When it Comes to Housing, it’s Time to Bring a Bit of the Chicago Way to the Seattle Process

Comments

1

Means justified by ends . . . a slippery slope? Honest question.

3

Chicago is losing residents. Hopefully with cheaper rents there, people who can’t afford to live here with the gentrification and high taxes & increased COL (and have been told to move by YIMBYs and NIMBYs) may want to move there. Of course old timers from Seattle wax similar memories about the old, funky, more affordable Seattle (Broadway as it was 25 years ago) and its blue collar roots with a tavern on every corner.... Those old enough and still alive will tell you of their UW prof Theodore Roethke and his penchant for a certain saloon before class.

As for the Chicago way, the Seattle process has done a successful job at collecting massive amount of tax dollars and rewarding lobbyists, insiders and city bureaucrats very well. There isn’t much that Chicago can teach Seattle at this point.

4

Chicago's population is 14% lower than it was in 1950.

Seattle's population is 49% higher than it was in 1950.

Affordable housing stock is older housing stock (it shouldn't have to be this way, but it is).

Chicago's housing affordability compared to Seattle's is overwhelmingly due to demographic shifts. Zoning or other local government policy has little to no impact by comparison.

Gas all the cats you can find, it's not going to magically bring a 200,000 unit surplus of older housing stock into being. Nor will it raise the money to build sufficient (read: an enormous amount of) public housing, nor persuade private developers to invest in low margin (or negative margin) projects instead of high-margin projects.

5

What @4 said. Add to that construction materials cost have risen faster than inflation, so while constructing a massive surplus of housing in Seattle could slow the bleeding, be careful not to do so at the expense of current affordable housing stock because that's not coming back for a very long time.

Also, if they didn't care if the cats lived, why go through the trouble of gassing them first? I suppose anything is possible under one of the Dalys.

6

My favorite Chicago Way story: Mayor Daley wanted to shut down Meigs Field, the small airport along the lakefront, and turn it into a park. After years (decades?) of lawsuits from wealthy crybabies, with no end in sight, Daley just sent in bulldozers to tear up the tarmac in the middle of the night. (Yes, I'm furrowing my brow at the anti-democratic nature of this brazen act of civic vandalism, but the city got a park open to all instead of an exclusive club for those who can afford private planes. And, let's face it, an endless stream of lawsuits can also be fundamentally anti-democratic in service of defending the interests of the wealthy.)

https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/day-shut-down-meigs-field-180952788/

7

Made me homesick for the city where I grew up. One thing for sure, in Chicago things get done. It's a city of hustlers.The city's motto really should be, "if you want to make an omelette . . . ".

Seattle, on the other hand, has become a city of self-indulgent whiners. Even the newcomers adapt to the local culture and join in the whining.

Maybe the refusal to deal head on with homelessness is a reflection of the now dysfunctional "don't crowd my personal space" culture that has permeated West Coast living from Mexico to Canada since the middle of the last century.

Whatever.

Seattle's government will remain in stasis until the homeless begin to outnumber those that can afford to live in dwellings. Even if the city were to decide the solution is to gather them all up and bus them to the Idaho border, there still would be endless NIMBY protests about the bus routes and paying for the bus fuel.

8

Yep, non-researched whiner article, including the hate group reference to folks you don't agree with. Actually, this is a perfect example of the current Seattle way.

10

@9- Single-family zoning is the problem. We don't need to be "assembling parcels large enough for apartment buildings," either. A couple of duplexes or triplexes on each block would provide thousands of new housing units with very little change to the sacred "neighborhood character." Maybe developers are not building apartments on Aurora because people don't want to live on Aurora?

11

So we need cheap housing in places that are so nice people would rather be homeless than head back to the decay, but not on, say, Aurora, where the housing would be cheap.

This whole hatred of developers / woke suburban urbanists for density thing really hammers home how I was never able to figure out how to cross my eyes.

Hey champions, when you start adulting pretty little me will walk you through the courtyard of a few housing projects so you can see what you’ve been, ok?

12

If people are homesick for Chicago, hey it’s still there. It’s way more affordable. Just think, you can get a nice brownstone, close to your favorite L.

But in fairness, I have to remind people how deep a debt hole Chicago is in. The city owes $20billion, plus another $30billion it owes to city pensioners (well there is a price tag to the Daley Machine, you know. Sorry for the cold, cold facts). All that debt does not float a city.

So consider this: Amazon might well be the solution. Now all Chicago has to do is be HQ2.

13

Building our way to affordable housing will never happen. Not a chance.

14

@13- got a better idea? And don't say capping rents at very low levels unless you are willing to make the whole housing stock public. That would bankrupt the city.

15

Festering pile of shit? Seattle will never measure up to Chicago as a world class city. You may want to consider actually visiting the city before spewing ignorant comments.

16

We expected everywhere in our nation to be first world and came back sorely disappointed.

17

Pretty sure that a 7% decline in Seattle population (like Chicago over the last 10 years) would result in affordable housing here as well. Insightful!

18

I absolutely love Seattle/PNW area, but living costs here are brutal. I've lives all over the states, and it definitely is difficult to survive here. Unless your lucky enough to work for one of the major cooperations, or tech companies you're basically screwed. Wait unless you have a significant other or roommate to help with costs of living. In my line of work I'm up close and personal with the demoing of buildings/houses and see the homeless problem. It scares the shit out of me to know as an educated, prior service member, and a single parent that if it wasn't for having someone split the costs of living with I'd not be able to make it here. I'm not lazy or a slacker by any means. The dream of owning my own home will never happen here. It's sad to admit too.
We have a major problem in Seattle, and I don't see it being fixed anytime soon. Everyone's to busy looking the other way, denying the truth, blaming others, or frankly don't care because it doesn't effect them.

19

Though seemingly apocryphal, the story about Chicago's gassed feral cats certainly catches the attention.

20

@ !3 >> Building our way to affordable housing will never happen.

Bullshit. There are a bunch of example, including some mentioned here:
http://www.sightline.org/2017/09/21/yes-you-can-build-your-way-to-affordable-housing/

My favorite is Tokyo. Affordable as hell despite being one of the biggest and most popular cities in the world. They do have zoning, but it is simple, but based on things like type of use (residential versus industrial), size (ten stories versus three) and allowances for light (you can build next to your neighbor, but you can't keep them in darkness). They don't have the bullshit restrictions that are based on the number of residents. Like Seattle before zoning, they have apartments next to houses all over the city (I know shocking).

21

@17 -- According to Wikipedia, the population of Chicago has gone up in the last 7 years (adding 25,000 people). Do you have a different source?

22

@9 And maybe hold off your bitching about single family zones until some of the massively underused lots on Aurora have been redeveloped. If developers won't build large apartment complexes on these lots what makes you think they will try to develop single family zones where it will invariably be more expensive to assemble parcels large enough for apartment buildings?

Generally speaking, most new housing construction occurs when the owner sells .In other words, it is rare for someone in my neighborhood to say "Gee, I used to love living in this tiny house on this really big lot. But now I think I'll build three gigantic houses (as many as the city will let me build) and move into them". Nor does someone who owns a car dealership suddenly decide to get into the apartment business.

So basically, in order to build an apartment (of any size) you need a willing seller. These pop up from time time, all over the city. That explains why you have so many tear downs. But building even a tiny apartment is banned in most of the city (by some measures, 80% of it). This explains why (in that first example I gave) they didn't build row house, or an apartment. That would be illegal. By law, you can't have more than one house per 7000 foot lot in my neighborhood, and since construction costs are relatively cheap, the builder just builds huge houses. It also explains why there are so few houses being converted to apartments (a very cheap process). There are plenty of houses that actually are apartments (and you may not have noticed them) but most were grandfathered in.

Aurora, meanwhile has had plenty of new apartments, but not everyone wants to sell their property. Maybe they like selling cars, and don't want to bother moving. Or maybe they are sitting on it for some other reason. But if you are dependent on only a small sliver of land in the city for new housing, then you are bound to get a relatively small amount of new growth. Property that is available for new apartments will of course, be extremely valuable (because it is so rare).

If the concept seems strange, imagine if the government decided that all tomatoes had to be grown in one small part of the country. A few things would happen. Tomatoes would get a lot more expensive. A lot of farmers in that part of the country would switch to growing tomatoes. But many (who grew apples, for example) would decide to just keep growing apples. Places where the soil is great for apples but terrible for tomatoes would likely stay as orchards, despite the high price for tomatoes. Call it business inertia if you want. That is basically where we are with housing in this city.

23

@9 -- Oh, and the idea that Aurora hasn't seen new apartments, or isn't in the process of building new apartments is absurd. I count dozens of new places within a block of Aurora, including about a dozen north of Green Lake (https://www.seattleinprogress.com/).

24

As usual in America, the word “crisis” here means, “can cause small discomfort in the lives of middle-class white people.” The poors get rudely shoved out of the way by gentrification all of the time; to the extent anyone cares, it gets expressed as loud and sustained cheering about how great the old neighborhood now looks.

So, we have a “housing crisis.” Guess what? The residents of all those single-family homes are, for the most part, supremely comfortable white people. Therefore, they see no “crisis,” and any attempt to up-zone those neighborhoods will run straight into a buzz-saw of highly-effective NIMBYism. Pushing higher density there thus represents choosing the path of maximum pain for minimal gain, because even if you can build a new town home every 5-10 years per backstreet block, the density increase is minimal, and the mass transit limited. All you’re doing is driving up the cost of parking spaces, and causing residents to wait another cycle at each of the local traffic lights.

Meanwhile, next time you ride light rail between downtown and the airport, stop staring at your phone long enough to count the number of lots with all of these:

(1) Frontage on MLK;
(2) Vacant Lot/Parking Lot/Disused Building;
(3) Three blocks or less from a light-rail stop.

You’ll count dozens before you get bored and go back to looking at pictures of your college roommates’ cats. Eliminate (3) and you triple the number; eliminate (1) and it goes far higher still.

Stop getting your envy on well-off white people in Wallingford, and start building (and building, and building) multi-family dwellings where lots are plentiful and mass transit rolls right by all day.

25

NIMBYs are empty. They have nothing. They concern-troll density, and concern-troll affordability, but they have no workable plans for either. Those that are even willing to propose a suggestion sound like, "Oh sure, I'm TOTALLY in favor of density... as long as it's only in these places and only for this kind of person, and only goes up 4 stories and doesn't block anyone's view, and comes with 2 parking spaces per unit and has lots of trees where I like them and isn't an obnoxious color and I like the styling they use including the balcony railings and it preserves the TOTALLY historic trash can on the corner and is cheap and is family friendly and allows pets but not too many pets. Also playground also money for parks also dog park."