1. To his communications staff’s chagrin, mayor Ed Murray was back on Facebook yesterday (his staff, which has prohibited the volatile mayor from giving his cell phone number to reporters, has also forbidden him from jumping on FB comment threads.) But there he was yesterday afternoon after the Seattle Times leaked a draft of his affordable housing committee’s pending recommendations.
“It is a draft report that did not make it through the process,” Mayor Murray wrote defensively, trying to undo the PR nightmare: The committee had recommended challenging the sanctity of Seattle’s single family zones, which have a lock on 65 percent of the city.
After explaining the racist history of the SFZ set up, the mayor’s committee, 28 appointees from the affordable housing, social justice, and development community, called the 65 percent equation unsustainable and said it was blocking affordable housing opportunities. Specifically, they recommended allowing a mix of multifamily housing in the single-family zones that are near urban villages. Calling the proposed hybrid neighborhoods “low-density residential zones,” they wrote: “The low-density residential zoning could be tested in single family areas that are within walking distance to an urban village or commercial area, or places close to frequent transit service. 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.”
The mayor can try and walk it back—as the leak was intended to make him do—but the cat is out of the bag now on this overdue idea to move Seattle away from the 1950s design template that the committee identified as a key component of today’s affordable housing crisis.
It’s a radical idea. As opposed to the bogeyman politics of developer fees and rent control, it represents an actual assault on the larger system of privilege that preserves the majority of land for the more wealthy.
Bold ideas, as Murray (who famously and patiently ushered gay marriage through the state legislature) knows, take a step-by-step approach. The committee Murray tasked with addressing housing affordability has taken the first one.
The draft report—which also took on Seattle’s other supposed Constitutional right, parking, and ridiculed city council member Tom Rasmussen’s default single family zone protection act (his neighborhood conservation district idea)—is brimming with similar challenges to the status quo: expanding urban villages to take in a ten-minute walk shed (pg. 8); raise height limits in multifamily zones from 75 to 85 feet (pg. 9); double the Seattle Housing Levy (a citywide property tax that fund affordable housing) (pg. 16-20); use public land and Sound Transit money to build affordable housing (pg. 16-20); create a parking cap and trade system (pg. 28.)
P.s. A delightful consequence of all this: City council member (and pressed candidate) Jean Godden, who has taken to agreeing with all things Mayor Murray, is running on a traditional neighborhood agenda to ward off strong challenges from her urbanist opponents—Democratic Party activist Michael Maddux and Transportation Choices Coalition leader Rob Johnson. It'll be interesting to see if she's open to this new conversation.
For more details on the draft, check out yesterday's Jolt.
2. Speaking of the affordable housing committee recommendations, one idea that wasn't in the draft yet, was the committee's take on developer fees—seen by proponents as a form of mitigation for price pressure that new yuppie development puts on housing costs. A proposal on developer fees will be in the final draft, I'm told, but the committee has yet to agree on the specifics.
The council has already passed a resolution calling for this type of approach—a linkage fee on development that would charge developers up to $22 a square foot on new development, and put the money toward affordable housing.
However, an email written in mid-April by a Department of Planning and Development senior planner who actually drafted the legislation, shows skepticism that these types of programs work.
In the email, leaked to PubliCola, the DPD staffer cites "key papers" that have been written on programs that force developers to fund affordable housing (also know as inclusionary zoning.)
While the email says the research is "limited and inconclusive," most of the findings the staffer cites showed decreases in production and trickle down-increases in prices. From the email (bolds mine):
A summary of key papers below:
Bento and Lowe (2008) found that inclusionary housing programs had no statistically significant effect on the number of permits for either single- or multifamily housing units, but did increase the housing prices on average, by 2.2 percent within participating jurisdictions in Northern California.
Powell and Stringham (2004a and 2004b) found that in California cities permits declined, on average, by 31 percent in the seven years after IZ was adopted.
Schuetz, et al (2009) found that inclusionary zoning programs in the Boston area were correlated with reduction in permit volumes and increases in cost of single-family housing. In the San Francisco area, they found there was not statistically significant correlation with reduced permit volumes and that inclusionary housing programs were correlated with increased costs in strong markets but also decreased costs in weak markets
Rusk (2004) - A study of programs in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, found that following the adoption of an inclusionary zoning ordinance, the median new home sales price increased from $33,000 to $66,000, while in some very expensive housing markets, prices increased close by nearly $100,000. Additionally, the study found that in eight municipalities for which the data existed, at least 17,000 fewer housing units were built in the seven years following the adoption of the inclusionary zoning ordinance than in the seven years prior to adoption of the ordinance—a 61 percent decline.
3. Here's a quick follow-up to yesterday afternoon's story about the Ballard Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the Market St. site that the mayor and council have recommended for a homeless encampment.
Two homeless encampment organizations—SHARE/WHEEL and Nickelsville—sent a letter to the mayor and council yesterday supporting the choice.