HALA's Grand Bargain Is Key to an Equitable and Sustainable Seattle

Social justice, environmental, affordable housing, transportation, and labor groups come together to support HALA.

By Guest Opinion August 3, 2015

Let it be clear that the unprecedented urbanist alliance forged by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee—affordable housing advocates, labor interests, environmental organizations, and social justice groups, working alongside private developers and business interests—remains fully committed to implementing the recommendations of the HALA Report.

As representatives from advocacy organizations working toward a socially and environmentally just Seattle, we urge support of the HALA recommendations—especially the “Grand Bargain” that couples provisions for new affordable housing units with strategic upzones in the city. We need more inclusive housing choices and antidisplacement protections to ensure an equitable and sustainable city for current residents and future generations. The HALA Report lays a path to get us there.

Seattle faces an extraordinary affordable housing crisis. From the nursing aide in First Hill, to the teacher in Bitter Lake, and the small business owner in Othello, the people who keep our city running can no longer afford to live in Seattle. Over 45,000 lower-income families spend more than half their income on housing, while over 2,800 people are sleeping on the streets.

We don’t think it should be that way. Everyone who works in Seattle should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home. It is better for society, the environment, and families if people can afford to live close to where they work. The HALA Report lays out bold and comprehensive recommendations—based on ten months of research, outreach, and hard fought agreement—to meet the housing needs of our diverse and growing population.

The critical first step is broad support for the core of the HALA recommendations, the grand bargain.

An historic agreement to produce new affordable and market-rate housing, the grand Bargain includes a linkage fee on commercial development, mandatory inclusionary zoning on multifamily development, and requisite upzones in urban villages and centers for those tools to work. The HALA process overcame 20 plus years of disagreement and inaction on these tools. It was committee’s inclusive composition that allowed the break through to happen. It will now take the continued coalition of those diverse interests, working together with community members, to make these recommendations a reality.

We understand that many urbanists are disappointed by the media’s misrepresentation of HALA’s proposed changes to single family zones, the subsequent public outcry, and the eventual retreat by policymakers from those changes. We share that frustration. We believe that increasing flexibility in single family neighborhoods for backyard cottages, mother-in-law units, and duplexes and triplexes built at the scale of single family homes would provide desperately needed housing options for Seattle families on quiet residential streets, near parks and schools.

However, we also know that changes to single family zones present an enormous challenge to the status quo, and will require substantial public process before moving forward. The HALA Report has started that dialogue.

Let’s rally around the other HALA recommendations, including upzones to the 6 percent of single family zones near transit and urban villages. If there is one recommendation that responds to the calls of Seattle’s urbanists, it is this: we must leverage our transit investments, such as Prop 1’s recent expansion of Metro bus service and Sound Transit’s existing and forthcoming light rail service, by increasing housing opportunities near transit. Implementing this recommendation will face a difficult battle. We need urbanist voices to make the case they have argued for years: linking transit options and housing choices is critical to keeping Seattle’s growth equitable and sustainable.

Successful implementation depends on numerous other provisions—including the elements of the grand bargain—so that upzones provide opportunities for affordable housing while also preventing displacement of current community members. To that end, HALA calls for an increase to the Housing Levy and expansion of the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program to generate more affordable units, and the creation of a new property preservation program and stronger tenant relocation assistance ordinance to support current tenants. These pieces must work together to ensure equitable growth.

In 2014, another "grand bargain" was reached, the $15 minimum wage, which set the stage for Seattle’s lower-income workers to be able to support themselves and live in the communities where they work. However, without affordable housing choices, workers will continue to move out of the city, and the promise of a diverse, thriving community will be lost. We believe Seattle can achieve density and affordability together, and we are now closer to reaching those goals than ever. The grand bargain helps get us there through construction of more housing overall, and new tools and funds targeted for greatly needed affordable housing for low-income households.

But the grand bargain needs your support. Urbanists: please join us. Affordable housing advocates, environmentalists, social justice organizations: we need your help. Private developers, business owners, labor interests: we have a role for you.

As Seattle prepares for 120,000 new residents in the next 20 years—many of which will be the children of our community members today—we need bold action to ensure our city has adequate affordable housing choices and protections to meet our growing needs. So make your voice heard to Mayor Murray, council members, and council candidates. Support the grand bargain. This agreement will bring thousands of new affordable homes to neighborhoods across the city—but it needs the continued support of HALA’s unprecedented urbanist alliance to make it happen. If we want an equitable and sustainable city, we need to join together and act now.

Lauren Craig, Policy Counsel, Puget Sound Sage

Sejal Parikh, Executive Director, Working Washington

Jesse Piedfort, Chair of the Sierra Club-Seattle Group

Shefali Ranganathan, Deputy Director, Transportation Choices Coalition

Kelly Rider, Policy Director, Housing Development Consortium Seattle-King County

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