Guest Editorial: Density Done Right by Confronting Displacement


Call me crazy but this should have been a priority over a decade ago. At this point it's too fucking late to make much of an impact. This is taking a piss on a raging forest fire then patting yourself on the back for stopping the coming disaster.
Herbold and Grant have it backwards. The net result of the MHA-R upzones would be to reduce overall displacement for three reasons:

(1) Higher density buildings enabled by upzones consume less land per unit, so fewer existing buildings have to be demolished to gain the same amount of new housing.

(2) More new housing enabled by upzones puts downward pressure on rents, reducing economic displacement.

(3) More new housing enabled by upzones simply makes room for more people in the city, and that means fewer low-income households displaced.

Herbold and Grant also ignore the fact that higher affordability requirements may kill the feasibility of housing projects, creating the lose-lose outcome of zero new affordable units, and zero new market-rate units.
"As with most cities, much of our wealth is sunk into the land, and explicit racial covenants have left a lasting segregative mark on Seattle. While such covenants are now illegal, the invisible hand of the market does the work of exacerbating segregation by pricing out low income and people of color"

The exclusionary zoning that covers 53% of the city's land isn't "the invisible hand of the market." It's a policy the city council can and should change tomorrow if not today.
Herbold is asking the right question: what does the city get for granting more FAR. It's a value capture question. Boosters of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (like Sightline) are supporting it without any math.

From our view, builders of housing get very little but headache and costs from additional FAR. What is likely from the imposition of fee requirements is that most projects will be infeasible and will only be made feasible by increasing the price of all the non-subsidized units.

I don't agree with raising the fee, but Sightline and others have agreed to a scheme without any numbers in it. Herbold is pushing for more fees. We're saying there isn't enough FAR being granted. How do we sort that out? Who knows, the Council is voting on legislation that has no values in the value exchange.

Supporters of MIZ like Sightline haven't done the math because there aren't any numbers. It's time to put the brakes on MIZ until there are actual numbers to answer the question whether Herbold is right and not enough public benefit is being created or we're right and the additional FAR just makes all housing more expensive.

It's irresponsible intellectually and as a matter of policy to vote on legislation without the numbers based on a "Bargain" with some lobbyists and attorneys. C'mon. Really?
For reference, Sightline's take on MHA:…
Seattle lost 15,000 single room occupancy units between 1960 and 1981 which I understand was because of the Urban Development Grants from the Feds. None of which has anything to do with free markets.
Dan, Sightline's position is that MIZ is a math problem.

How do you do math with no numbers?

You and Sightline signed a letter saying that MIZ is a "proposal is a smart balance of developer requirements and additional building capacity." You did that with no legislation or numbers. They didn't exist then. The numbers don't exist now.

Sightline and you clearly supported this thing. And we know that when the blanks get filled in on the check the City is writing, that Councilmembers will want to add more fee, not less. Neighbors will want less FAR not more.

This thing is crazy. It won't work!…
Council can show they are no longer listening to exclusionary rich white people when they upzone precious light rail and frequent transit adjacent land in montlake.

Displacing people who have gobs of cash isn't the same as their current operation.
According to your data, the City of Seattle permitted the demolition of 6000 housing units across all zones including single family, not 6000 units of AFFORDABLE housing.

Now if you could compare lost affordable units, with new affordable units, you'd have an actual point.

According to the same data, I see 2024 multifamily units displaced by 14,395 new units. Isn't that the professed goal--the creation of additional units in multifamily zones to help dissipate the upward pressure on rental costs, without affecting single family zones?

And another point--$6000 per month for the new apartment has to be wrong. I could only find one apartment in the entire city at anywhere near that price--a super luxe downtown penthouse with 180 views of Elliot Bay and the Space Needle. Maybe half that amount at most?
We need 50k units of city subsidized housing. 5k units of "housing first" for homeless people and 45k units of below AMI subsidized housing. Seattle has a AAA credit rating, it should borrow and build at least 50+, 75 story 1000 unit apartment buildings as closely located to the light-rail as possible. These buildings can then be transferred to non-profits for operation.
@11 Been watching Judge Dredd a bit much? This sounds like turning Seattle into Mega-Seattle.

The Columbia tower has 76 floors and cost $200 million 30 years ago. So the price of 50 of them would be at least $10 Billion if it was 1980. Given the increased construction lets say each building would cost $1 Billion. Seems a bit excessive to me to build million dollar homes.
How is the affordability issue different from what happens in any big city? I mean, if I move to New York or Paris or Shanghai or San Francisco I don't expect to be able to afford a place in the center of the city or the most desirable locations. Why would it be different here? I'm not trying to be inflammatory, I just don't understand why people here seem to think that Seattle is the first place this has ever happened.
This is a recipe for slow housing growth and subsequent San Franciscoization. Thank Yahweh we dodged at least one of these bullets.
Instead of focusing on the math (and I LOVE MATH)... but let's focus on families that are suffering.... Will families suffer less in the short run with this policy *AND* will they suffer less in the long run? How many families will suffer and how much will they suffer due to the constellation of things that are impacted by housing affordability.... time in transit, access to well-resourced schools, food security, health risks associated with certain neighborhoods... etc? Will this policy make (more) people's lives better? Will it make some people's lives better in the short run but hurt more people's lives in the long run? Will it help some existing residents but paradoxically hurt future residents? Will it be too narrow to actually make an impact? Are there other solutions that would have a more sustainable and resilient impact? People need help now... is this the thing that will make the most difference?
40-100 story zoning anywhere within 8 blocks of all light rail; 6+2 residential apartment zoning on all arterial blocks.

You know you have to do it; as I predicted Seattle pop will be double in 2025 not 2035.

I don't understand how the City Council can move forward to adopt MHA-R when the City (OPCD) last Thursday (July 28) issued a SEPA Declaration of Significance for that very action.
@12 I wish we could have 200 story megablocks that house 50,000 people and block out the sun to every bit of the NIMBY scum in the this city (Wallingford, Madison Valley etc). Jon Fox deserves judgement for being a enemy of the people by blocking development. We need massive supply so the poor and minorities aren't driven from this city and hippie scum like him and the racist/classiest Neighborhood councils have to be the first against the wall.

@16 You are right we need to upzone dramatically wherever there are high quality transit corridors.
In Singapore they don't have homeless people or citizens being displaced due to rising rents, they also don't have all of the precious "democracy" and process Seattle values so highly.
kingfisher, are you volunteering to be our dictator? Your language resonates with every fascist demagogue, right through to Trump.
Dan Bertolet is spouting classical Free Market Urbanism, which falsely posits that simply increasing the number of housing units will magically lead to more affordable housing. In all the hot real estate markets in the world--San Francisco, LA, NYC, London, Hong Kong, etc.--the exact opposite is the case. Left to its own devices, free market capitalism will never produce large amounts of affordable housing. The public option needs to be undertaken, namely acquisition of as much land as possible by public agencies or non-profit land trusts legally bound to keeping these lands public ownership in perpetuity, coupled with inherently low cost muni-bond financed construction of large amounts of basic, truly affordable housing for people making up to 50% of the area median income. HALA is a sham because more than 90% of the units it aims to produce will be affordable only to those making at least 80% AMI. As such, it is a recipe for density without affordability.
It is also a joke that the City of Seattle doesn't even bother to track the loss and gain off affordable housing. If it does, it has neglected to share those data with the public. Maintenance of a transparent database that shows loss and gain of affordable housing units on an ongoing basis, in perpetuity, is the only way the public will ever know if HALA is meeting its goals.
Mud Baby, I agree we need massive public housing works,
TobyinFremont, No not me, we need someone inured to the lure of democratic appeal, raised and educated outside of the western tradition who will reforge this city in greatness.
No way I trust this plan as outlined.

It is Jon Grant and his ilk's way of getting a foot in the door to upend HALA and get closer to his vision of never demolishing anything, regardless of quality. Grant's vision would see "greater" affordability by maintaining the supply of moldy, drafty, functionally and structurally obsolete housing instead of tearing any of it down to build a single new housing unit.

Why? Because Grant doesn't actually give a shit about affordability-- he just cares about keeping people out of Seattle.

What will remain is a housing stock split between slums and zillionaires, and plenty of bait for Grant's long career-- wailing about increasing affordability while simultaneously advocating for policies that make the remaining housing more expensive-- as a Lesser Seattle Troll.

I hope Herbold gets a strong opponent next time her seat is up.
Jesus Christ it's like Jon Grant is going to be the new John Fox.

Fuck, what inspires a young person to become a Lesser Seattle Troll?
The city council has made it impossible to build small apartments. This is one type of housing that works for many low income workers and students. Why isn't this concept floated as part of a plan? The SRO's lost in the 60's-80's filled this need. And places for those units? Try Aurora. Easy access to downtown, adjacent neighborhoods, major bus lines, etc. We are in trouble because we have a dearth of creative responses and keep unveiling the same old ideas that haven't worked. And as one poster noted, the ideas floated here are just too late.
@26-right on. There are always going to be people who need to be able to find housing at the low end. Getting rid of said low-end housing (the SROs) was a huge mistake and we need to allow some of it to come back.

@21-you are correct that the market, left to itself, won't build affordable housing that is cheap when it goes up. HOWEVER, expensive housing ultimately gets cheaper over time and as the market gets more saturated. Many of the less expensive buildings in town were no doubt anything but "affordable" when new. If you want to have cheaper, more available housing going forward (you have to think of the 10, 20, 30 year horizon) there is no choice but to build some now.