1. In addition to the charge that there’s a connection between racism and Seattle’s single family zoning ( here's a revealing map, a discussion, and an awesome editorial all about that), there was another aha moment that fostered the lopsided 23-1, 21-1, 25-0, 23-1, 21-1 HALA committee votes to reform Seattle’s strict single family zoning rules: In a comparable city like Portland, only 3 percent of the city is zoned that way.
In Seattle, as everyone now knows, 65 percent of the city is zoned single family; the number is 57 percent actually (65 percent includes the parks and open space located in single family neighborhoods). Either way, a stunning majority of Seattle’s land is zoned for single families.
Could the wide discrepancy between Seattle and Portland be right? Yup.
Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability says 42 percent of its land is “single-dwelling zoning” (as their terminology calls it.) However, that category—the biggest slice of Portland’s land zoning pie—includes six subdesignations (R10, R2.5, R20, R5, R7, and RF) that come with housing types that aren’t permitted in Seattle’s single family zones (the biggest slice of our zoning pie), such as row houses, town houses and duplexes, and more density on corner lots.
It’s Portland’s RF category, a designation within the 42 percent noted above, that matches Seattle’s exclusive single family category. Portland’s RF zone, Like Seattle’s 65 percent single family zone, is the only one that’s exclusively limited to single family homes (along with grannie flats). And Portland’s RF zone takes up just 3.2 percent of Portland’s land.
P.S. About that history of Seattle racism and neighborhood real estate, check out this 1964 Seattle Times report on a losing local desegregation initiative my editor turned up while fact-checking a HALA piece I'm working on for the magazine.
2. Speaking of the debate over HALA’s recommended changes to Seattle’s single family zones, the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance, has been polling the parade of city council candidates in the crowded District Five (North Seattle) race to see what they make of the bombshell idea.
In a sign that the once-strained relationship between urbanists (who scoff at exclusive family zones) and social justice advocates (who were traditionally allied with single family homeowners, making common cause against developers) is actually now at the center of a new progressive alliance, check out candidate Mercedes Elizalde’s answer.
Elizalde, an organizer for the Low Income Housing Institute, a classic Seattle social justice/housing affordability non-profit, was the most enthusiastic of the candidates about the recommendations, directly equating additional housing options in single family zones with affordability. She wrote:
“I…think including more townhouses and duplex homes along side singe family homes would be beneficial for the city's stock of home ownership opportunities. Creating these low-density reforms in what is now the SF zones, would be very good for the equitable growth of the city.”
Other (more critical) responses came in from apparent Fifth District frontrunner reverend Sandy Brown, who was down of HALA’s key proposal to get rid of the “owner-occupied” rule as their way to incentivize mother-in law apartments, and from longtime neighbor David Toledo, whose more traditional answer, veering into a neighborhood stand against accepting tent cities, went like this:
I am fearful that the mayor's plan will open the door to out-of-control aPodment developments throughout our residential neighborhoods. Where once stood a single family home we may see two or three aPodments; housing dozens of renters but providing no additional parking. I would support "mother-in-law" cottages on single-family plots; but am against the property splitting and no-limits construction of multiple micro-apartments on a plot once belonging to a single-family home. I understand that some flexibility is needed but I will stand with my neighbors in demanding the preservation of the historic character of our residential neighborhoods.
Additionally, I will stand with my neighbors in limiting large-scale tent-cities in our residential neighborhoods. Nickelsville-sized homeless encampments will permanently change the neighborhood make-up of any residential neighborhood. I believe we should keep Nickelsville-sized tent cities in our industrial and mixed-use areas where they are close to transportation and social services that can help camp residents to get on their feet.
3. Incumbent city council member Mike O’Brien, who’s heading up the newly created council committee to shepherd through the HALA recs, has also been getting queried for his take on the single family zone controversy. (I asked him last week, and given his prominent placement at mayor Ed Murray’s big HALA rec roll out press conference, I was a bit surprised at his critical position.)
Here’s more. In a response to a recent constituent letter, O'Brien disagreed with LIHI’s Elizalde that loosening up the code in single family zones would affect affordability.
In an email to a constituent on Friday, O’Brien wrote:
On other changes to Single Family Zones: Many people are concerned that the HALA recommendations call for rezoning all single family zoning to multifamily zoning. I do not support zoning changes that would lead to rapid redevelopment of our single family zones and the replacement of existing single family housing with newly constructed multifamily housing. I don’t believe this will help with affordability.