Seattle is embarking on a once-in-a-decade process to update our housing growth plan, aka our Comprehensive Plan. We have until Monday, Aug 22 to tell the City which growth options to study. If they don’t study a particular option, then it’s unlikely to be included in the final plan.
The plan presents an opportunity to make huge strides in actually addressing our housing affordability, homelessess, and climate crises, which is exciting! But our fear, as workers and as climate advocates, is that the City will not go far enough in the next plan and ultimately repeat the mistakes of the past. The previous plan did little to address climate or affordability, and failure to act now will make all of those problems worse as Seattle grows much faster than projected.
But right now, we can craft a plan that reduces carbon emissions while also creating bountiful housing for all who live here now and for all who want to live here in the future.
Since the first Comprehensive Plan in 1994, Seattle’s Urban Village Strategy has confined apartments and condos to small areas of the city known as, well, “Urban Villages.” These village barriers were influenced by racial redlining and racial covenants, racist real estate practices that continued at least until the 1970s. The Seattle Planning Commission, Office of Planning and Community Development, The White House, and others all agree that existing land use plans like our 1994 plan perpetuates these past injustices.
Since 2010, Seattle has added at least 60,000 housing units, which is a good start. But a City of Seattle analysis from April 2021 showed we still are short tens of thousands of homes, including those that are affordable and available to renters making at or below 80% of the area median income, which translates to $66,750 for a single person. More dense infill housing is clearly needed to tackle the climate crisis and give everyone an affordable home.
But the City’s five new “alternative” housing plans only scratch the surface of the problem. They range from Alternative 1 (The Status Quo) to Alternative 5 (Modest Growth). The most housing-forward plan, Alternative 5, only allows the smallest of apartment buildings in many areas.
However, we’re helping to grow a grassroots movement to create a 6th alternative, one that would allow for more abundant housing in all areas of the city and create more space for parks and sidewalks, plus bus and bike lanes.
Alternative 6 could look like a connected network of complete neighborhoods, allowing four- to six-story apartments in all neighborhoods, with incentives for affordable homes and commercial and community spaces to serve people’s daily needs. Alternative 6 should look at encouraging green buildings, and it can serve as an anti-displacement alternative that can help add more housing in neighborhoods where the risk of displacing renters is lower.
This vision complements the one presented by Seattle Social Housing Initiative 135, which would create a mechanism for more affordable housing for low and middle income families. Alternative 6 supports this effort by legalizing construction of this housing in most areas of the city.
But the only way we get something like Alternative 6 is if the City hears from us. Luckily for us all, that’s the easy part.
Simply create an account at the One Seattle Plan Engagement Hub by signing in with your email address, Google, or Facebook accounts. After you sign in, go to “Shaping the Plan: Comment on the Environmental Review.” Then:
- Read responses submitted by the community and use the thumbs up/down buttons to vote comments up and down. Some Alternative 6 ideas we recommend voting up are here, here, here, and here.
- Leave a comment by using the template tool at Alternative6.org to save time.
- Or write and submit a comment in your own voice!
- Comments are due by August 22 for the first phase of the process.
Join us in asking for the kind of housing we need to tackle these intertwined crises. As the news from our region and our planet reminds us every day, we cannot wait any longer.
Alex Broner has been a transportation and housing advocate in Seattle for over 10 years. He is the founder of Housing Now a grassroots collective of activists working on solutions to Seattle's housing crisis. He works in IT and holds a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning.
Audrey Neubauer is a member of the Sierra Club’s Seattle group executive committee.
Naishin Fu is a former software Product Manager and organizer with Tech 4 Housing, which is a community of tech workers advocating for affordable housing for all. She also works with other local and state level organizations on housing, progressive taxation, and education.
Robert Cruickshank is chair of the Sierra Club’s Seattle group.