The authors, Jesse Piedfort from the Sierra Club and Noah An from the Young Democrats at the University of Washington, say upzoning the University District will benefit the climate and housing affordability.
The authors, Jesse Piedfort from the Sierra Club and Noah An from the Young Democrats at the University of Washington, say upzoning the University District will benefit the climate and housing affordability. SEASTOCK/Shutterstock

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Even before the looming specter of a president-elect who has said climate change is a hoax and pledged to roll back environmental programs and policies, Seattle was failing to adequately address climate change.

Last month, Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment reported that the city is not on pace to meet its climate goals for the year 2030. We believe one major reason for that is our sluggishness in addressing housing affordability. Rents continue to rise across the city, pushing more residents out of their neighborhoods and, often, out of the city entirely. Often, those residents end up in low-density suburbs with a larger carbon footprint.

The Sierra Club and the Young Democrats at the University of Washington agree that climate issues and affordability are closely linked—and so are their solutions. We need more housing, and for reasons of environmental and economic justice, that housing ought to be as close to transit as possible.

For those reasons, we urge the Seattle City Council to approve the U District Design Upzones. And we urge you to join us in telling them so on Wednesday at 5:30 pm at the public hearing at the Hotel Deca in the U District. Welcoming more neighbors to Seattle’s neighborhoods, especially one that will be as well served by transit as the U District, is a necessary step to addressing our housing shortage and the climate crisis.

The U District is an ideal place to build more housing for people. The neighborhood already has excellent bus connections and will, by 2021, have two new light-rail stations. The U District is walkable with a diverse mix of jobs and businesses. It already has some dense housing, but can host a lot more.

The proposed zoning change would create more housing by allowing taller apartment buildings in the area. More of this housing will be affordable due to the Mandatory Housing Affordability framework recently adopted by the Seattle City Council, along with the existing multi-family tax exemption program, which offers developers a tax break if they set aside income- and rent-restricted units in new buildings.

The U District is a good place to begin this process, not only because of the transit and transportation infrastructure already planned, but also because of the thousands of students who rely on affordable housing near the University of Washington to pursue their education and increase the likelihood of academic success. Without upzones, displacement of both students and current residents will continue to occur at an increased rate. Affordable housing options off campus are especially critical at a time when students find on campus housing to be as costly as market rate apartments.

At a time when we are dealing with a housing crisis, anything less than the full rezone recommendation is insufficient to address the great need for housing in one of Seattle’s most dynamic neighborhoods.

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In this new reality, progressive cities like Seattle face an even more urgent imperative to provide solutions and leadership on critical issues like climate justice and affordability. The U District upzone will be a boon for affordable housing for decades to come. It is a necessity for our climate as well. When people can afford to live in the city near job centers and transportation hubs, we avoid long commutes and suburban sprawl and opt for clean and green transit options instead.

We urge the city council to vote yes and address the housing needs of Seattle and the U District without delay.

Jesse Piedfort is chair of the Sierra Club Seattle Group. Noah An is president of the Young Democrats at the University of Washington.

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