Housing May 23, 2023 at 4:00 pm

And Why HB 1110 Won't Lower the Cost of Living in Seattle

Is real density coming here? Charles Mudede



I've said the same thing many times, albeit without the silly conceit of referencing "mid-century scholars":



People resist density because they do not like the notion of living in an ant hill.


Such bullshit. You don't need an economic collapse to have low prices. Cities in Japan and Germany are doing quite well, and have largely done better than most of the world since the war, and yet rent is much cheaper than it is here. Why? Because they have built shitloads of places to live, and continue to build shitloads of places to live. Why are they so much better at doing that than us? Zoning. There is ample evidence for what is an intuitively simple idea. You can build your way out of the problem the same way you build your way out of any shortage. The zoning works like a cartel. Get rid of it, and housing becomes cheaper.

But instead you have people like Charles you ignore the most important thing we can do to reduce housing costs, while dreaming of an economic collapse that ushers in a new socialist paradise, or some other bullshit. Fucking nonsense. Of course what the legislature passed is no panacea -- it doesn't go nearly far enough. But if you just take a look at the type of development that is occurring in this city, it is obvious that it is focused on maximizing the number of units, despite the bullshit regulations. Look how many houses (in areas zoned only for single families) are being torn down, and being replaced by bizarre looking triplexes. Technically they are a single family house, with an ADU and a DADU. But they are still fucking triplexes, built to the insanely restrictive code. Or look at the townhouses that are being built in the minuscule amount of land actually allowed for it. The city is building like crazy, with property changing changing hands all the time, but even after major subdivisions, only a handful of places are allowed to be built.

This is by far the most important issue facing the council. We aren't going to defund the police. The city will continue to slowly be more pedestrian/bike/transit friendly, but the changes won't happen quickly. After years of incompetence, people are happy that Harrell at least knows what he is doing. We aren't going to make major changes to the city bureaucracy. The only potential for major, needed change in this city comes in the form of regulatory change. We need to make it much easier to build places for people to live, and if we do, workers will build them. They might be paid by private companies to do the work (oh, the horror) but it is the workers that will build them, if we only let them. Otherwise they will continue to build McMansions and triplexes, since that is the only they are allowed to build.


They will build whatever is most profitable under the zoning laws. There is no guarantee that that will be the housing that is desperately needed - needed by people who do not have access to vast amounts of wealth. Why build affordable housing when the opportunity cost is luxury apartments that will be empty most of the year, but overpaid for by the wealthy just so they can brag about how much money they can afford to waste?

De-commodification is the only sensible path.


People like yards, some sunlight, rather than being packed into dense corridors of sun blocking, soulless buildings. Not rocket science. Oh, and if they have a small yard or garden, of course they don’t want a 90 unit no parking building to move in nextdoor….


I don’t agree with the author on many things, but he is right that capitalism will not build our way to affordability. The YIMBY call to save us via building new 1-2 bd units in luxury towers everywhere is naive. Maybe it will knock down prices for tech bros, but not for the renters that need actual affordability the most. I would not fault the CD or south end neighborhoods who have borne the brunt of gentrification for seeking a break from more upzoning, and am not ready to label Harrell as anti-density for seeking a waiver at this juncture.


"What it has done instead (and this points to the true status of the moderate left in our day) is generate many urban planning and architecture schools that have only addressed the catastrophe of unchecked capital deflation—slums, townships, favelas, and so on—entirely within the context of what caused the deflation, the market itself."

Indeed, in the last half-century the "moderate left" has by turns been asleep at the switch and passively complicit in the Reagan Restoration. I'd include the previous three "Democratic" presidents, but they don't even qualify as wimpy liberals. They're center/center-right Rockefeller Republicans in drag all the way, ACTIVELY complicit in the Reagan Restoration.


You can have your increased density with people stacked like cord wood. I’ll stick with my acreage where I am able to wander and see wildlife.
Sure the animals will poop in my woods, but that’s preferable to the people that poop on the sidewalks in Seattle.
But as someone commented on The Slog yesterday, “That’s life in the big city.”


It’s always fun to read about housing affordability without any discussion of population size or trends. It’s also great to see a Marxist quote from a nervous Victorian tract about the rising numbers of proles without said Marxist noting the class queasiness of an English writer.

This post does nicely exemplify why Marxism has been so worse than worthless in actually solving real problems. Other than SMASH KAPITALIZM BAD, there’s no coherent idea of how to produce anything of value without capitalism.


seems like any
Social Democracy'd
put the Citizenry before
profiteering but Capitalism

has neither the Time
nor Inclination for
Anything other
than Accumu-
lation. will it
Devour it-


better Invest
in Tents and

you can
still Afford to.


and then there's this:


Imagine a Renters’ Utopia.
It Might Look Like Vienna.

Soaring real estate markets have created a worldwide housing crisis. What can we learn from a city that has largely avoided it?

Calls for a federal social-housing plan in America might sound far-fetched, but make no mistake: The United States government intervenes heavily in the housing market. It’s just a two-tiered system, as Gail Radford, the historian, argues.

There’s generous support for affluent homeowners and deliberately insufficient support for the lowest-income households. In 2017, the United States spent $155 billion on tax breaks to homeowners and investors in rental housing and mortgage-revenue bonds, more than three times the $50 billion spent on affordable housing.

That $50 billion isn’t nothing. In fact, in many U.S. cities, public spending per capita on housing and community-development subsidies is higher than in Vienna.

But it seems clear that much of this money is misspent, whether through inefficient private-public partnerships like the low-income-housing tax credit; or through distortionary vouchers; or, most dubiously of all, through subsidizing homeowners, the people who need it least.

“If you give everyone demand-side subsidies, like vouchers, and there’s a supply shortage, it’s going to drive up prices,” Chris Herbert, the managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, told me. It costs the state more, and landlords often wind up pocketing the profits.

Though the Gemeindebauten represented a large initial government outlay, Vienna’s social housing is now self-sustaining. Guess how much of the residents’ salary goes toward the program. One percent. Social housing drives down rents in the private market by as much as 5 percent.

Vouchers may appear cheaper in the short term, but directly financing well-regulated public and limited-profit construction is the only way to mitigate speculation and hedge against ever-increasing housing costs.

In 2020, New York and California spent $377 and $248 per capita, respectively, in housing development, while Vienna spent just $124 — and approximately half of Vienna’s spending is on low-interest financing that will be repaid and then re-lent.
--by Francesca Mari; May 23, 2023

tonnes more:


@12: This copypasta again. (Copyrights are just so capitalist!) So I’ll just quote my original response, in full, below. (I’m guessing you’ll still have no answer?)

‘To implement Vienna’s housing model in Seattle, you’d need a cultural shift sufficient to have lawyers residing in “public housing.” You’d also need to turn Americans into the patient rule-obeyers common to Austria and Germany. Good luck with all of that.

‘Even after those huge changes in how Americans have long been taught/allowed to behave, none of this would help Seattle’s chronic homeless population, most of whom arrived in Seattle unemployed and homeless because of addiction. European democracies have national health-care plans; we do not.’



I mean, needing a cultural shift is kind of the motivating factor for discussing the reasons why the strategy makes sense. What would the alternative be? Sitting on our hands and hoping that there is magically some shift because of wishful thinking? Forcing people to change their behavior through some authoritarian mechanism? The statement that we need a cultural shift is completely valid, but it is also the justification for the very thing you are criticizing.


@14: Yes, which is why we need to recognize culture change as a large issue. Building housing, expensive though it may be, may well be the easiest part.

There is simply no cheap, fast, or easy way to put an extra 200,000+ persons into a city of less than 90 square miles. That will take lots of time and effort. Merely presenting “social housing” as a panacea (which is the only real point of Charles’ post, and of the re-treaded copypasta @12) accomplishes absolutely nothing.


@14, @15: Forgot to add, the Yesler Terrace redevelopment was a step in the right direction. (https://www.seattlehousing.org/about-us/redevelopment/redevelopment-of-yesler-terrace)

Had it built ten times as many units, and opened the income range to include First Hill professionals, it could really have made a difference. Hopefully SHA will continue to improve it.


None of the Slog Dipshit Brigade has ever lived in any other major world class city. Most of which have at least twice our density.


@17: New York City has a subway running 365/24/7, serving every station across the entire city at all hours. When Seattle has anything close, then we can talk about increasing density to match.


We are scaling up the subway as fast as we can, but notice that people also always tell us that we can’t put transit anywhere there isn’t density yet. Something has to come first. Preferably both of them at full speed.


It's not like Seattle literally gains 18,000 people every single year.



It is.


There are actually various ways to build enough to making housing affordable from almost pure market to mostly social housing. But you have to Build. More. Housing.

Yes, You Can Build Your Way To Affordable Housing


@12- under the tax laws now in place, it makes no sense for the vast majority to itemize. That means that the federal subsidy for homeowners that you are complaining about really no longer exists.


I personally am grossed out by the Single Family/ADU/DADU craze that is sweeping the city. I think it's ugly and counter-productive, as they are now allowing them to be separately sold for amounts of money that are nowhere near affordable.

If they really want density, take three blocks all around each light rail station and build high-rise apartment buildings


@17 You’re on Slog.


Can someone remind me why Charles, the worst writer at the Stranger, (which, sayin' a lot...), is the only designated Senior Writer? WTF?

The Stranger must die.


I take some issue with the statement that the market has never provided affordable housing. while we may be in a situation right now where prices are high it remains the case that nearly every residential house and apartment complex you see was built by capitalists (whether self identified as or not) operating in a (more or less) free market. The price/income ratio of many of these homes/apartments when first let or sold was much lower than it is now. Yet vast majority of the homes were built profitably, or they would not have been built.

So it follows that conditions similar to those in place when many homes were built (like the 60's-80's apartment boom) should help to increase the supply of housing. Now its true we don't have a time machine and can't go back to buying a nice building lot in city for $20K any time soon but judicious zoning changes (I'm mixed on HB 1110 but we gotta do something) and reducing permitting complexity and costs, reducing or eliminating taxes on building material and construction labor, etc. could help get those costs down. Sure in the shorter term it might mean established builders get higher profit margins, but that is what draws more people into the business.


Agree on the likelihood of affordability ever being reached through deregulation of the real estate development industry - zero.

But did we get "density" out of abolishing single family zoning? No. Single family zoning was how we used to create density.

Over the last almost 10 years, Seattle has added very roughly 10-15,000 units a year, at times ranking as one of the crane capitals of the US. We were never going to exceed that rate by any significant amount, because there's a limit to how much can happen at the same time. Zoning didn't prevent any housing.

What it did, was focus housing development within retail/service core areas in the city, where there's better access to things by foot, and better access to transit. That's an idea about urban planning that should be familiar, because it goes back a long time. In order to zone development INTO those areas, it has to be zoned OUT of the rest. Developers naturally hate this, because they would make lots of money with high priced north end townhomes far from the hustle and bustle of the arterials, and they got their way down in Olympia where their lobbyists, and boosters like Ross, could carry the day.


Fuck The Stranger
The Stranger must die. Seriously

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