Mayor’s housing plan: First council discussion; plus, clarifying what’s proposed for single-family neighborhoods

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.

55 Replies to "Mayor's housing plan: First council discussion; plus, clarifying what's proposed for single-family neighborhoods"

  • matt July 22, 2015 (6:57 am)

    Currently you can have a backyard cottage or an accessory dwelling unit, but not both. For those that are inclined being able to have both is going to be a great thing, one in terms of rental income for the property owner, and two for families looking for flexible alternatives between living in a big apartment building or buying an increasingly expensive single family home.

    And since the recommendations do not change the bulk allowed by code, we aren’t going to see any bigger buildings than are currently allowed by code, just more places for people to live.

  • Neighbor July 22, 2015 (6:59 am)

    I would love to sit down with Cindi Barker and hear her try to explain to me how allowing my neighbors to add a 35 foot tall cottage which they can rent out or sell (with no parking), or build 3-4 small townhomes on their lot, is not an upzone of single family neighborhoods. More dwelling units within the same footprint is upzoning. To say otherwise seems like a political lie to push a developer agenda. If this is really about affordability, is the city going to impose limits on rent in these units, or require affordable housing within them (or allow developers to pay a pittance to the city to put the affordable units elsewhere while the developer class sells these additional units and makes their millions)? I would also like to know why it’s okay in Seattle for a group to recommend that at least 6% of homeowners they designate to be in Urban Villages be marginalized in the name of affordability. If the city were to decide to just marginalize a certain poor or ethnic group people would be up in arms, but when it’s homeowners they target for sweeping changes that could destroy our home values that’s somehow okay?

  • matt July 22, 2015 (7:11 am)

    Backyard cottages are limited to 23′ tall. Primary residences can be up 35′ tall.

  • matt July 22, 2015 (7:23 am)

    On the other hand, if you are one of the few who has a house zoned single family in an urban village, your home’s value just went way, way up.

    Yes, many of those people are going to lament how developers are destroying the neighborhood, then sell their house to a developer at a premium and quietly cash out.

    Those developers are going to build more housing, in urban villages, where everyone including the long range planning for Seattle 2035, wants it to be.

  • Compassion July 22, 2015 (7:47 am)

    “political lie to push a developer agenda” “developer class”
    “marginalized in the name of affordability”

    Creative descriptions, but what about the real issue which is needed housing?

    The constant scare tactics, “could destroy our home values” are untrue.
    Currently, everyone’s home values are increasing and there is no statistical evidence that this happens.

  • Neighbor July 22, 2015 (7:59 am)

    Matt – good to know. Thanks for that info re 23′ as that’s new to me. If UV home values are about to go up, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of alleged HALA intentions to increase affordability in the city? Also, increased home value can only be realized if one sells, which means this plan puts pressure to give up on the single family neighborhoods we love (while paying higher property taxes in the interim on that unrealized value), trade our yards for condo decks or parking, give up our views to developers, and move out of the urban villages into someone else’ backyard “cottage” or an expensive new townhome if we want to stay in the city. It feels like HALA and Mayor Murray want to push the middle-class out of the urban villages so they can be redeveloped in their new vision for Seattle. Also, what good are these super dense, expensive urban villages, particularly in WS, if the Mayor and City Council don’t seem to support increased mass transit options to the area (see, Move Seattle) – we can’t all ride bikes to work?

  • Fourth July 22, 2015 (8:03 am)

    I really have a difficult time seeing how these “code changes” in SF zones are anything more than a huge handout to developers. I am currently undergoing a relatively modest renovation in part of my house, and it is a surprisingly expensive project for the scope. Part of this is due to prices of contractors– a lot of them left the market during the downturn, supply has not kept up with current demand, and thus they have been able to raise their prices, etc. The other part is due to Seattle’s strict building codes for materials (the city even required us to use a specific brand of insulation. It’s pretty ridiculous to insist on that level of specificity in order to get a permit). Based on my various experiences with renovating over the years, I think that building or renovating a DADU/ADU will be prohibitively expensive for most homeowners. Developers, of course, will not face any of these constraints. So ultimately, I don’t see this as benign a code change as the committee is selling. I see this as throwing open the door to developers, who will tear down one $500,000 house and put up three $500,000 townhouses in their place. That does absolutely nothing to address the “mandate” of affordability. (For the record, I’m not opposed to the idea of accessory dwellings necessarily. I’ve seen it at work in another major U.S. city– but it was a city with a far less stringent building codes and cheaper construction labor.)

    I hope that if the SF upzoning (can we please just call it what it is? The semantic gymnastics in which the committee is engaging just undermines their credibility) goes forward, we can pilot it in some locations to see how it works out, close the loopholes developers will undoubtedly find and exploit, and make sure this is done in a way that doesn’t completely destroy the great neighborhoods and quality of life that have drawn so many to our city.

  • Cindi Barker July 22, 2015 (8:13 am)

    Remember that this HALA committee operated on consensus; if an idea had a large majority of “yes” votes, it was moved into the final recommendations. I supported a good number of the recommendations, but I was also not in favor of some of the land use and single family items. So I can describe the “thinking”, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that over the next few months at community meetings. What is most important is that YOU get involved in what the Council is doing, not just this Committee of the Whole, but watch what is moving through the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee and the Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency Committee for some of the specific legislation.

  • Fourth July 22, 2015 (8:42 am)


    I really appreciate you taking the time to explain some of the thinking. But I would like to point out that if a committee moved recommendations forward by a “majority” of votes, then it didn’t actually operate by consensus.

  • waitasec July 22, 2015 (8:52 am)

    I looked but have not found the links with the current UV maps and the newer proposed expanded boundaries for the Urban Villages. Might someone have those links handy and be willing to post them? TIA

  • beef July 22, 2015 (9:13 am)

    consensus can be achieved by various means – if the group agrees on the definition at the beginning that ideas receiving a majority of support, the rest of the group will go along with it.

    and yes, to bore you, discussion on consensus decision-making.

  • Fourth July 22, 2015 (9:33 am)

    Beef, that may be the Wikipedia description, but that’s not the generally accepted professional definition of consensus. And I’m basing this off of a fair bit of experience with consensus-based organizations from the multinational level, to labor-management dispute resolution, to small workplace committees. (Consensus is my least favorite group decision model, because one holdout can derail everything.) It may have been a consensus-based discussion process, but I find it extremely disingenuous to call this a consensus-based decision process if it is relying on majority rules voting.

  • Compassion July 22, 2015 (9:41 am)

    Trotting out all of the old scares and complaints does nothing to address the issue of housing.

    Claiming developers are a different class that is not bound by rules is baseless.
    Cost of building rising? No problem as “Developers, of course, will not face any of these constraints.”
    They are somehow immune from the “surprisingly expensive” process that ‘Neighbor’ faces?
    Of course they do, everyone faces the same issues.
    The building code is strict for safety issues and the developer faces far more challenges than specific insulation (though I question the claim of a required brand as any insulation achieving the required R-Values is allowed).

    Increased density will absolutely address demand on housing, which will in turn make housing more affordable.
    Claiming the new housing stock will do “absolutely nothing to address” affordability is to deny the long proven rule of supply and demand.
    Just as ‘Neighbor’s’ example of workers, “supply has not kept up with current demand, and thus they have been able to raise their prices, etc.”
    Conversely, if supply surpasses current demand, prices drop.

    Owners of properties newly up-zoned will indeed realize a windfall if they choose to sell. Such a profit would allow them to purchase a SFR located away from Urban Villages.

  • Be mama July 22, 2015 (9:53 am)

    Thanks WSB for the great info.

    Before increasing density, the city needs to deal with
    – transportation! Of course.
    – building adequate school facilities! Our schools are already beyond capacity and increasing density will further strain the schools.

  • Neighbor July 22, 2015 (10:16 am)

    @Compassion – can you provide me absolute assurance that when some developer blocks my views that my home value will not decline? Will you pay me the difference in value if in fact my home value does decline? I doubt it. It’s easy to be pious when your views, sun-lit yard and garden, and property value is not on the line. Obviously some homes in upzoned areas could also increase, but some will most certainly decrease. Perhaps you could show some compassion for middle-class families that may lose big from the urban village proposals instead of focusing on those benevolent-minded developers who you appear to believe have the best interests of communities and homeowners in mind. Also, I wonder if you have some examples of cities that have increased supply in a successful way to reduce home prices through your simplistic supply and demand argument? San Francisco – Nope. Vancouver – Nope. Washington D.C. – Nope. New York City – Nope. Those areas have increased density and further pushed people out of the neighborhoods that experienced any re-development. You also fail to realize the economics of economies of scale. The developer class, with its cash, can build multi-unit housing for a nominally greater cost than single family housing (fact – look it up before you refer back to scare tactics), leverage their business relationships, avoid markup charges, etc. and then sell what the built for substantially more than what a single family home would sell for – which would increase density but do nothing to address the affordability agenda the Mayor, HALA, and other allegedly compassionate folks want.

    Have the members of this committee, the mayor, or other “compassion” folks considered that maybe “housing” in Seattle isn’t an issue? Maybe this housing issue is driven by developers whom have co-opted the socialist narrative regarding affordability. My house is fine, so is my neighbors. We worked hard. We made sacrifices to save enough to buy here. Others can save and buy here too, or they can make sacrifices and live elsewhere until they can afford to move here. Why do these compassionate groups think everyone deserves to live wherever they want, without regard to actually working to be able to afford where they live?

  • JoB July 22, 2015 (10:16 am)

    calling majority rules consensus
    or upzoning re-zoning (???)
    doesn’t change the reality…
    and the reality is that consensus loophole that allows developers to buy out of affordability guidelines..
    agreed to in a majority vote in a committee with a majority of developers.
    I am all for affordability. I am all for affordability in actual urban zones. But i am not all for stripping neighborhoods of their single family designations without accomplishing the stated goals of affordability.
    my guess is that there will a move to annex White Center and similar areas to increase the stock of affordable housing without actually building affordable units within current single family zones.
    Ask people in Fremont how that worked out for them.

  • Fourth July 22, 2015 (10:55 am)

    Ok, “Compassion,” I’m sure you know better than I do about what my renovation entailed.

    Look, I assumed a basic level of understanding about the relative availability of resources (financing, builders, bulk material at discounted costs, etc.) for developers compared to the average homeowner that constrain homeowners from undertaking these projects. That’s reality. I see now that it was my error not to spell that out for you originally.

    You’ve taken my words completely out of context, and you seem to have missed the point that I’m not necessarily against ADUs/DADUs, but I do question whether this code change will help solve the affordability issue as is the stated goal, or just provide windfall profits for developers. (And I’d be very interested in hearing you explain how my example of one $500k SF house torn down to create three $500k townhouses increases affordability.)

    Supply/demand and affordability are two separate issues that you seem to be conflating. HALA itself recognizes these as separate issues, which is why they have noted that increased density cannot meet the mandate unless other steps are taken to increase affordability. And I question whether their recommendations, especially in SF zones, are the best way to accomplish that.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident July 22, 2015 (10:58 am)

    Oh, and just remember according to the traffic gurus at SDOT, there has never been a correlation of increased population/density and an increase in traffic volume!

  • Mark schletty July 22, 2015 (11:19 am)

    If you don’t like the HALA proposals and the Mayors plan for implementing them, don’t vote for Herbold or Braddock in the primary. They are the candidates closely aligned with the officials trying to push their agendas for high density and no parking requirements down our throats. I might suggest either Redmond or Tavel as better choices for livable neighborhoods.

  • dcn July 22, 2015 (11:38 am)

    I agree with Fourth here. Developers will buy larger SF lots, build multiple houses (since they are the only ones who can afford to do this), and then sell each smaller lot for a price at least equal to the amount they paid for the original larger lot. We’ve seen this already all over town with double lots that have been split. This will not help affordability.
    I live in a lower-cost part of West Seattle (Westwood) on a 7500 sq ft lot that is SF zoned, as do all my neighbors. I was only able to afford it because I bought near the bottom of the market. Houses in this neighborhood are currently selling for $280K-$400K. This is still affordable for many families.
    While I have joked with friends that I should build a back yard cottage to help pay my mortgage, I would never be able to afford to build one. If I or anyone around me decided to sell, my once affordable neighborhood would be unreachable for single family buyers, since developers would pay the highest price so they could develop our properties into 2 or 3 separate residences.
    My neighborhood would lose affordability for families who want yards. And my guess is that the new construction on the smaller lots would not be affordable either, since the new houses would probably come with all the upgrades the 1950’s houses in my neighborhood lack.
    While I agree with some of the affordability proposals in the action plan, I do not think upzoning (which is what it is) SF neighborhoods will reduce prices in these areas. The opposite will most likely happen, since single families will not be able to compete with developers when attempting to buy houses on lots with decent-sized yards.

  • matt July 22, 2015 (12:40 pm)

    Perhaps the fact that 65% of the city’s land is frozen in single family zoning, and essentially off limits to any increase in density has a lot to do with why Seattle as a whole is getting less affordable.

    The burden to house the Seattle’s new population influx and address affordability is directed almost exclusively at low rise, midrise zones and urban villages, by long term planning efforts, by zoning, by HALA.

    And since that land is scare, and will only get more expensive, meaning in order to develop it, the finished product will have to sell for more.

    This case doesn’t serve affordability either. We see it whenever there is a teardown on California and each replacement townhouses go for more than the little old house than was there.

    As a homeowner, I feel like opening up the SF zone to go from two possible households (house plus Accessory Dwelling unit) to three (house plus ADU plus cottage) is an excellent incremental step to relieve some of the market pressure driving up prices right now.

    Can’t afford a house? How about a cottage?
    Can’t afford a cottage? How about a mother in law apartment?
    Can’t afford that? How about an apartment in an urban village?
    And so on.

    Choices are key, but most homeowner are preaching home values as if it is the only metric of a vibrant city.

  • Diane July 22, 2015 (1:03 pm)

    before we discuss more DADU’s, ADU’s, backyard cottages, MIL’s (which I fully support), or at least along with the discussion; we need city laws to stop Airbnb from stealing away all of our affordable units; Lisa Herbold has heard about this while knocking on doors; older renters who have been sharing a home now being evicted so the home owner can rent out the house for quadruple the rent to Airbnb tourists; every time I mention this issue to someone at a festival or at the bus stop, they tell me “oh yeh, I have a couple friends who are renting out their MIL via Airbnb”; this is a huge problem that is being addressed in SF and NYC, but Seattle seems to be in denial of all the previously affordable homes/MIL’s being lost to Airbnb; instead of a MIL being available as affordable option for Seattle residents at say $700-900 per month, these are going up on Airbnb for $700-$900 per week; quadruple; and my guess is none of these Airbnb rentals are paying hotel taxes; before we build more DADU’s, ADU’s, backyard cottages, MIL’s, we need city laws to make sure these units will really be available to the people living in Seattle, not just profit machines to house tourists; and we need city laws to prevent the current DADU’s, ADU’s, backyard cottages, MIL’s being taken off the affordable housing market via the Airbnb money machine

  • Diane July 22, 2015 (1:04 pm)

    there are so many factors causing our affordable housing crisis that need to be stopped; just take a cruise up California; SO MANY affordable apts have been demolished in recent months, in order to build the new “luxury” highly expensive apts; huge displacement of longtime renters from our neighborhood; this is so wrong; this needs emergency action, not long conversations by a whole lot of wealthy folks who are not being impacted

  • Joe Szilagyi July 22, 2015 (1:04 pm)

    “can you provide me absolute assurance that when some developer blocks my views that my home value will not decline? Will you pay me the difference in value if in fact my home value does decline?”
    Not to be a bucket of cold water on anything thinking this, but YOUR home blocked some view in it’s OWN construction.

  • bmc July 22, 2015 (1:24 pm)

    That’s right – upzoning makes land more valuable and taxes higher too. “Highest and Best Use”

  • Debra July 22, 2015 (1:48 pm)

    Neighbor I couldn’t agree with you more.
    This socialistic approach takes all responsibility away from folks, I am not responsible for your housing needs, you are asking that I sacrifice my hard work and years of saving for those who can’t afford to live in Seattle
    I would love to live in medina, can’t afford it so I live where I can afford it based on my income and resources, others shoul do the same, I am tired of all the social ideas being forced on the proptery owner, feels like the mayor wants to tax us out of homes. The whole lot of politicians should be fired, starting with the mayor and stalwat,

  • Neighbor July 22, 2015 (1:58 pm)

    Actually, Joe, it did not, at least not in my case, unless you’re referring to the birds, bees, and the trees.

    But you miss my point – my neighbors and I researched our neighborhood, bought homes in single family zones that were NOT in urban villages but were near them, and now some interest group with an agenda gets to just take that away because developers convinced them it’s a good idea and suggested to them that if they tie it to a socialist “affordability” agenda homeowners might not notice and voters would probably vote in favor of it.

    And all of this without any consideration of the horrendous transportation challenges facing this city, particularly West Seattle, that the Mayor and his cronies think will be addressed with bike lanes and magical thinking. HALA, City Council, and the Mayor are selling this city snake oil, and voters are eating it up without considering the source. This is the same Mayor who pushed Bertha from Olympia and said it would go smoothly, yet people forget.

  • datamuse July 22, 2015 (2:46 pm)

    I would love to live in medina, can’t afford it so I live where I can afford it based on my income and resources, others shoul do the same
    Amusingly, people are moving to West Seattle from San Francisco because it’s more affordable here.

  • Matt July 22, 2015 (2:51 pm)

    Joe is your neighbor too, and I think he might also be concerned with West Seattle’s transportation problems ; )

  • holdingmyhorses July 22, 2015 (2:55 pm)

    Re: AirBnB hosts are being taxed 14% in San Francisco. I think it likely city of Seattle will follow suit. Shutting down private rentals or capping rental rates for them will never ever happen.

    I keep waiting for people’s self-preservation instincts to kick in and accept that miracle’s will not be via city code. I am praying that folks who are being squeezed save themselves. Leave. To. Save. Yourselves.

    If policy changes, come back.

    God speed.

  • Kimmy July 22, 2015 (3:09 pm)


    great point. I wish they would have applied the new zoning to my neighborhood to encourage development, increase housing supply and, of course, my property values.

  • Kimmy July 22, 2015 (3:14 pm)

    “My neighborhood would lose affordability for families who want yards.”
    I can’t afford everything that’s a luxury either. It’s time to rethink our own footprints and how much we think we “need” in order to live in a popular and awesome city.

  • matt July 22, 2015 (3:36 pm)

    Holdingmyhorses, somehow I don’t think single family homeowners are going to leave…
    Oh, wait, those aren’t the people being squeezed (but it would be hard to tell from the comments sections like these).

  • Kimmy July 22, 2015 (4:14 pm)

    Don’t tell anyone, I just heard families manage to live without yards and single family homes the world around. Luckily compassion is not in limited supply so we can feel for the middle-class family with a single family home and a nice yard in a great city AND for people suffering from hunger and homelessness.

  • Wasteland July 22, 2015 (4:34 pm)

    A major U.S. city is proposing to address housing affordability by having people build a cottage in their backyard and sell their basement to another family who lives with them? They’re trolling us, right? This sounds like something out of a satirical novel about well-meaning but laughably inept local government.

  • SamS July 22, 2015 (5:33 pm)

    So what about the Amazon employee who worked their butt off for a degree, got a nice paying job in Seattle and then wants to buy a townhouse or rent a NEW apartment? Just go live someplace else? I agree with Neighbor and Debra that taxpayers should not subsidize housing but the bottom line is that putting the density in the city is the best thing to do or else we have suburban sprawl forever. Don’t confuse “affordable” housing with “low income” housing. All of the new development is affordable to MANY people moving here. You may not like it but it is reality. Seattle is producing a lot of good, middle class jobs and we need the housing for those people. There is impact but that is life in the big city.

  • Kimmy July 22, 2015 (7:43 pm)

    You’re right SamS. That’s life in the big city. It’s fantastic to live here, and it’s not our right to do so because we’re middle class and we want to. Our family will continue to make it work until it doesn’t. I don’t think anyone should guarantee our situation won’t change. Many are arguing for privileges not guaranteed when it comes to this issue, possibly because they fear change.

  • dcn July 22, 2015 (8:19 pm)

    @Kimmy, My point about the yards, in case it wasn’t clear, was that the city is packaging the plan in terms of increasing affordability. It will not. If the real plan is to increase density so there is not as much suburban sprawl, then let’s be clear about that. But, the HALA report states that they want to make the city affordable for “schoolteachers and firefighters, baristas and dishwashers, art students, the members of the cleaning crews…”
    I do not see that increasing density in SF neighborhoods will increase affordability, since every example I’ve seen so far of SF lots being split has led to more expensive high-end houses being built by developers. Yes, the new wave of highly paid employees that SamS mentioned will still be able to rent and buy here. If I thought that prices would drop so that lower middle class and poor families could do the same, then I’d be more in favor of the plan.
    Instead, I think the upzoning of SF neighborhoods will make it less affordable, since it will lead to more properties being sold to developers, who can out-compete families for older fixers on larger lots. Developers, in turn, will build more high-end (if denser) housing that is unaffordable for most families.
    And, yes, I agree having a yard is a luxury. It took me 18 years of renting in this city and a crashed housing market to be able to afford one for my family. It is my personal dream come true. I am very empathetic to the fact that families with incomes similar to my own are currently only marginally able to buy here (with a serious fixer-upper), if at all.
    I wasn’t asking for compassion for myself or other families that already own SF homes. We stand to gain in property values if this plan is approved. My point was that families who are not upper middle class will no longer be able to afford homes in the city if they have to compete with developers for them.
    I don’t know if there is a way to slow the exploding prices in this city. I credit the HALA committee for struggling to address affordability issues. But I think some of their proposed “solutions” might make it worse.

  • geronimo July 22, 2015 (9:38 pm)

    1. There is no reason I as a homeowner have to accommodate some person who wants to ruin my city. Seattle is a great place to live because of single family homes. That is what people aspire to.

    2. Not everyone can afford to buy a house in Seattle. So what? That is not my or my neighbors’ problem.

    3. We are talking about subsidies for people making over $50,000 a year. Why?

    4. This so-called “crisis” was created by 20 years of Seattle politicians bending over to Corporate America’s development plans. BTW Amazon is not exactly a “progressive” company, check out where their regular workers work.

    5. The reason for all of this is politics. Those who have lived here a long time will not vote for these nitwits. Those that move here now, benefit from these handout programs, will vote for Murray et al. Plus, with all this development, there is more tax revenue to squander.

  • Kimmy July 22, 2015 (10:20 pm)


    I have concerns as well regarding HALA and the proposed changes, possibly for opposite reasons. I don’t think the recent proposals go nearly far enough. I don’t think we’ll see much of anything improve in regards of housing prices or supply. I don’t know that there is a way to slow these crazy prices, nor do I think that we should be trying to do something to curb it beyond building to demand. If people are priced out, including us (SF home in Westwood as well–bought at the bottom of the market), as well as the people mentioned in your first paragraph they claim to be helping, so be it.

  • Melissa Westbrook July 22, 2015 (10:21 pm)

    Compassion, you said this:

    “Increased density will absolutely address demand on housing, which will in turn make housing more affordable.”

    You don’t have any proof this will happen nor that with more housing rents will go down. I lived in San Francisco, for example, and in popular cities rents don’t go down (also see NYC). It’s just not going to happen.

    I love this idea that because my house is worth more that I come out better. If I sell my house and still want to live in Seattle, guess what? I need that money to buy another house because housing costs so much. It’s a fairly vicious circle for all but developers.

    We do need more density but no one should believe more housing will make buying or renting cheaper. It won’t.

    From my own point of view, a couple of issues. My neighborhood of Roosevelt/Ravenna is likely to be in that 6% of single family homes that would be impacted by changing the zoning. Let me just explain a couple of reasons why this is a “no go” situation for my neighborhood.

    One, our neighborhood is going to be home to a light rail station. This is great but it is somewhat stressful (as any neighborhood where a stop is being built).

    Two, our neighborhood has ALREADY been upzoned to the edges of our single family homes. This despite our neighborhood plan which would have given the City MORE density than they asked for (but closer to the Roosevelt corridor). They rejected this.

    Three – one phrase – the Sisley brothers. These slumlords have “abused” (that would be City Attorney Pete Holmes’ word that he has used, repeatedly, in public). The blight in our neighborhood is getting worse (the houses are starting to crumble) and now, I discovered that one of the houses has a broken out window, covered with plastic sheeting with easy entry thru the fence. That says we have more squatters (or soon will). Last time one of the Sisley homes had this issue, there was a heroin overdose.

    Did I mention this home is right by Roosevelt High School which is starting school again in less than 7 weeks? Yup.

    Why does Roosevelt/Ravenna have to bear so much of the burden while other neighborhoods don’t? We should all be in this together.

    The backbone of this city IS our neighborhoods but the Mayor seems to have forgotten that.

  • Matt July 23, 2015 (6:26 am)

    I wish we had your problems:
    1. You will get light rail
    2. You will have a dense urban village around it.
    3. The city has taken the Sisley properties and is going to make you a big fat park.

  • anonyme July 23, 2015 (7:31 am)

    Agree with Neighbor, JoB, Melissa.

    There is one very pertinent fact that is always conveniently ignored: unless people stop breeding, growth will continue unabated; you can build all you want (developers are salivating) but it will never bring prices down. Build it and they will come.

    I strongly resent the insinuation that any homeowner with a yard is both selfish and wealthy. I saved 40 years to buy a tiny little run-down house with a yard. I’ve fixed it up with my own hands, and the yard is used as a small urban farm – a much more sustainable model than crammed-in apartments, MIL’s and condos. My fixed income is less than $16,000 per year, but I make it work. I’ve EARNED this. A variety of housing options is what makes a city vital, and the destruction of single-family neighborhoods is short-sighted and serves no purpose except as yet another gift to development.

  • Compassion July 23, 2015 (8:26 am)

    Melissa –
    “We do need more density but no one should believe more housing will make buying or renting cheaper. It won’t.”

    Absolutely wrong.
    If housing supply goes up, exceeding demand, then the prices drop as there are more housing units than people. As a result owners are forced to adjust rates to the market demand. The ‘skyrocketing’ rate increases recently experienced would disappear.

    Saying there is no proof of supply and demand affecting prices is akin to saying there is no proof airplanes fly.

    ” It’s a fairly vicious circle for all but developers.” What? Speaking of no proof. There is no proof that developers are not also in the ‘vicious circle.’ How are developers not affected by costs?

    Of course, Melissa has manufactured an argument out of “rents going down” which was never the point. Correct, with rent control in SF and NY rents have not gone down. The discussion is about affordability and accommodating all of our city’s new residents.

    As far as Melissa’s own neighborhood challenges, Matt is right, if West Seattle only had such issues.

  • JoB July 23, 2015 (8:40 am)

    density might not be the only issue
    you might want to take a look at how the 2014 update to the housing ordinances changed the protections you thought were in place for you during construction.

  • Compassion July 23, 2015 (8:56 am)

    What is the issue?
    Are there skyrocketing losses because of these changes?
    Has anyone been harmed?
    Is this just another scare scenario?

  • Jim Borrow July 23, 2015 (9:31 am)

    To Cindi Barker:

    How well were the neighborhoods represented on the HALA committee? My sense is there were only a few token representatives. It seems to me if the Mayor truly wanted to reach any sort of concensus, the group would have been more representative. If there were any areas of strong disagreement did anyone think about issuing a minority report?

  • G July 23, 2015 (9:50 am)

    For those lifers or long-timers who are facing the prospect of moving out of West Seattle for a variety of reasons, let me assure you that there is a big, beautiful world on the other side of the West Seattle bridge. With trees. And nice people who recycle. And culture. And bicycles. Really, it’s all true :) Ok, back to the serious discussion at hand.

  • Neighbor July 23, 2015 (10:04 am)

    There goes Compassion cherry picking again, but not defending any of their unsubstantiated statements. I’m beginning to think I too should just stick my head in the sand and think happy compassionate thoughts, or at least stop caring if so many voters are willing to put the blinders on with regard to these public policies that were written primarily by developers, for the benefit of developers. Why else would developers be the primary group pushing to change all city codes if they didn’t have the potential for massive profits?

  • m July 23, 2015 (3:15 pm)

    G it exists to the south it is called Normandy Park and it’s where I’m going. I can get an even BETTER view or waterfront with what I’ll clear from my place (no doubt a developer. Oh and people can park their cars anywhere. Too bad but I’ve had it.

  • SamS July 23, 2015 (3:37 pm)

    Developers build houses to fill demand, and the high demand for housing is an undisputable fact so they are going to build it somewhere. And, yes, they are going to try to make a profit. Most of us work for companies that are trying to make a profit so let’s stop with the “greedy developer” meme. Most all of our houses were built at some point by a for-profit developer. Yes, there are bad actors, but that applies to any industry. And just because they build next to your house under the current zoning laws does not make them bad actors.

    The primary issue is where is the best place to allow new housing to be built. I’m in the camp that we should put the density in the city. If we do that, it will be better for the region (and planet) but of course it will change the dynamics of some neighborhoods and I am sympathetic to people who are impacted.

    So, for the vocal minority who are impacted, where do you propose to add density?

    It seems that whatever the answer is, it is just shifting the burden to somebody else who doesn’t want it in their backyard. I would argue that even with the relatively small addition to proposed density (6% of single family) there will still be plenty of single family in the city and it will continue to be the “backbone” of Seattle.

    I support HALA for the density proposal, but affordability is a separate issue.

    1. The folks on HALA (and developers) who say adding more density will make housing affordable are only partially correct. More housing supply will keep the RATE of price increases down, however, the relatively small additional density proposed by HALA will probably never make housing affordable for EVERYBODY who works in the city. The simple reason is that there are still WAY more upper middle class people competing for housing in the city. If we stopped all development, they would simply bid up even the crappy fixers to the moon. (Look at what $1M buys you in SF). Demand will simply always exceed supply except in a severe recession.

    2. My position is that the government should not be in the business of guaranteeing affordable housing for anybody. There are no magic bullets. Let the market dictate the price like all other products and services. Just because you choose to take a job in the city, it does not mean that the taxpayers owe you subsidized housing. (Any housing that is not market rate is subsidized by somebody) I know this is an unpopular position, and I am sympathetic to those who work hard and have to commute. But lots of people start out with lower paying jobs and lower cost housing and work up to higher paying jobs and higher cost housing. My 20-something nephew moved here, got a job and crappy apartment, then worked up to a better job and got a less crappy apartment (but in Ballard close to the action). Now is working hard to get an even better job so he can get a NICE apartment or save for a house in a neighborhood he can afford regardless of location. Does this resonate with anybody?

    3. Charging developers a fee to subsidize housing just because they build housing does not make sense. No more sense than charging Amazon a fee when they hire somebody who then “displaces” a lower income tenant somewhere.

    4. Seattle is becoming expensive, not because of developers or density levels, but because it is a desirable place to live. It will continue to get more expensive regardless of how much housing we allow. All of us want to better our standard of living, but there are limits on what that standard is. Fair or not, most of us have to get by without something that we want. Housing is no different than any other product or service in this respect.

    If government wants to promote affordable housing, (and citizens want to tax themselves for this purpose) I would propose using the tax dollars to help make lower cost neighborhoods more attractive to businesses and people.

    Bottom line, higher density in cities serves the greater good and government should get out of trying to “fix” the price of housing.

  • Wes C. Addle July 23, 2015 (4:29 pm)

    I agree with you. Also a big issue which somewhat relates to your post regarding your nephew. Many of us are good at our jobs and get regular raises. However the raises that most of us get aren’t enough to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of housing. Doesn’t do much good to work your butt off and get a 4% raise every year when the cost of living goes up by more than 4%. That’s the continuous losing battle that effects the middle class IMO.

  • Kimmy July 23, 2015 (5:04 pm)

    Bingo, SamS.

  • Cindi Barker July 23, 2015 (10:06 pm)

    there were a couple of folks who didn’t line up on either the developer/construction trades side or on the non-governmental agency perspective. But there were only two of us that came with no other viewpoint than neighbors. Sylvester Cann was the other person, but I hadn’t worked with him in neighborhood matters before – he’s from SE Seattle and I believe had run for office at some point. I’ve been asked what was the Mayor thinking in his composition of the committee and I don’t have that answer.

  • BJG July 24, 2015 (9:00 am)

    Of course we can surmise what the mayor was thinking. Seattle is his toy box now.

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