Morning Fizz

Council Looks at Putting Homeless in Residential Neighborhoods, Now How About Homes?

Caffeinated news featuring a council challenge to the the sacrosanct single-family zone. Kinda.

By Josh Feit March 31, 2015

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Caffeinated News

Learn to trust the Fizz: The council passed a resolution yesterday declaring its opposition to fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unanimously.

One thing I didn't predict was the Raging Grannies, who added a song (to the tune of "Oh My Darling, Clementine") to the parade of testimony against a secretive trade deal that critics say upends local labor and environmental standards.

"In a backroom/there in DC/they are cooking up a deal/they say trade deal/we say no deal/show us what the draft conceals... Overturns all/ of our good laws/food and safety/and the rest/privacy laws/take a hit too/with no laws/it's quite a mess."

Activists from environmental groups such as 350 Seattle, along with labor leaders such as Lynne Dodson of the Washington State Labor Council, applauded the nine-to-zero vote—specifically thanking council members Tim Burgess and Mike O'Brien for ushering through the deal.

“Seattle’s deep-rooted values in democracy and environmental sustainability, and its recognition of the urgent need to act on climate change, are inconsistent with fast-tracking a massive trade agreement like the TPP,” said Selden Prentice of 350 Seattle, the Bill McKibben group that's challenging big oil.

“We have been incredibly innovative in Seattle with our sick leave policies, the $15 minimum wage, and our local hire provisions. That’s why it’s so important for our city council to speak out against national policies that could jeopardize these strong standards,” WSLC's Dodson added.

Burgess's revision of O'Brien's original proposal peeled out O'Brien's concern about losing sovereignty with a general opening statement: "Whereas...the TPP...could give multinational corporations excessive power to undermine national and local governmental authority to create reasonable rules and regulations, including those related to environmental safeguards [and] future climate policy..."

Burgess's adds also bumped up the explanation of what Seattle wants to see in a trade agreement rather than simply saying Seattle opposes the current draft of the agreement. O'Brien's office told me they were fine with the revisions and they're "glad Tim's on board."

Building 50,000 units in 10 years is the equivalent of builidng six South Lake Unions. Reality check: There aren't six South Lake Unions in town.

The council then went on to pass more finger-in-the-eye-of-the-establishment legislation: Amending mayor Ed Murray's already admittedly progressive legislation to authorize three new tent cities in industrial and commercial zones, council member Kshama Sawant passed a super progressive amendment (six to three) that directed the Department of Planning and Development to study the possibility of locating homeless encampments in residential zones as well. Council member Sally Clark tried to amend that amendment with language that limited the study to multifamily zones, excluding the possibility of locating encampments in single-family neighborhoods. Her amendment lostsix to three.

Council members Clark, Tim Burgess, and Jean Godden were the three losers on both Clark's amendment to limit the study and on Sawant's successful amendment to include all zones. (Sawant's amendment also added other government property such as Sound Transit land; city-owned property itself was already fair game in Murray's legislation.) 

Sawant's single-family zone amendment missed the point too, though.

Clark told me before the vote that she looked to existing code for a compromise on the residential zone issue and found "a parallel for shelter services," which were allowed in multifamily zones, but not in single-family zones. That reasoning, of course, misses the point of Sawant's amendment with its eye on questioning the status quo. The rejoinder from Clark (and Murray) against putting encampments in single-family zones, by the way, is that those residential zones aren't served well enough by transit. Sawant ridiculed that argument: "I find this an absurd idea. If residential zones are not close to transit than we better urgently reexamine Seattle's bus routes."

Sawant's single-family zone amendment misses the point too, though. Starting with a wicked one-liner about how tent cities aren't a solution—"We need a Bertha-sized investment in building thousands of city-owned housing units"—she then sounded oblivious to the significance of her own transgressive amendment against sacred single-family zones: "We need to shift the balance of power away from the big developers...who are driving more people out of their homes."

While there's an argument to be made that the recent development boom is playing a role in increasing housing prices, there's also the reality that the locked-in 65 percent of Seattle that's zoned for single-family-only, low-density development plays an even bigger and persistent role in the housing crisis.

Thinking about building homeless encampments in single-family zones is all well and (feel) good, but how about truly challenging the status quo and building homes in single-family zones?

Mayor Murray announced a laudable goal of building 50,000 housing units in the next 10 years—20,000 affordable units and 30,000 market-rate units. But in order to hit that record-breaking goal, the progressive wing of the council that challenged the sanctity of the single-family zones yesterday when it comes to symbolic messages about community-wide responsibility, also needs challenge the sanctity of single-family zones when it comes to actually providing housing. Passing laws like making it harder to build microhousing, mandating parking minimums, and taxing developers for developing, as the council has done, don't help.

[This chart is assembled from publicly available data from the King County Assessor. Each year on the chart shows the housing produced during the ten previous years combined. The chart does not show annual housing production. The chart shows 10-year increments of housing production—Editors]

Building 50,000 units in 10 years is the equivalent of six South Lake Unions. Reality check: There aren't six South Lake Unions in town.

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