Morning Fizz

Housing Affordability Formulas and Parking Space Formulas

Where will Seattle's affordable housing be and how did Sound Transit come up with its estimates for 8,000 new parking spaces?

By Josh Feit April 27, 2016


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 1. With the Sound Transit Three plan including $661 million for about 8,000 new parking spaces so far (there are a couple of parking projects still TBA), I asked Sound Transit to explain the methodology they used to come up with those numbers.

Building extensive parking has always struck me as counterintuitive for a historic infrastructure development that’s about upgrading mass transit.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick’s initial (self-fulfilling?) explanation seemed to confirm that thinking: “The inclusion of parking at some Sound Transit facilities recognizes that some riders have few convenient alternatives to access transit.” With all the ST board’s talk about transit oriented development, that reasoning undermines the sustainable land use philosophy that’s supposedly at the heart of a major investment in regional mass transit.

But more specifically: What data or research or logic backs up the assumption that “some riders have few convenient alternatives.” And how does the ST3 plan put a specific number on “some?”

How exactly did ST reach the conclusion that the Redmond  Tech Center to downtown Redmond light rail project, for example, needed 1,400 new parking stalls while the Bellevue to Issaquah stop needed 500?

“There is not a formula here, but a lot of discretion required,” Patrick explained.

That discretion, he said, included assessing things such as density, local street grids, availability of land, and local zoning rules—which, again—seems like an approach that conforms to the status quo rather than altering it.

I have a public records request in to ST seeking an explanation of, potentially, the agency's more scientific approach to the parking question.

One change? Patrick did reiterate: “Going forward our CEO is looking forward to working with the Board to advance conversations about charging for parking. This will not only incentivize using non-driving options for reaching facilities but help pay for parking and other access investments.”

2. The Seattle Times notes an inconvenient truth about mayor Ed Murray's affordable housing plan: Despite Murray's rhetoric that every new development will come with affordable housing, a "fee-in-lieu" aspect of the plan—the option for developers to simply pay into an affordable housing fund—means that most of the new affordable housing won't be included in upscale neighborhoods, but rather, will likely be mixed in with low-rise buildings in outer tier neighborhoods. 

Additionally, fee rates from an earlier program, known as incentive zoning (which includes a similar fee-in-lieu option), are already in effect in a swath of South Lake Union, where much of the city's controversial development is already underway under the old code. With the public fixed on the idea that its the SLU development that's transforming the Seattle housing market from one that's accessible to the middle class into one that's only accessible to yuppie tech employees, the fact fancy neighborhoods—and South Lake Union too— are likely to remain exclusive despite Murray's "grand bargain" may disappoint many.

That's a big deal because Murray's plan relies on outer tier neighborhoods signing off on upzones to accept more housing to offset the skyrocketing prices of today's Amazon era housing market.  Why would they do that when SLU itself isn't adding much affordable housing?

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