The week after Mayor Murray went public with his housing proposals – concurrent with release of a report by the advisory committee appointed to examine the issue – the City Council got its first official briefing:
The Seattle Channel published video today of Monday’s first meeting of the council’s Select Committee on Housing Affordability – the creation of which was announced last week, at the same time as the mayor’s proposals and the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory committee (HALA) report.
For this update on the plan, we also sat down with a West Seattleite from the HALA committee, Cindi Barker, to talk through a few of its more-confusing points. (She was not on the committee as a West Seattle representative, but as a member of the City Neighborhood Council.)
First – some toplines from Monday’s council meeting. Early on, a city staffer offered an understatement, saying it will be a “long conversation” because “some of the suggestions do step outside of the comfort zone.”
Much of the briefing focused on the backstory of how this all happened.
One major issue of interest brought up by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was the oft-quoted contention that the city has enough “capacity” for all the new housing it needs, without any upzoning.
The city study with that conclusion, it was eventually explained, was done without the prism of affordability. In other words, all the new (and existing) residents could be accommodated – assuming they all could afford whatever the pricing turned out to be.
But the mandate is for a serious amount of affordable housing. The mayor’s “action plan” calls for accomplishing it through policies including “mandatory inclusionary zoning” – upzoning so that taller buildings could be built providing they include a certain number of affordable units.
DPD director Diane Sugimura acknowledged that “we do have significant … capacity,” while saying it’s also an issue of where the growth should be focused.
Rasmussen said this seemed to call for maps and data showing how many more people could be accommodated if certain zones were “built to capacity,” before they plunged ahead into upzoning. (Later in the meeting, related to the capacity issue, Councilmember Bruce Harrell also suggested they needed to review what might come along with annexation – South Park’s annexation area first, possibly White Center and North Highline later.)
But for those still trying to make sense of what was announced last week, one major point brought up Monday was one we also had discussed with Barker: What is really under consideration for single-family zones?
While technically most of those areas are not suggested for “upzoning” – the description of the single-family zone itself would change, so to say it’s not an “upzone” is a bit of hair-splitting. Single-family zones within urban-village boundaries are proposed for actual upzoning, changing to low-rise (in many UVs, you’ll find old single-family zones on land that’s already zoned LR, which is why, for example, so much teardown-to-townhouse type building is going on along California SW). But outside UVs, single-family would remain SF.
What WOULD change: More dwelling units within the same footprint. As explained, let’s say you are a single-family-home owner – your lot, now holding one house inhabited by one family, could hold three families – one in a backyard cottage (detached accessory dwelling unit), one in a separate area of your house (accessory dwelling unit), and then you in your part of the house. As Barker explained it to us, this wouldn’t just involve renting – there could be a lot-unit subdivision so you, the backyard-cottage family, and the other-side-of-the-house family could each own your residence.
As explained in Monday’s meeting, the description was: “Increasing inclusion in single-family areas – removing code barriers to accessory dwelling units and backyard cottages, and some flexibility for duplex and triplexes.”
None of this is supposed to kick in immediately. As mentioned above, it’s going to be a “long conversation”; the legislation for city councilmembers to consider hasn’t even been submitted for their consideration yet, so it’s likely most of this will go before the “new” council featuring seven district representatives and two citywides. Here’s the schedule for the Select Committee’s meetings, which we of course will be tracking here too; next one is Monday, August 10th, around 2:30 pm (after the full City Council meeting). And a tip from Cindi Barker: Watch the other committees that deal with housing – Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency is one; Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability is the other.