AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: At West Seattle hearing, more than 50 people tell City Councilmembers what they think about HALA MHA upzoning

(WSB photos added post-hearing)

6:03 PM: The first big West Seattle meeting about HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) MHA (Mandatory Housing Affordability) upzoning was December 2016, “open house” style, centered in a crowded Junction restaurant. Tonight, a year and a half later, as the proposal inches closer to a City Council vote, a public hearing is under way in the relatively cavernous Chief Sealth International High School auditorium. It’s starting with a short refresher on toplines for District 1 (also presented to councilmembers yesterday) – here’s the slide deck:

Tuesday slide deck by WestSeattleBlog on Scribd

We’ll be updating as this unfolds, and we’re recording video, as is Seattle Channel.

6:07 PM: Three councilmembers are here as the hearing begins – West Seattleites Lorena González (who has citywide Position 9) and Lisa Herbold (District 1 rep) and committee chair Rob Johnson. City staffer Sara Maxana is giving the presentation that will be followed by public comment. The slides she’s going through are the ones in the deck – if you haven’t checked yet to see what changes are proposed for your neighborhood, you can use this online map. Even if you have been keeping up with the proposal, you might consider reviewing the deck “At the end of the day, what this program is about is trying to get new income- and rent-restricted housing” for the city, Maxana wraps up.

(From left, Councilmembers Herbold, Mosqueda, González, Johnson, and Johnson staffer Spencer Williams)

6:15 PM: Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is here now too. A group from the MLK County Labor Council is speaking first as the public hearing begins; Councilmember Johnson says about 40 people are signed up to speak. The labor group’s members say they are for the proposal because the area needs more affordable housing and their members can’t afford to live in the city. Next is Matt Hutchins, a West Seattleite who says he is “lucky” because he can live here, but he is worried about others who can’t. He’s also worried about whether he will be able to age in place, and whether his daughter will be able to live in the area where she is growing up. “Building more homes for people who need them is a fundamental societal necessity,” he says. “I want to keep West Seattle livable, affordable, vibrant, growing.”

Next, Delridge resident Kirsten Smith is first to speak for a group of architects who support MHA. Another member says they feel “more affordable housing” is needed. Yet another member says the city’s in a crisis and has only a “finite amount of land … we believe density is the answer and change needs to begin now.”

They’re followed by Laura Loe, who identifies herself as a “renter in the U District.” She reads a statement from someone else saying that there need to be apartments in 90 percent of the city.

The next man says that he agrees Seattle needs more affordable housing. He is concerned about parking availability in neighborhoods like Fauntleroy, where people park and catch Rapid Ride C Line. He would like to see more of an investment in infrastructure. He said increased density in Ballard has not resulted in more affordable housing. He gets the first major applause of the night and Councilmember Johnson tries to dissuade it – “if we get 30 seconds of applause after every speaker, we’ll be here all night.” Reply some in the audience, “That’s OK!”

He’s followed by a speaker who said that even “affordable” housing won’t be affordable for many. Next, a man who says he’s a 30-year resident and lives near Jefferson Square. “I don’t believe anyone here is against affordable housing – the concern here is responsible growth.” That draws more applause. “I am not against growth – I would like to see the council take their time,” he says, after a brief riff of complaining about traffic.

Next, Jill Fleming from Alki, who says she has lived in West Seattle most of her adult life. It’s a place where “you don’t have to own a McMansion” to have a view. She is supporting MHA because she thinks that means more will be able to afford to live here. She’s followed by an 11-year-old Junction resident who says there are no kids in the area and families need houses to live in. After her, Christy Tobin-Presser, who is involved with the Junction Neighborhood Organization’s appeal of HALA MHA’s EIS, says she’s concerned that the proposal would not add new residents but would replace those who live there. She tells the council they have a responsibility to those who live here as well as those who want to.

After her, a man who voices concern about displacement of people in current affordable units. He’s worried that building out the affordable units promised by HALA MHA will take too long. He’s followed by a woman who recalls the “crazy meeting” in December 2016 that we mentioned above. “For people who are making the decision … think of how you would feel if you were vilified (as) a NIMBY …I don’t like the way this is coming in and sweeping as if some people count and others don’t.”

Former Junction Neighborhood Organization leader René Commons is at the microphone next, holding a green I LIVE in West Seattle sign that we’ve seen around the auditorium.

Commons says one concern is that none of the affordable housing is guaranteed to come to West Seattle – developers can just pay the fee and have it built elsewhere.’ She’s followed by Carl Guess, from JuNO’s Land Use Committee, who also voices concern about affordable housing not being built here. “I’m for affordable housing – just not this implementation.” He also cites numbers about tree canopy and green space loss. “MHA’s current price for livability is simply too high.” He gets raucous cheers.

Patience from Seattle For Everyone speaks next. She says she works in the city, hopes to live in it, but has limited options, so more housing is needed.

6:48 PM: After a PA system interruption – the Sealth sports banquet is wrapping up and PTSA meeting about to start – a man starts talking about the Fauntleroy 9250 45th SW contract rezone proposal, and is told not to, because it’s a quasi-judicial matter (contract rezone). He changes his comments to more general ones saying he worries about a domino effect of increased height there. Then, Marianne McCord is next, mentioning what was briefly discussed at yesterday’s Council meeting – she’s from South Delridge, much of which is contained in the Urban Village called Westwood-Highland Park. It needs parks and thoughtful transit. “If you don’t know we exist, we do!” she concludes, and a group in the audience cheers.

Kevin Freitas is next. Density is great but it needs to bring diversity and services, he says – groceries, health care, parks.”We need to be much tougher with developers.” He says there are better ways to increase density. “Why do we need to build more” when existing buildings could be subsidized? he asked. He’s followed by Tamsen Spengler, co-chair of the Southwest District Council, speaking as a longtime Morgan Junction resident, and she is concerned about displacement, especially among seniors. She also points out that the city should “take another look at the neighborhood plans.” Next, West Seattleite Scott says he supports affordable housing “if it’s done correctly.” He mentions a neighborhood on 44th SW where one side of the street is urban village and the other is not, so rezoning that one side will disrupt the neighborhood feel. One $650,000 house will be replaced by three $800,000 townhouses, he fears.

Paul Cesmat, a 60-year West Seattle resident and builder, says it’s not right that Admiral has required parking while other areas do not. Next speaker says he is a West Seattle resident, an MHA supporter and works on historic preservation. He says the city needs more housing of every kind and “radical land-use reform.” While MHA isn’t perfect, it’s promise. Following him is Jeanine, saying she is a union member and she “disagrees with my union sisters and brothers” and opposes MHA. She says the city infrastructure is woefully deficient and needs help. Same for services staffing -“Good luck if you need a paramedic because the average response time is 5 minutes,” police need more officers, and more. Catch up with growth that’s happened already rather than adding more.

Next speaker, a 20-plus-year West Seattle Junction resident says she understands the need for affordable and more-dense housing but “HALA is flawed …I would like the city to consider some alternative plans.” She also suggests shuttles to The Junction so fewer people will feel the need to drive there. She also wants the city to consider the future light-rail line. “I hope you will listen to us because no one is more vested in livability than the residents who live here.”

She’s followed by Amanda Sawyer, current JuNO director, who says that the HALA proposal suggests only 9 affordable units will be built in The Junction in the next 20 years. “I think we should be asking more of developers.” Then, Sara, “a renter and a huge supporter of MHA. … I wish we had implemented it sooner so the growth we’ve already seen would include more affordable units.”

Lisa, who started her speech at yesterday’s City Council meeting, now continues it. She is concerned about displacement too. She’s followed by Kris Ilgenfritz of Fauntleroy, who says she hasn’t felt that the council is listening, and hopes they realize community members want to bring affordable housing to their communities – “housing that people can live in.” She adds, “Work with us in our community to keep it what it’s been.”

Fay, who says she’s a mom of a 1-year-old, notes that she is concerned about “or” – as in, build affordable housing on site OR pay a fee. She sees developers building unaffordable housing and “we’ll have to go.” Big applause.

Shawn Terjeson of West Seattle says HALA is “one-size-fits-all implementation” that “doesn’t do it for me …you’re asking us to give up a lot …” He says, “Seattle is an extremely profitable city to build in … if you guys were swinging really hard for impact fees, I would feel that you had our backs, that you were working for us. … this bill looks more like it was written for developers than for residents. … We had public meetings and you sent consultants out …. And Mr. Johnson, I would suggest that you never ever compare a Seattleite to a Trump supporter again.” Biggest cheers of the night, so far.

7:18 PM: A Seattle Housing Authority rep is next, speaking for MHA. She talks about their huge waitlist and how “stable affordable housing” changes lives. She’s followed by another MHA supporter who says she’s with Bellwether Housing and that MHA is one more tool in the toolkit for solving the housing problems. “MHA can be part of the package that” helps them build housing.

Native West Seattleite Jesse says he’s an MHA supporter and is one of the few of his peers who is still able to live here. He says his parents’ home has appreciated “obscene(ly),” from $150,000 when they bought it, to a value of $700,000 now, and more needs to be done to “accommodate more people in the city.” He gets big applause.

Cindi Barker, who was in the original HALA group, says this has gone past what the original idea. The original “1 extra floor across the whole city,” and “put that affordable housing in that building, permit,” has changed dramatically, she said. There are so many loopholes that the program “just won’t work.” She says, ‘Density can be done right, but not this way. ….To transform the whole city in one fell swoop …” She also said the city has already surpassed the goals that were set when this was first discussed in 2015.

Joseph now says the “destitution and desperation” on Seattle’s streets is the result of “housing scarcity.” He says he owns a house now in the Roxhill area but used to rent, and knows the fear of getting a rent increase notice.

Glen from Green Lake says he agrees with those who are concerned that if developers don’t have to build affordable housing on site, they’ll build elsewhere. He also says that single-family zoning has its origins in redlining. “I’m not saying that everyone who supports single-family zoning is racist, but (that) zoning is.” He doesn’t want the council to allow “wealthy white neighborhoods” to maintain that zoning. “Please go forward with MHA …it’s not perfect …but it’s what we need right now.”

Angela from Futurewise reads a statement from “my homeless neighbor, A. Alvarado.” She wonders why we are not “setting our neighbors up for success? I would like changes to allow our lower-income neighbors to stay …so everyone in Seattle has access to an affordable home.”

Kitty says she is a West Seattleite who supports more affordable housing and also supports the appeal of the MHA Environmental Impact Statement (she’s the first to mention it). “I’d like to see the council take time to (figure out how to) maintain the livability of West Seattle and other communities.” She also supports impact fees, open space and tree protections, more-stringent Design Review and development standards.

Becky, a Morgan Junction resident and Bellwether Housing employee, says she supports MHA and that the housing crisis requires “urgent action.” She says thousands of new homes are waiting to be brought online.

Gail, a 30-year West Seattle resident and “single black female who bought my house in West Seattle 15 years ago” says she does not support MHA but does support affordable housing. She says the Middle East, for example, has built affordable housing where there is “room for affordable housing.”

Brian says single-family houses are the “bedrock of our society and they should be preserved …This is really about keeping the bubble going.”

Next, a West Seattleite who says she supports affordable housing but “not in a way that destroys neighborhoods, which this certainly will.” Then, Chuck Burkhalter, Luna Park-area resident. He foresees MHA bringing “more high-priced housing into the area” and is also concerned about infrastructure, packed buses, unofficial park-and-rides. He mentioned the neighborhood planning of the ’90s. Jennifer Scarlett follows; she is a South Park resident who describes herself as a low-income resident. She says that she’s been homeless and fears displacement, as parcels near her already have been redeveloped into townhouses that cost twice as much as her house.

Philippa Nye says “People are basically upset about growth …HALA MHA didn’t create growth, it’s a response to growth. Growth and change is happening. My neighborhood is becoming whiter… it’s not like we’re protecting our neighborhoods now … they’re becoming less and less diverse.” Regarding concerns that affordable housing won’t happen in West Seattle, she notes that she used to work for DNDA and “nonprofits are really creative” in finding ways to make it happen.

7:49 PM: Danielle says she is a 10-year West Seattle resident who bought a house a few years ago in the Roxhill area, and notes that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis, and “we must build affordable housing” to fight it. “I want our neighborhood to be welcoming to all.” She supports MHA and hopes the fees will be invested in the neighborhoods most at risk of displacement.

Duncan Sharp is concerned about Fauntleroy upzoning and says he’s glad the Fauntleroy Community Association has been keeping residents informed because the city has not. He is concerned about traffic too, especially related to the ferry terminal.

Next man, an architect, says the MHA program is “unacceptable … it looks like it’s politically driven, not family-driven.” He too is a Fauntleroy resident and worried about traffic.

Oly Wise, a lifelong West Seattleite who is looking to redevelop a family-owned site (as we’ve reported) on Alki, said they were trying to make it affordable but the Alki overlay requires 1 1/2 parking spaces per unit.

Margaret Morales and her family then step to the microphone and say they support MHA and they don’t think it goes far enough.

Next speaker says he owns land and says the council is ignoring the comp plan. He also is concerned about the packed buses, packed bridge, overloaded infrastructure, overcrowded schools, and the lack of a hospital, yet the council is trying to increase density, “change the entire character of The Junction.”

Bob Huppe, Lincoln Park area resident, asked councilmembers to “take a deep breath and really (consider) what’s going on in West Seattle, it’s way different than it used to be.” He welcomes more diversity but doesn’t think this is the path to it – apartments are not being built big enough for families. “I want kids in West Seattle, in all the neighborhoods of West Seattle … let’s be sure we have apartments are big enough and affordable.” He also wants to see more traffic and enough parking.

8:02 PM: Still a few more people to speak. Earl Lee of Westwood is speaking now. He says he has little faith in city promises because his block has been affected by bus traffic that’s led to shaking and there’s no resolution.

Yen is next. She supports MHA. But she wants to be sure the affordable housing fees are high enough, and that they ‘come back to the neighborhood.’

The next man says he’s been working on redevelopment plans for property he owns and that developers so far are just looking at the fees as a bit of an inconvenience. Two houses on the site of one would be built “each to sell for more than the one I’m living in right now.’ So he thinks “a lot of” displacement will result, along with “more expensive housing” in “one of the last places people can afford to move in.”

Bruce speaks next, identifying himself as a Block Watch captain for 20 years. “The two strongest forces in nature are change and resistance to change .. you all push through this every day .. I’m definitely against MHA, I know we need MHA … I came to Seattle with no money, I saved my pennies living in a horrible apartment …” He also urged a conversation “around infrastructure,” including buses. He said he feels the councilmembers sometimes are “passing around a crack pipe.”

Johnson was about to wrap the public hearing when Michael Oxman jumped up and voiced concern about MHA displacing trees, “not just people.” He described the council as being the people at the end of a Monopoly game who have most of the pieces and most of the money.

And that wrapped the hearing. When the council convenes as the MHA committee again next month, “we’ll talk about what we heard,” said Johnson, and at 8:13, that was it. We’re off to upload the video and add photos.

9:22 PM: The video will take a while. A few other notes: We counted about 150 people there at the peak; about 50 had signed up to speak, our photographer was told when he arrived around midway through. We did our best to include at least a one-line excerpt from each and every one above, but please note that our as-it-happened notes are not complete transcripts.

WHAT’S NEXT: Here’s the council’s calendar for meeting as the HALA committee – each meeting does have a public-comment period. When will they vote? Hard to say – one big remaining question mark is the appeal filed by a citywide coalition of neighborhood groups (which tabled in the foyer outside the auditorium) – the next pre-hearing meeting is set for next Monday, and the hearing is scheduled to start two weeks later.

WEDNESDAY MORNING NOTE, 7:34 AM: Thanks to the person who e-mailed us to ask why comments are closed. It’s been a long time since this happened, but on occasion, story shells with too many updates do that – and so far we aren’t able to fix. We will open a separate story when we post the video from last night’s meeting (dealing with a separate glitch so it isn’t ready quite yet) so if there’s anything you want to say, the commenting function should work on THAT story.

9:06 AM: We’ve published that report here.

1 Reply to "AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: At West Seattle hearing, more than 50 people tell City Councilmembers what they think about HALA MHA upzoning"

  • Matt Hutchins June 5, 2018 (8:19 pm)

    Thanks to everyone for sharing their perspectives tonight, and thanks to the WSB crew for covering it! 

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