Bigger apartments? Cheaper housing? Southwest District Council hears what HALA might, and might not, do

December 8, 2015 8:03 pm
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 |   Southwest District Council | West Seattle news

The Southwest District Council was not among the community groups canceling December meetings. Members gathered to hear a briefing on the most-discussed issue before city leaders right now, housing – specifically, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, aka HALA.

Mayor Murray’s policy-office director Robert Feldstein led the briefing, sitting in for HALA outreach manager Jesseca Brand. “HALA is going to come roaring like a freight train,” explained Cindi Barker, who represents West seattle Emergency Communication Hubs on the SWDC and was a member of the HALA advisory committee.

Feldstein recapped all the basics, which you can review on the HALA website, summarizing: “We think if you build more housing, it reduces the total costs.”

The “urban center” strategy – which, in West Seattle, has meant a lot of building in The Junction and vicinity – will continue to be a cornerstone, Feldstein said. He acknowledged they are pushing for more “family-size housing” to be built – 2- and 3-bedrooms. And he mentioned the stretch goal for “20,000 new or preserved affordable-housing units.” That will be focused primarily on those making less than 60% of the average median income (AMI), though broadly, it’s for those making anywhere up to 80% of the AMI.

He talked about some of the key points – renewing the housing levy, which is expected to be bigger than previous versions; building housing on city-owned surplus property (providing it’s not owned by a utility, which would mean it would have to be sold at market rate).

Pete Spalding, who represents the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce at SWDC, said Gathering of Neighbors 2016 will focus on HALA and how it relates to West Seattle. During Feldstein’s presentation, he asked when a housing levy might make housing unaffordable for some paying the increased taxes. They don’t have that answer yet, replied Feldstein. That brought up the classic question – what if something doesn’t pass, what with all the recent levies and the resulting possibility of “levy fatigue”? Well, then we don’t build as much affordable housing, he replied. He also warned that if all the costs were shifted to developers, they’d stop developing.

He talked about “strengthening tenant protections.” Would that be retroactive? he was asked. In general, no.

“Creatig New Affordable Housing as We Grow” is the famous “Grand Bargain” piece, he said. “How does the new pedestrian zoning relate to this?” he was asked. “That mostly affects the first floor,” Feldstein pointed out. Cindi Barker mentioned the “low-rise code corrections” as another related point of concern.

Just charging fees would be perceived as taking the value of the land, Feldstein pointed out. And he said the city missed an opportunity by not building in affordability way back in the urban village creation. “When you choose to build, you’ll be encouraged to build the taller building because you have to build the affordable housing.” Just charging linkage fees would have led to a years-long legal battle, he said. This is a “clearer path.”

More questions: When you talk about affordability, he was asked, are you talking about overall rent or per-square-foot? $1000 microhousing was mentioned, for example. If smaller, it has to be for even less of the AMI, Feldstein replied. Next question: If you’re going to cut back on parking, why doesn’t the developer have to give money to public transportation? “We’re working on impact fees,” he said. “Has HUD built anything anywhere – have we asked for money?” “We have, replied Feldstein, “and we’re going to keep asking.” Co-chair Iwamoto wondered if we were headed for San Francisco unaffordability no matter what. Feldstein said the mayor is working on regional solutions for that (and housing/homelessness) when he meets with regional officials.

SEDUs (the new name for microhousing, Small Efficiency Dwelling Units) aren’t big enough for people to raise families, an attendee pointed out. Are they a major part of the affordability plan? No, said Feldstein. “Very few.” Maybe about 5 percent, he said, “for single people moving here in a transitional phase.”

Another question about them: SEDU (microhousing) buildings tend to be one type of building only. Feldstein said he’d talked to experts and there’s a debate between whether it’s more important to have diversity of unit types within a building, or within a block.

Will SEDUs become less desirable and perhaps rundown? We don’t know, said Feldstein, but the city will be montoring them. He also continued to stress, they are considered a very small slice of the housing-affordability pie. Feldstein also argued that they were dis-incentivized with the regulations change, effectively, since the production has dropped dramatically.

“We’re going to try and build a lot of different solutions,” he said.

Deb Barker from the Morgan Community Association wondered about the potential changes for single-family zones. Feldstein replied, “First of all, the recommendation on allowing triplexes and duplexes was going to be within the same coverage – but the mayor has said he doesn’t want to advance any of those – those have been taken off the table by the mayor, saying they’re a distraction … Two pieces, though. the question of ADUs and DADUs is something council is interseted in pursuing and they started before HALA and it’s going to continue to ask … there’s no easy answer but they’re going to continue being an issue. Third piece, there are going to be single family in urban-village boundaries and those are propbably going to change to low-rise – and that will look more like low-rise 1, 2, 3.” Deb Barker said, that’s a clarification that not everybody gets.

Cindi Barker pointed out that’s what you are seeing in some spots now – with, say, seven units on what is or was a one-house lot.

So what happens to the property tax of the single-family homes that are effectively upzoned? “You’re effectively forcing people out” if they can’t afford their new property taxes. With transitional residents, it’s important to keep the core group, said the attendee. Feldstein wasn’t so sure that people would be transitional entirely – they might move within the city. But it’s harder to get renters onto community councils, said Cindi Barker. Morgan, she said, is going to open up its January 20th meeting for an expanded HALA briefing, starting earlier – 6:30 – with information on “here’s what we’re going to do, here’s what might happen, here are the next steps.”

SEATTLE NATURE ALLIANCE: Retired teacher Mark Ahlness, representing SNA, gave a briefing – “We started in West Seattle and we’re a citywide organization.” He said the timing, to follow the HALA briefing, was amazing – what will happen to nature and wildness within the city?

“We advocate for preserving our natural parklands for passive use – for wildlife habitat and scenic beauty. … Our genesis was the zipline (Lincoln Park). … We have taken on some pretty big issues in terms of activating our parklands.” That’s because the city wants to activate them – “who knows what the flavor of the day is going to be. We’re concrned that as the city grows, we have all our natural parklands, for people who are going to live in (whatever type of residence) … the park spaces won’t get any bigger, we’re concerned they’re going to get smaller.”

He brought up the new city offleash-dog strategy that SNA had joined in discussing at last month’s Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meeting (WSB coverage here). He went over the short timeline that was planned for the public to review the draft offleash plan once it comes out in early January. “We’re not really sure where this policy can end up.” Neighborhood District Coordinator Kerry Wade pointed out that at DNDC, Parks rep Susan Golub said they’re planning to change the timeline.

Ahlness subsequently recapped the fact that Parks had gotten to this point without much public info and that SNA would have hoped they would have involved groups including Seal Sitters. One attendee said she was a member of that group and she hadn’t heard about it. As Wade recapped, most people at DNDC had said they hadn’t heard a thing. She said Parks had declined an invitation to attend this meeting.

‘MOVE SEATTLE’ OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Cindi Barker said that with the transportation levy having won approval, the oversight committee is being assembled with 14 seats, half appointed by the mayor, half by the council, and many already allotted to those “representing different modal plans.”

SWDC ELECTIONS: With no new candidates nominated, co-chairs Eric Iwamoto and David Whiting were re-elected, as was secretary Vicki Schmitz-Block.

The Southwest District Council usually meets first Wednesdays, 6:30 pm, at the Sisson Building (home of the West Seattle Senior Center).

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