Finally, Momentum for Greater Density and More Affordable Housing in Seattle

But the Mayor's Housing Committee "Grand Bargain" Does Little to Address Skyrocketing Rents in the Here and Now


I find this article to be particulary disgusting. Guess I should quit working 70 hour weeks and just sit the hell back and flip burgers collecting my 15 dollar an hour min wage and live in my rent controlled home smack in the middle of south lake union. Why should I study hard in school and work my ass off to subsidize others who dont show as much effort or ingenuity?
As a Seattle-born expat it is hard to watch what is happening to our fair city from abroad. While growth is inevitable, I don’t think McDensity is the answer. There are so many headlines in the papers that I find sad: the park that could have been at South Lake Union, buildings ‘not quite old enough’ for protection, the Ballard Up house…

That our leaders want to make Seattle another ‘Amsterdam or Paris’ I find particularly amusing. Not only do we not have the public transportation infrastructure for this dream, I doubt we have the civic-mindedness of the average big-city European. We are used to having our space, not somebody’s elbow in our ribs on a packed subway car.

I remember that when I was living in Seattle, we prided ourselves on having a higher quality of life than big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Now we want to be them. Perhaps the most damning question about the Seattle of 2015 was one I read (somewhere): “Could the grunge movement happen here today? I don’t think so.” Some would argue that it is precisely this problem the HALA wants to fix by making urban housing available to all races and income brackets. I, however, would argue that it could not because we have lost our salty, quirky, collective Seattle character of the 70s to early 90s.
Finally, Momentum... After 50 years (that's a Half of a Century, folks) of one Party Democratic Rule.
"6,000 'low-income units' over the next 10 years"...

Meanwhile, here in reality land, we have OVER TEN THOUSAND HOMELESS PEOPLE IN OUR COUNTY right now…
Oh, and @socialistseattle- something tells me you wouldn't be able to hang in any production kitchen in the city, so you can go "sit the hell back" at whatever cushy ass job you have right now and enjoy making fun of people who perform grueling, manual labor for a living. I guess it's ok for McDonald's CEO and CFO to make $8,000 an HOUR, but $15 and hour for the person behind the counter is too much.
@1 - Can you imagine any scenario in which someone might not make the income you do other than that they fail to live up to your obviously stellar standard of industry, skill, and ingenuity? Just wondering. Far be it from me to doubt either the intoxicating hum of your self-regard or the (presumably) demonstrable shiftlessness of those you feel should be punished by long commutes on one of the worst transit systems in urban America.

@3 - I'm torn on the matter of where our city should go. I came here because I thought it would be a good place for a performing artist to ply his trade; it was and it is, less so in some ways than when I arrived in 1995, but more in some ways, too. It has, however, become nigh unaffordable, and while I've been able to bring my income up steadily enough over the last decade to be in more or less the same state of "comfortably broke," the fact is that we just don't have the infrastructure for those of us who work--hard--at jobs that still allow us to get erections without the help of blue pills and maintain will to live without antidepressants to get to and from the number of jobs we have to work to make art, make a better world, and make ends meet. I don't know that I want to be New York or Paris (though Amsterdam sounds kind of nice), but I wouldn't mind having, say, a train that can get me to those places where I ply my trade(s) and an apartment that's at least a comparable distance from the plurality of them that's affordable on my income.

What I wonder is, given that most arts tend to flourish where there's good transit and/or affordable housing (granting that they don't often happen in the same space, though they can), what would make grunge possible here again? Can salty, quirky, and collective be achieved without affordable urban housing? Is it gone forever? What, in your mind, drove it away? And where does salty and quirky live now, if Seattle doesn't have it anymore?
@5, You could re-distribute McDonald's entire profit across their workforce and raise wages by about $4k per worker per year. Cut the CEO and other top management salaries and you might add another couple hundred bucks to that. The problem is that consumers are not willing to pay enough for fast food to generate a big enough revenue stream to give food service workers a decent wage for grueling work, no matter how you distribute the profits.

It is not how grueling the work is that determines the pay, but what consumers are willing to pay for the output. A lot of the tech nerds that work 70 hours a week in non-physically grueling office cubes, work for companies that have profits of $250,000 an employee a year, not the $5k of food service. Consequently, owners and executives of those companies are willing to pay six figure salaries and stock options to those employees rather than $20,000.

You are worth what you produce. Compensation is based on the value of the goods or services you create for your employer, not how physically grueling the work is.

If you want a high paying job, find an industry that has publicly available profit fivigures for the companies in it and publicly available figures for the size of the workforce in those companies. Divide workers into profits. If the result isn't six figures, then annual wages compensation won't be that good. Get the education and skills to match their job listings.

The HALA report is an orphan born out of the collusion between developer's interest in gaining more access to land to build crappy throw away units on and a fringe group of housing activists that are more interested in racial and class justice than actual housing policy. Only this joke of a Mayor would put together a committee and not include any credible neighborhood involvement. There was also a very well put together article on Crosscut that actually walked through how wrong the racial association with SFR zoning is. Basically the SFR zoning existed long before the racial covenants, which were done in Seattle entirely by private contract not zoning, hence the large amounts of SFR zoning even in the south end. The developers on the committee I'm sure had to hold their nose a bit but they got a promise of land to trash and the activist groups got a polarizing piece of paper to feel good about.

While both groups and the Mayor were so busy living in fantasy land though they forgot who actually votes in this City. The HALA committee could hep but expose itself as a collection of narrow special interests and likely made many of its recommendations toxic politically. The first public hearing of the Council committee on Monday was a great showing of what this report has unleashed. So rather than propose common sense legislation that would actually do good in terms of allowing for more/better density in the urban villages and taking modest steps to prevent egregious rent increases (say 20% plus) without relocation assistance, we get a document that is going to flounder. Rather than momentum you've got a giant speed bump now since the committee couldn't just leave the neighborhoods alone.

And building duplexes in North Seattle isn't going to do anything for the racial or even really the class make up the areas. You can tear down a $400-500 bungalow and put up a triplex but those units are still going to be bought by the next tier down of Amazonians, so maybe instead of a median income to buy of $150k you drop it to $120k, nothing really will change in the neighborhood demographics. The hair stylist that Alan Durning and others want to live in North Seattle is still going to be priced out, but the do-gooders will have still managed to fundamentally change the nature of one of the big reasons why many residents choose to live here.
Those are all good questions that you ask. I suspect that what was affordable to low income people/families in the 80s and 90s is not the same thing that is 'affordable' today. It's like @9 says, the cheaper houses will go to mid-level techies. The apartments above the new Columbia City PCC start at $2400 a month for a one bedroom. That's not going to attract too many starving artists.

More than stats, the loss of the Seattle's funk is a visceral thing for me. I always think of artists as people with soul, and those people tend to frequent places with soul. I don't imagine them hanging in the chain café next to the yoga studio in a mid-rise mixed-use building. The artistic people that I know are all pretty sensitive to aesthetics and tend to shy away from cookie-cutter places. Being an artist, you can probably answer this better than I can.

As I haven't lived in Seattle for 20 years, I might not be the most qualified person to opine. Maybe the artists have gone to perimeter neighborhoods like Georgetown, Beacon Hill and West Seattle. Maybe scenes just come and go, and those who tried their luck in late-grunge Seattle ended up moving to Brooklyn or Austin or Portland.

Living in Europe, it's hard to watch U.S. cities import the worst aspects of European living (and not things like culture and health care). Are we all destined to a life of unnavigable parking garages, houses that no single person can afford and crowds at restaurants and shops that will make you think twice about leaving the house?

In any case, as you implied, it's not easy to say what's best.
Here are the hard facts. If you don't own/or are buying real estate, or are not putting money into investments, you have nothing.
@8- I completely understand the idea of compensation for production and demand. However, not every job has a paying consumer behind it (i.e., the social services field). Also, the idea that it's o.k. for rental rates to climb 200 and 300% over the span of a year or two, while the federal minimum wage has climbed all of $2.10 over the span of almost TWENTY YEARS, is completely insane. This "grand bargain" is a fucking joke. Welcome (not really "welcome", we've been in this stage for a few years now) to Soulless Silicon Valley North Hell. I hope those few remaining residents who don't know how to write code are kind enough to not go away kicking and screaming.

The woman in the illustration just parked right outside her building even though the density increased from one home to six apartments.

@14 - yep, she's parking on the street because that shiny new apartment/condo/whatever she's living in wasn't required to have on-site parking.
I love that the illustration for this article looks exactly like the pair of $680,000 townhouses that just replaced a $390,000 bungalow down the block from me.
Let me say this upfront - I know change is coming, I live in Roosevelt/Ravenna and already see it and I know of NO one in this city who openly says, "no changes!." No one. So no one is for the status quo. There has got to be a middle ground somewhere but the HALA committee -with their own rhetoric - seemed to want to pick a fight.

1) Yes to the idea that do not have the infrastructure around transit that these changes require. We are building light rail but, as a woman from Laurelhurst told the City Council on Tuesday, her neighborhood has very spotty bus service. (Seattle Schools has to have yellow bus service for some high school kids - while all other students use Metro - b/c of the lack of city bus service.

2) As has been often said by others, my read of the report is that most of these changes will benefit developers, not people who want to buy. What new housing is created, will still be high priced.

3) I've lived in SF, my husband grew up in Brooklyn and all we can tell you is that rent prices will NOT come down. Why? Because for popular cities, rent never comes down. It's not so much a matter of not enough housing (with the meme that if you had more apartments, prices would come down) but that we live in a popular city.

4) @9 nails it. This report and its 65(!) recs (boy, that's a lot of talk and I have never served on a committee where the goals allowed for that many recs) are mostly not reality-based.

5) It's hilarious to be that some say "but your house is worth so much" to which I say that even if I sold my house, I'd STILL have to pay for someplace to live here. My gain is also my pain. We are all in this together (although as a young woman who spoke at the City Council meeting on Tuesday said, "Be grateful you have a place to live when so many don't." She's absolutely right.

In my particular case, I live in Roosevelt/Ravenna. I told the City Council that the burdens and the pleasures of living in this city have GOT to be shared by all because it really feels like a few neighborhoods that are taking on all the pains.

My neighborhood has the Sisleys. That should be enough said but guess what? The blight is actually getting worse as the Sisleys abuse us (that that "abuse" word is City Attorney Pete Holmes', not mine). In fact, there appears to be another house just ripe for squatters (as if any human being would want to be in those fire-trap buildings). The last time a Sisley house had squatters, someone OD'ed on heroin. Did I mention this is next to Roosevelt High School?

Then we got upzoned b/c of the light rail station. My neighbors and I knew this was coming and supported it. In fact, our neighborhood plan gave the City MORE density than they asked for but right on the Roosevelt corridor. That got rejected to push the upzoning out to the single family parts of our neighborhood.

And now, the Mayor wants my neighborhood to be part of the 6% to change our single family zoning? Feels a little more than unfair.

Finally, I'm good with MILs and backyard cottages. But you are going to lose the individuality - which is the backbone and vibrancy of our neighborhoods - if you make single family areas a hodge-podge of buildings.

We need to find common ground AND all be in this together with shared burdens.
Getting HALA to throw its institutional weight behind at least some form of rent stabilization would have strengthened the movement to overturn the state ban on regulating rents.

The "strength" of the movement is irrelevant to suburban and rural legislators, and does nothing whatsoever to make them more likely to change this law. The blowhards like Grant who do little other than bang on about this issue aren't engaging in politics, they're play-acting at it. The HALA recommendations, rightly, are pretty much all things Seattle can plausibly do, if we decide to.
And now, the Mayor wants my neighborhood to be part of the 6% to change our single family zoning? Feels a little more than unfair.

What do you think is wrong with people who live in triplexes? I live in a SF zone and I don't understand why I should care about these changes. I have an old triplex across the street, built before the current SF rules banned them. I know some of the people who live there are great people who couldn't afford to live in the area otherwise. I have absolutely no idea how that triplex harms the "individuality" of my neighborhood; I can't make any sense of what that could possibly mean. Plenty of SF-zoned neighborhoods have duplexes and triplexes from pre-zoning times, I see no evidence they're somehow harmful to the 'individuality' or character of these neighborhoods. I can't figure out an even remotely rational reason to oppose these modest, common sense changes to SF zoning, other than a desire to perpetuate economic segregation.

Your existential dilemmas are your own
@19, I have nothing against triplexes (I've lived in a duplex). And, as you say, there are already some in SF zones.

What I'm against is a wholesale change without real consideration of what it means to everyone. Again, building more housing will create more housing, NOT more affordable housing (except for low-income and you could do that without changing single family zoning).

People act like there is only one way to higher density and,as Danny Westneat's article pointed out, there are several.

One thing is you cannot say about the HALA report is that these are "modest" changes.
What I'm against is a wholesale change without real consideration of what it means to everyone

You're just repeating platitudes that say nothing. Let's say I live in a big house in an SF zone. It's more house than I need and I don't have as much money as I used to, but I've put down roots in the neighborhood. I can afford to stay if I convert my large house into 3 units, and rent the other two. Right now, that's illegal. HALA has proposed making it legal. Why shouldn't I be allowed to do that? Who is it hurting? If you have nothing against duplexes and triplexes, why do you support making it illegal to build them in the vast majority of the city? Try to be specific, if you can, about the actual harms here, because, as a single family dweller myself I just don't get it. It seems obvious to me that it's none of my business whether the owner of an empty lot down the street builds a single family home or a duplex.
That LA rent stabilization report is not a banner to run behind in support of price controls. Something like 50% of the rental housing owners only broke even or lost money under their program (and spoiler alert, it wasn't the big was the mom and pop 1-2 unit operators who lost the most). Unless the city plans on compensating that 50%, I certainly don't think LA's approach is a sustainable option.

Additionally, I don't see how up-zoning is going to necessarily make housing more affordable. Next door to my Capitol Hill 4-plex, a semi-dilapidated but functional single family structure that housed 5 non-related transitional people, was razed to build 5 (now occupied) townhouses (with a starting price of $700k). Good job for density, but geez, Seattle is basically -5 on affordable housing units with that one project.

The city just needs to build it's own housing stock, or partner with developers and force them to build it.
@22 -

"Let's say I live in a big house in an SF zone. It's more house than I need and I don't have as much money as I used to, but I've put down roots in the neighborhood. I can afford to stay if I convert my large house into 3 units, and rent the other two. Right now, that's illegal. HALA has proposed making it legal. Why shouldn't I be allowed to do that? Who is it hurting? "

That depends.

Can the house that you want to convert into three units have capacity for three times as many vehicles parked in the driveway, or are you expecting the public to subsidize your tenants' car storage needs on the street outside - impacting the entire neighborhood?

Does your connection to the local sewer have capacity for three times as many toilet flushes? Can your neighborhoods sewer capacity accommodate your property tripling its input into the system - along with who knows how many other property owners in your neighborhood want to do the same thing?
In our infinite wisdom, we've decided to provide free car storage on many city streets on a first come first served basis. Some homeowners have been fortunate enough to have little competition for that storage space adjacent to their home, and have on that basis decided to forgo any effort to take care of their own car storage needs. What they don't have is a right for that convenience to extend in perpetuity--there is no easement right to that space because you got here first. Anyone who finds free car storage on the public dime to be insufficiently convenient should consider an alternative arrangement.

The "sewer capacity argument against density is an urban legend; it's a fake problem that's been debunked repeatedly in areas of actual rapid densification. The notion that it would be s concern in the very modest densification of SF zones is not remotely serious. You're grasping at straws.
@SuperSteve- owning a car does NOT guarantee you the right to have a place to park it. Sorry, bud, but If you choose to live in a high-density urban environment and rely on an automobile as your sole source of transportation, then you better have the foresight to make arrangements to have a place for it to sit when you're not driving it. The fact that we now have over 10,000 homeless people in King County, but are willing to FIGHT AGAINST DENSER, MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING because some crying fucktards don't have a place to park their precious little car for FREE, goes against any rational thought. If you want free parking, move to Shoreline.
Does anyone think the net cost of "affordable" housing will be paid by the rich people? It can't be paid by the poor people. Then who is left? Must be the working class people?

Of course not because all Seattle's real working people are middle class. In Seattle, only union members and minorities are working class, right? Doesn't matter that half of you "middle class" people are making less than twice the minimum wage, right?
@25 & 26

Frankly, I think parking - for everyone, old-timer, new-comers, everyone - should be treated equally with the city adopting either one of the following two models.

1) no street parking for anyone. Streets are for moving, not storage. Parked cars, especially on arterials, inhibit bikes and transit.


2) treat street parking like the limited commodity it is and price it accordingly rather than charging token fees in RPZ areas as they do now - and nothing in large areas on Seattle. And even then, NO parking on major arterials for ANYONE.
@28: I'm fine with both of those options, really, but I don't hate the status quo, especially in areas where the street space isn't needed for moving cars. In much of the lighter density areas on-street parking is pretty convenient, and will still be even with a few duplexes or backyard cottages on the block. (Heck, I live one block off an arterial, and about 4 blocks from the center of an urban village, with a very popular bar with almost no parking around the corner, and while the street can get a little crowded, when my girlfriend parks here she can find a space less than a block away around 95% of the time. The neighbors complain but they're nuts to do so; it's a great deal.) That's plenty convenient enough, considering the price. The problem with the status quo is that it generates this reactionary, absurd sense of entitlement you appeared to display in 24 but repudiate in 28; people think they deserve to retain a convenience in perpetuity because they had it in the past. I'd just say "fuck'em" but the whole 'democracy' thing makes that entitlement issue a real problem. If people were more reasonable, I'd be cool with the status quo, but in the world we live in your #2 makes good sense.
It always makes me cringe when you guys endorse rent control. While it might be useful in the short term as a stopgap measure to protect people from eviction while the underlying problem of insufficient housing supply is being addressed, in the long run it only redistributes the burden of housing scarcity off of people who already live in the city and onto people who want to move in. It is not fair to people who want to move in, to take advantage of their inability to vote in municipal elections to force them to bear the entire cost burden created by NIMBY activists and overly restrictive zoning.

Seattle needs to build, build, and build some more, build higher, build denser, and I'm glad The Stranger gets that. But it's going to be harder to create the political pressure to allow that to happen if the state government allows the city council to take the easy way out, by putting as much of the unaffordability problem as possible on people who aren't in a position to vote them out.
As density increases levels of anxiety and depression in its residents, as well as less common mental illnesses, what will the city be doing to mitigate the effect on the population?
The reason people are flocking to Seattle from higher priced coastal cities, or instead of those higher priced cities, is that it is "affordable" when compared to San Fran, NYC...etc...

Thus any steps towards further affordability could possibly draw even MORE people, cancelling out any progress made in affordability in the long run. Changing nothing.