Before you dig in to this morning's Fizz: Yesterday we outlined the basic components of mayor Ed Murray's affordable housing proposal and we followed-up with a post on the details.
And there's more:
1. At his big housing affordability press conference yesterday, Mayor Ed Murray tried to dispel the Seattle Times spin that his 65-point housing proposal seeks to undo the sanctity of Seattle’s single family zones; 65 percent of Seattle is currently zoned exclusively for single families in comparison to around five percent in Portland. But the fact is, Murray’s proposal, which says the 65 percent equation “is no longer either realistic or sustainable” does contain potentially dramatic changes for the SFZs. While only six percent of that 65 percent (which breaks down to just four percent of the city’s developable land) is up for an official upzone in Murray’s plan—which would upzone single family zones near transit, upzone along the edges of SFZs, upzone SFZs already in the middle of denser urban villages, plus expand urban villages into SFZs to match 10-minute walksheds between transit stops—the remaining 94 percent of sacred SFZs is also slated for a potential makeover.
It’s not that the plan, developed by Murray’s 28-member Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee, which included affordable housing activists, for-profit developers, urbanists, social justice advocates, attorneys, and architects, will be “plowing under every single family neighborhood,” as Murray defensively joked yesterday. “I want to say this again because there’s been a little fun out there about us plowing under every single family neighborhood… Under our plan, 94 percent of existing single family neighborhoods will see no upzones.”
But on page 26 of the HALA recommendations, under the header “Allow a Broader Mix of Lower Density Housing Types within Single Family Areas,” it says this: “The City should allow more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional single-family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity of those who are able to live in these family oriented neighborhoods. The broader mix of housing would include small lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, rowhouses, duplexes, triplexes, and stacked flats.” The mayor's staff said they would seek code changes to make these changes possible in the remaining 94 percent of SFZs.
The recommendation goes on to say that the size of the housing (“the total amount of ‘massing’”) would not change, and that “this does not eliminate the option of single family housing.” But, using code changes, the HALA recommendations encourage 100 percent of Seattle’s SFZs to have more flexibility in housing type.
The recommendation says: “[The broader variety of housing] increases the opportunities for more efficient use of very limited land resources. The program could take the form of land use code changes, or it could begin as a pilot program with a limited time period and a maximum number of units. At the conclusion of a pilot phase, final code changes should be developed based on the best examples.This low-density use would be less intense than the Lowrise 1 multifamily (LR1) zone. The City could also modify and expand use of the Residential Small Lot (RSL) zone that is already in the Land Use Code. The City should allow units in a duplex or a triplex to be separately owned, as well as allowing a traditionally scaled single family structure to be occupied by multiple different households in different units within the structure.”
Murray told me yesterday that 61 percent of the city would “still be zoned single family,” but he allowed that “in addition…we are encouraging, through a series of recommendations, the creation of more [types of housing]” including town homes in single family zones. His staff called them “code changes” as opposed to “upzones.”
2. Speaking of incursions into Seattle’s single family zones, Seattle’s premier density watchdogs, Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox and Seattle Neighborhood Coalition leader (and Lesser Seattle’s city council candidate of choice) Bill Bradburd, stood in the crew behind council member Kshama Sawant and tenants rights advocate and council candidate Jon Grant yesterday at a press conference Sawant and Grant called to criticize Murray’s plan. While Grant and Sawant focused on alternatives to Murray’s financial plan— making developers pay more, a call for rent control, and on a city-backed principal reduction program for strapped homeowners, I asked them if they shared Fox’s and Bradburd’s reservations about the changes to SFZ code and zoning in Murray’s plan.
Sawant said: “I grew up in Mumbai. I can’t think of a denser city than Mumbai. I grew up loving density. So, I am absolutely not against density. I’m not against zoning changes in any way.”
But is she for the changes? Sawant said simply that she wanted to see “development that promotes affordability.”
Grant did not say whether he supported the big change to SFZs, arguing only that the changes in single family zones wouldn’t likely provide enough units, and he was “concerned” that the zoning changes in single family zones to allow multifamily housing weren’t accompanied by affordability requirements.
3. All the city council candidates, in fact, were briefed about the HALA recommendations in a conference call yesterday afternoon by the mayor’s staff, and according to several candidates on the call, Bradburd “hogged the mike” and “took up all the oxygen” by making accusations rather than asking questions. District One (West Seattle) candidate Brianna Thomas reports, “I said, ‘dude, can you be quiet so we can get on with the briefing.’”
Bradburd tells me he questioned whether the inclusionary zoning will create enough affordable units, saying you’d need 40,000 new market units to hit their numbers; the mayor is calling for 30,000.
He also has a several concerns with the changes to the single family zones, which includes both a sliver of the broader inclusionary program (where five to seven percent of new development must be affordable at 60 percent of median income) and the code changes the mayor talked about to create more housing types.
Bradburd tells me: “I am concerned about the duplex/triplex…recommended to be allowed in SF. It appears that this is basically an upzone of all of SF. I am concerned that homes will be lost and the replacement will not be affordable. This merely seems a way to create more buildable options for the Master Builders who are continually looking for more land. I am also concerned that this is also a way to disrupt neighborhood character. I don't think many neighborhoods would be happy if they understood what is on the table.”
4. Speaking of Bradburd, he’s caused quite a stir by challenging the assertion in the HALA report that single family zoning is tied to racism. The HALA report says: “Seattle’s zoning has its roots in racial and class exclusions” and provides a footnote link to a report on redlining and Seattle’s racist “restrictive covenants.”
And Murray said yesterday: “We are dealing not just with the national crisis of income inequality in our city. In Seattle, we’re also dealing with a pretty horrific history of zoning based on race, and there’s residue of that still in place. There’s a reason a huge part of this city is zoned single family. One reason is really good, we love our traditional neighborhoods, but if you get into the history of zoning in this city, the other reason is not particularly good. It’s who people wanted to live in those neighborhoods based on race and income.”
Bradburd responded with this tweet: