urban planners and other decision-makers. Soul isn't a thing you get; it's a thing that happens via natural processes. There are no natural processes happening in SLU. SLU is a neighborhood without a glimmer of soul, and always will be. SLU is not just without soul, it is the perfect embodiment of that which drives soul far, far away. The more SLU we get, whether it is city-planned or 3D-printed, the further away soul gets.
#16 is right. "Affordable" rent is 25% of gross income. There's nothing "affordable" about Licata's plan. It's just another form of spot zoning from a city council that, like the Stranger and the rest of the liberals in Seattle, views itself as a leisure time service of every crooked real estate developer. The corruption in this city is blatant and open.
These so-called social justice green density ideas sound great, but, if I recall correctly, they used to have another name for them - 'housing project'.

The final word on these approaches has not yet been written, but, if I also recall my economics correctly, rent can never be more than a person can afford to pay, right? So what does spending tax dollars on housing accomplish besides raising taxes?

I was once a fan of Licata's, but his collaboration with the rest of the Council has pretty much destroyed that, this guest piece is just confirmation. The toilet is flushing folks, the end is near.
@9 Quit trying to turn Rainier Valley into a ghetto damnit! People are always tring to push what they don't want next door to the Rainier Valley. Yes, more affordable housing would be great down there, but how about some in Ballard? Or more up on Capital hill and downtown? We need to increase density and have a good mix of housing styles and levels all over the city.
I agree with #16, and it's pretty much the same for a 36k/yr earner. It's weird how they are determining "affordable."
$975 a month on a $36k a year (or less) salary is affordable? That would amount to somewhere in the ballpark of $2kish after taxes? So half of your salary, at the top end of this range, goes towards rent not including utilities and insurance? Bad economics.
SLU isn't likely to have "soul" because it's going to be an extension of the existing commercial/retail downtown core, which also doesn't have much character. It's asking too much. The best it can do is make itself a neighborhood where some people can (but often won't) live, work, and shop without commuting in, which is a massive improvement over most of downtown.

I do think we shouldn't give up on affordable housing, but the way you get that is to be very liberal with what you're willing to trade to get more affordable housing. Maybe the easiest thing to do is to say that 10% has to be low-income as you define it, but developers are allowed to add more than enough additional commercial and market-rate housing that their overall profit on the building ends up the same (or if there's no way to structure that, the city basically has to subsidize the amount of affordable housing it's willing to buy). If possible, regulate things so that the low-income portion effectively comes along for free. That means you have to be willing to accept no limits on height. You get whatever height makes it pencil out for each developer for each development. Limiting supply without doing anything else to make development competitive will just result in keeping rents high and driving development elsewhere.
This city has been planned since it has been a city. We collectively decided to raise the level of Pioneer Square so our floors wouldn't flood. We blasted away a hill and built an island so we'd have better views (and the ability to expand westward). That Interstate was a neighborhood once.

Fnarf, you're not against planning. You're against bad planning. Me too.

Don't start complaining about too many whites living in Seattle, dude. You lost that argument in the Battle of Seattle.
@12, This wouldn't discourage density in SLU. It's a "tax" on a bonus. The land value doubles or triples overnight with the passage of the upzone and the public has the opportunity to capture some of that extra value. The in-lieu fees proposed would still make this profitable to developers relative to other development opportunities. The three other modest plans coming out of the council provide huge give-aways. Development pencils out if the in-lieu fee is $15, $30, or $60/SF -- that's what the studies showed -- it's just a matter of how much profit above the typical profit the city is going to give away.

I was thinking giving people $10,000, a fresh towel and a Bolt Bus ticket to New York City to grab an apodment.

Density is just have to leave to get it.

Licata, if you're reading this thread still, what equations are you using to define affordable? I'm not trying to be sarcastic or trolltastic either. I'd genuinely like to know what the basic equation to define affordability is.

Also, just so you're aware, in the state of Washington, $45k is the median salary. That means that 50% of the people in WA make below that amount. We should be having at least 2 or 3 levels of intermediate affordability below that.

I haven't seen a salary distribution chart for Seattle proper, and it's surrounding areas, but I imagine its not that drastically higher.

source: A fan of Nick's.
@29 Seattle isn't giving anyone money. Letting someone build on their own land is certainly treated like a privilege here, but think of the incentives you're setting up. Want to build a tall set of workforce housing? Sorry, the fees are so high you have to aim at the wealthy as tenants.
@33 -- You know where the city doesn't regulate what people can and can't build on their own land?

Houston, Texas.

Sure, there are plenty of differences between Houston and Seattle. I am grateful for every damn one.
I LOVE to live in the same neighborhood I work in. If I worked in SLU, the idea of housing there would be fine. But if I worked in a nice place there, I would be able to afford a nice place in SLU. If I was waitstaff at a place in SLU I would not be able to live there.

however, as with most of City Seattle, I would not feel safe living downtown (yes, technically not downtown, just fraught with dowtown problems). Focusing on putting more people down in the city seems a waste of time. decent public transportation that doesnt end up in the downtown area before it goes to places people live AND work would be a better use of money.

$36,000 after taxes is closer to $2,400 per month. I make about $5,000 less, and I take home about 2k, even when factoring in my portion of health insurance and other employment benefits. So the "affordability" is closer to 40 percent of salary. It's dumb, but then there are a lot of people these days paying 50 percent of their income just on rent.


Tall buildings will always have the wealthy as tenants. Like it or not, city government gets to decide what can be built on private land, which also means that the city can dictate whether developers have to pay higher fees for the privilege of making money hand over fist.
The idea that everyone somehow should get to live alone is what's off. If you are single, middle or low income and in your 20s or 30s you will have roommates. This is not news.

In LA, for example, there is a shortage of 20,000 housing units every month. "Units" means singles, couples, families, etc. Not "people." A studio apartment can house a couple or small family earning less than median income - I think the error is in assuming it is meant to house one person.

It's not ideal, but it is the reality of urban housing.
@37, live with a bunch of roomies, your family, your extended family. Hell, you and Charles want us living like they did in the old soviet union...10 people to a one bedroom apartment.

Having reasonalbe access to a studio or small one bedroom apartment for one person isn't asking a shit load from THE RICHEST FUCKING COUNTRY ON EARTH!!!
@38 - If living alone on $45k is your expectation, you have unrealistic expectations. The point is, realistically, our social and economic models don't allow for it; the reality is that it is considered your fault for not earning enough to pay the going rate for a studio apartment in the city.

Arguing against subsidized housing for those that earn less than you do because it wouldn't include you is a part of that mindset. You are ultimately contributing to the system that keeps you feel getting what you want.

@37 A small 400 sq ft studio absolutely should not house a small family.
@21 give it 50-60 years to age in, you might find some soul stubbornly emerging, probably north of Mercer, maybe west of Westlake. One thing that the city should definitely try to avoid—allowing the glass frontage of large buildings to enclose everything right up the the set-back limit. When I ride in on the trusty 21, I'm struck by how sterile d-town is up to about University. There are no storefronts, signage is severely restricted, and to get to anything at all you have to pass through a blank (often heavily tinted) glass wall. You get to the retail district and it's all storefronts that open directly onto the street. Much, much more dynamic, interesting, and appealing to humans. The last thing SLU should look like is a "financial district".
@40 - Under current conditions in most major cities, they do and will continue to do so unless affordable housing is mandated and subsidized.
@42 TBH, I can' t tell what you're arguing for or against. One minute it seems you're in full support of trying to get lower cost housing, and another you're saying that people of lower income should be living multiple people to a studio.
@28, Seattle is the whitest large city in the entire county, whiter than the county as a whole. It's whiter than Kent, whiter than Bellevue, whiter than Burien, whiter than Redmond, whiter than Renton, whiter than Federal Way, and much whiter than Tukwila or Skyway or Seatac. As the percentage of people of color increases in the state, Seattle stays about the same.

Note that median household income applies to all families. For people of color, the median is much, much lower; for African-Americans, it's about half as much ($61,000 vs. $31,000 in 2010). You can argue all you want about how much rent a person earning $45,000 can afford, but for a family of color that is far more than they earn; those "median income" apartments Licata is bragging about will be affordable to only the highest bracket. And thus the city gets whiter still.
If you can't afford to rent a studio it's irresponsible to have kids in the first place.
@43 - I am trying to be clear in my support of subsidized housing while keeping the reality of the current urban housing situation front and center. Single 20-somethings living alone is the fantasy - a couple with a newborn or a small child living in a studio is the reality. And neither can actually afford the studio apartment in SLU.
@41, sterility is mandated by the City of Seattle. Signs? You want signs? The Council may be split on density, but one thing they ALL agree on is NO SIGNS. Or maybe small, tasteful ones, the size of a 3x5 note card, and all in the same font. This city HATES signs, and always has. In fact, the entire downtown area is almost devoid of signs compared to how it was in the rowdy old days when there were porn shops and bars everywhere instead of tasteful boutiques and high-end restaurants. Some of those signs were even (gasp!) NEON -- I know, crazy. Look at any picture of anywhere downtown from 1865 to 1980, and all you see is signs everywhere. Since then, only the Market is allowed to have a proper sign.

Which is counterproductive, because everyone makes a "temporary" banner instead, to get around the restrictions, but banners look incredibly shitty, especially when they stay up for years.

Look at what happened around here when Russell moved downtown and wanted to put up a big sign -- from the reaction, including many Sloggers, you'd think they wanted to put up a flashing neon of the Pope, naked with a carrot sticking out of his ass, instead of the horrifying single word "RUSSELL", which would embarrassingly reveal the name of the tax-paying entity located there. How gauche.

Much better to pretend that there are no businesses at all here.

Seattle is a shockingly bland and soulless visual environment, and that's just the way they like it. All the cool stuff has been taken down and removed to MOHAI. SLU is no exception: glass walls, one storefront per block, signage not to exceed one square foot, not to be visible from more than ten feet away.
Someone making 36k a year cannot afford $975/month, I don't think.

Per paycheck city, a single person claiming 1 deduction will have a biweekly paycheck of $1123. Subtracting $925 from that leaves, generally, $1621 to pay for... nevermind fuck me. I live in NYC and make 61k - but my biweekly paychecks are ALSO in the $1150 range.

And @45 is the perfect example of the prevailing attitude toward the non-wealthy.
The land use code is a terribly ineffective place to fix societal injustice. IF we marginally increase the fees, some affordable housing can be added to SLU- won't be much but comes as little price.
If we take the 'Licata leap", we'll torpedo growth in SLU and not support as much growth near downtown, not get the same growth in tax base, etc. We should also be creating better affordable housing by better connection existing affordable neighborhoods to downtown. Why the focus on demanding incredible costly (opportunity cost basis) affordable housing in the most expensive area of the City to build?
@49 it's a simple binary classification, right? You'e either wealthy and an inherently evil opressor, or you are a righteous opressee. It must be a strange feeling that day you get a raise that pushes you over the evil threshold.
@51 - My comment did not equate "wealth" with your attitude towards the non-wealthy, but that the attitude expressed in your comment toward the non-wealthy is a dominant one.
@33, The city is increasing value to the land by changing the zoning laws. Property rights are not unlimited and exist in a context of regulation. Changes to the regulations can increase or diminish the value of property and that's what's happening here.
@33, and to address the second part of your comment: The fees only apply when a property receives a particular kind of height bonus in the downtown and SLU neighborhoods. This does not change the incentives to develop under present zoning. In the case of SLU development, the Licata-proposed fees are still small enough to make development in SLU more attractive than nearly any other location in the state.
@48 How did you get to $1620? According to that website, semi-monthly would be $1217, double that is $2434, and $925 from that is $1511/mth for all of life.

We're not talking about health insurance (which can range from $25 to $400/mth), phone bill, and cable and/or internet. We're also not talking about clothing, car insurance or payment (if they have one), gasoline (along with car). And I haven't yet included food, groceries, doctor's and dentist bills, etc etc etc.

AND, I haven't even gotten to what might be necessary extras like retirement plans, which most people would like to have.

$925 is a HELL of a lot of rent for $36k.
@55 semi-monthly and bi-weekly are different. but my math was off somewhere anyhow. They'll have $1,321 left over after rent each month.
Can you imagine how shiny and new this place was in the 40s, 50s and 60s? Parking lots, balconies, hotels with views from the west side of Capitol Hill...

How lovely that park beneath Queen Anne Hill must have looked. I bet a space-age needle would look lovely there.

Seattle will never be 1980s Seattle again. Thatcher is dead. We're not a one-show pony Boeing town anymore.

Screw Nike Town. Everything went to shit when that place moved in.
It's kind of fun to watch the serfs arguing over what they can't afford no matter how they slice it on an artist/bartender/barista's three part-time jobs.
@3: "if you facilitate x 1BR units at $975/mo and x Studios at $800/mo in SLU" "

So they'll offer that for a year, then rocket up the price.
@58: If you had any success or self-satisfaction in life you'd have a better thing to do than troll internet message boards.
And here I was feeling pretty damn awesome about getting an awesome new job at ~45k. That's still not enough to live on independently in Seattle? Seriously?
Nick, subsidies and rent control are poor at effecting positive change. Instead, they introduce unfairness (to renters, home owners, rental property owners, and developers) and increase the opportunity for bureauocratic and council corruption. What's more amazing is the figures that are being described as "affordable". This is a joke. You're not making anything affordable - instead you're setting a baseline below which rents will never go. Rental property owners in this city don't need to engage in a cartel to set a floor on prices because the city council is doing it for them. Also why is the focus on new development? If you think there is actually something useful that the city can do to provide "affordable housing", it's counter productive to talk about new development without looking at the entire housing stock. How does your plan relate to affordable ownership?

45k is plenty in Seattle. You can live on your own on minimum wage in Seattle. Maybe not in a new highrise condo, but certainly in First Hill, Lower Queen Anne, Beacon Hill, University District, etc.
#60, doctor, heal thyself!
@64: My point is that I don't go to the Glenn Beck forums and heckle your kinfolk for being idiots.
#65, another typical Seattle fuckwit who defends his bubble by defining everyone who hasn't drunk the kool-aid as a wingnut.
I've got a roommate set up so it's cool. But I'm going to start saving for that elusive day when I can afford a down payment on a little house or something. And dream of fast public transportation.
About all you can really say for the Houston way of doing things is that it works. For Houston. It would never work in Seattle. In fact I don't think it would work anywhere that already has zoning laws. Houston works because it was all set up when the neighborhoods were indeed neighborhoods (and lots of them still are) and there are codicils in the deeds that limit what you can do on a piece of property. Changing them requires a court order and the courts are VERY reluctant to approve a change. Besides you can be sure your neighbors will show up at the hearing to say NO. And they will be listened to.
I really can't see the people of Seattle doing block by block agreements about what can be done with their property. I can see you people telling OTHERS what they can do with their property but not see you wanting those same people telling you what can be done with yours and you putting that in as a deed restriction.
@68 -- Houston works because Houston started as a miserable place to live and the Houstonians aren't interested in making their city any better.

There is no physical limit on how big the city can sprawl. That city stretches for miles. They can't build ten-lane super-highways fast enough to keep up with the white flight. Home value fluctuates there so quickly, its often not worth the effort to invest in common goods: neighborhood swimming pools, transit infrastructure, parks, etc...

I can say lots and lots about the Houston way of doing things, but I'll stop because that shit is just depressing. Watch videos of Houston's one fixed public transportatio… if you want a primer on the Houston way.