1. Yesterday evening, members of the public packed council chambers at city hall to testify before the full city council on mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability committee’s 65 recommendations to address Seattle's housing crisis. Rather than a stage set for a verbal nuclear war between growth and density supporters and growth and density skeptics, the event turned out to be a respectful and orderly affair with the majority of the 60 commenters speaking in favor of the recommendations.
The pro-HALA commenters were a diverse bunch, ranging from nonprofit affordable housing advocates such as Mercedes Elizalde (former District Five city council candidate and volunteer coordinator at the Low Income Housing Institute) to a traditional boogeyman of Seattle politics, the Downtown Seattle Association, represented last night by Don Blakeney. Many pro-HALA speakers weren’t affiliated with any particular organization advocacy group (along with a few Boy Scouts, though they never got on the microphone). And while there was some dissent within the pro-HALA majority over whether the recommendations go far enough in providing tenant protections, preserving pre-existing affordable housing, and how to fund affordable housing for those earning between zero to 30 percent of the adjusted median income, the overall message was that recommendations are a step in the right direction.
“When I started reading the HALA recommendations, I was really blown away. It's actionable. It’s realistic, but visionary,” said Adam Parast, a First Hill resident.
“We see access to affordable housing as a key component of our mission [addressing poverty and institutional racism],” said Gordon McHenry Jr., president and CEO of local social and economic justice group Solid Ground. “Our shelters and housing options don’t have capacity for those in need… We simply need more affordable housing in our city. The inclusionary housing program is crucial.”
"To face it [housing crisis] we need to expand type and quantity of housing," said HALA supporter Erin Tighe, a Northeast Seattle resident.
There was a noticeably older anti-HALA and antidensity contingent who verbally flogged the recommendations and the committee for catering to developer interests and letting growth run amok in Seattle’s “historic single family neighborhoods,” though they were slightly more subdued than at past city council committee meetings. The primarily North Seattle homeowners and development skeptics made clear where they stand on growth, naming views and street parking lost to new development. Others wanted more from developers. Seattle Displacement Coalition founder John Fox, for one, said he was "deeply troubled" by the lack of a residential linkage fee in the recommendations and that the city needs to prioritize current residents over newcomers and halt any further upzoning fearing potential displacement.
“I reject the Sierra Club notion that everybody has to live in Seattle regardless of its effect on livability. I reject the notion that unnamed future potential residents are somehow more important than the current residents in this city,” said Greg Hill, a Wallingford resident to loud applause from the HALA opposition.
“These people [the HALA committee] are the intellectual descendants of the people who gave us redlining and racial covenants in the first place. Do not trust them,” said Max, another Wallingford resident. “The premise I would ask you not to adopt is that to achieve housing goals requires the destruction of our historic single family neighborhoods.”
The pro-HALA speakers tried to push back on some of these threads by describing the realities renters face in the current housing market. Kevin Fullerton, a Ballard renter and supporter of the committee recommendations, stressed that the current “single family homecentric market” isn’t serving renters. “Homes are now almost a million bucks a pop…the market has served those who own the homes very well.” Fullerton said, referring to the drastic increase in Seattle’s home values, going on to poetically describe how current renters seeking to live and work in Seattle have the same motivations of starting a life in a new city as current homeowners did when they moved to Seattle decades ago. “They [renters] too are trying to pursue their chosen careers…[renters’] dreams are fragile, they need shelter. Let the market serve us.” (Council member Tom Rasmussen, a loyal defender of "neighborhood character," left the meeting pretty early on, following the outpouring of pro-HALA testimony.)
Serena Larkin, a young Capitol Hill renter and senior communications associate with the green city think tank, the Sightline Institute, said that single family homeowners’ stories of purchasing houses in Seattle are “enviable.” “They feel like a story I will never get to tell. The way this city’s housing stock is going, I will never be able to afford a home here…HALA is the best tool we have.”
"I hope you [the city council] will equally value those here for generations, those who have been here [a] little while and those who aren't yet here," said Zach Shaner, a reporter for the Seattle Transit Blog.
“We know that there is opposition and it is not easy work,” Elizalde, volunteer coordinator the Low Income Housing Institute, told the full council. “But housing is a human right.”
2. Across town, at a different event last night, the 36th District Democrats (Ballard, Queen Anne, Phinney Ridge) held a city council candidates meet-and-greet and straw poll at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center. Here’s how the 36th District Dems voted:
District Five: Sandy Brown 142, Debora Juarez 132
Position Nine: Lorena González 38, Bill Bradburd 30
Position Eight: Tim Burgess 172, Jon Grant 123
District Six: Mike O'Brien 56, Catherine Weatbrook 31
District Seven: Sally Bagshaw 8, Deborah Zech-Artis 1