‘Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones are coming soon!’ and other HALA status updates

No “proposed,” no “expected,” just a flat-out statement that HALA upzoning is on the way – that’s how the city Department of Construction and Inspections starts the newest post on its blog-format Building Connections website. The gist of the post is to tell developers that they can start including plan alternatives that include what would be allowed under the upzones. (To summarize quickly – the upzones, as explained here, are meant to be a tradeoff in exchange for requiring developers to include a certain percentage of “affordable” units, or to pay a fee to help fund some being built somewhere else.)

Meantime, the citywide community groups’ appeal continues making its way through the system; the document file gets ever bigger, with the newest document filed just today, a response to a city move for “partial dismissal.” The pre-hearing conference for the appeal of the Mandatory Housing Affordability Environmental Impact Statement is now set for June 11th; the hearing itself is on the schedule as starting two weeks later, on June 25th, with that entire week set aside, plus another week in late July. Then there’s also the prospect of mediation, as noted by City Councilmember Lisa Herbold when she spoke to the Morgan Community Association last month.

As also mentioned by MoCA – which is among the groups that are party to the appeal – the district-by-district open houses/public hearings have almost made their way to District 1, end of the line. The open house for one last look at the West Seattle/South Park upzone maps is one week from tomorrow, Wednesday, May 9th, 6-8 pm at Louisa Boren STEM K-8 (5950 Delridge), and the official City Council public hearing for the proposed District 1 changes is at 6 pm Tuesday, June 5th, in the auditorium at Chief Sealth International High School (2600 SW Thistle). The council’s last scheduled HALA meeting is August 6th.

P.S. If you’re still not caught up on what changes could happen in your neighborhood, the maps and other background are here.

50 Replies to "'Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones are coming soon!' and other HALA status updates"

  • TJ May 1, 2018 (4:58 pm)

    Stupid. This city is trying to be too much for too many. Trying to cram as many people in here as possible, and trying to get creative so it is supposedely affordable for everyone. Our government in this country was never tasked with providing housing. You want to do something helpful? How about penalizing developers for not building condos that people can gain the equity? All apartments going up, with equity going into the builders pockets. 

    • Nolan May 1, 2018 (6:12 pm)

      You have the cause and effect exactly backwards: people want to live here, which is putting pressure on the housing market, and motivating the local government to step in and ensure that some housing is still being built for people who can’t afford luxury condos.

      Short of manufacturing an economic crash, you _cannot_ stop people from moving here. The only thing we can realistically change is who gets priced out by the resulting market equilibrium, and the only way to price out fewer people is to build more affordable housing.

      San Francisco has crumbled under the weight of its NIMBYism, but I’m not about to let it happen to Seattle.

      • CMT May 1, 2018 (6:50 pm)

        It’s unfortunate none of the affordable housing is actually required to be part of the new development … which will instead be market rate housing …. which will replace existing affordable housing in neighborhoods including WS Junction.

    • heartless May 1, 2018 (6:32 pm)

      Our government has been involved in providing housing, or land, since manifest f—ing destiny.

      I might agree with some of your other points, but to say the government hasn’t and isn’t involved in providing housing just isn’t true.

    • Seattlite May 1, 2018 (10:20 pm)

      TJ — I agree with your comment. Seattle is a city in distress due to poor leadership over many years.  “NIMBY” is a term used to put quilt on the backs of hard-working tax payers who sweated it out the old-fashioned way of working hard, saving, purchasing a home and then paying exorbitant taxes for a mismanaged city.  Developers and politics go hand in hand creating a toxic relationship that adversely affects neighborhoods.

    • Kram May 1, 2018 (10:32 pm)

      You should read about why condos are not being built before commenting. The liability makes getting a loan nearly impossible. You should read about why Denver’s condo market stopped 10 years ago. Build a condo, get sued. Construction costs are another factor. Would you pay $750 a square foot for a condo downtown? Would you build something you can’t sell and the risk so high you can nearly guarantee a lawsuit at some point?

      Has almost nothing to do with the city my friend.

      • carole May 2, 2018 (9:21 am)

        Those lawsuits happened because condo builders cut corners and built crappy quality.  Properly erected buildings don’t get leaky walls, roofs, windows, mold, etc., within a few short years.  Do homebuyers of new construction face those  problems within that time span? Those suits were based on proven defects and were brought within the 4 year statutory deadline.  Many developers built cheap, sold high, and walked away. And many owners who discovered hidden defects outside the 4 years were left holding the bag.

        • Kram May 2, 2018 (11:58 am)

          There are cases of contractors using the lowest common denominator in materials and labor to build condo’s which in turn have problems. There are also many cases where the contractor is not directly at fault. There are cases where lawyers have purchased a condo, gutted it and even in the best built of buildings a defect of some sort can be found and a lawsuit follows. The spirit of my response was that it doesn’t matter, insurance companies won’t insure condos and banks won’t loan to build them. With your logic how do you explain all the townhomes going up. Those also have razor thin margins (profits of 0-5%) and are built with the cheapest labor and material as well. The answer is because the risk is so much higher with a condo building than a townhome. Homebuyers buy brand new homes that leak, fail, faulty construction within 4 years everyday but the risk is spread out. Build cheap and sell high is the model for most construction projects, not just condos but when a condo has an issue it’s much more expensive to address. You won’t see many condo’s go up any time soon.

  • sue Luke May 1, 2018 (5:31 pm)

    I find this interesting since there has already been so much new construction in our area! Why wasn’t this done a whole lot earlier??!

  • CMT May 1, 2018 (6:11 pm)

    They might want to slow their roll on this. The MHA environmental impact statement still hasn’t even been approved since it is the subject of hot and heavy litigation.  Even if that gets approved, the legislation still has to be considered by City Council and even if it gets passed by some of the more -ahem – developer friendly members, the legislation itself is subject to serious legal challenges.  If Mayor Murray and his cronies hadn’t been in such a rush to give neighborhoods away to developers without regard to adopted City policies, a real plan to address the lack of affordable housing and increased density might have already been underway.


  • MHA displaces vulnerable communities May 1, 2018 (7:48 pm)

    All this does is gin-up the pricing on land since developers will pay more for greater development potential (and because the MHA fees are so low).

    Of course DCI is run by the number 1 developer lacky Nathan Torgelson.   The amount of cheating of our land use laws coming from his department is appalling.

    The MHA appeal is has a strong argument (the EIS is seriously flawed), and to make that announcement is irresponsible.   Maybe Durkan should do some more departmental house cleaning and get that guy out of there…

    • John May 2, 2018 (7:37 am)

      Please cite some examples of land use cheating coming from DCI?

      • Kram May 2, 2018 (12:02 pm)

        Great question. I’d like to see just one example of cheating our land use laws. If there are ‘many’ it should be easy to find one. Spoiler alert, there aren’t any.

        • Jethro Marx May 2, 2018 (2:31 pm)

          The huge swath of homes built just east across the street from Walt Hundley playfields used an environmental impact statement that was done over 12 years ago; does that seem right to you?Multiple queries on official channels were ignored, and what else is to be done?

          • Kram May 2, 2018 (7:07 pm)

            I deal with DCI very often. If there’s a way to cheat I’d love to know so I can take advantage. An EIS statement that is old could have been apart of the initial permit process which can take years. I couldn’t find the permit documents on the site for the homes you are talking about so I don’t know. There is typically a public comment period. You shouldn’t expect any response to your queries if it was outside the comment period. My snarky comment was because the process is complex and I can’t comprehend a path to ‘cheating’. There are so many people involved in these decisions. There isn’t one person that says go. The EIS is one piece of a lengthy, expensive process for approval. I understand corrupt things take place but man, when the original poster say’s “the amount of cheating is appalling” it’s clearly from someone who has never worked through permitting a new construction project. How in the world can you cheat? You never even interact with these people?

          • Nunnio May 3, 2018 (3:03 pm)

            Agree with kram. 

            JM, I can’t understand what you’re trying to say here? Instead of vague allusions- tell us why the EIS for that project is inadequate?

          • Jethro Marx May 3, 2018 (5:13 pm)

            The permit was issued for construction in 2016 or 2017 based on an EIS from 2005, I think. I’m just saying the rules were not necessarily followed; whether that represents “cheating” is debatable, but it’s quite likely that both the rules and the environment changed over the decade. I don’t think getting a permit now means one can build to today’s standards at a date indefinitely into the future. I’m not particularly anti-development but I am curious, so when I noticed the discrepancy I called and emailed during the period listed on the sign. In my naiveté I kinda expected a response.

          • Nunnio May 4, 2018 (12:24 am)

            How were the rules not followed? What rule was broken?  What requirement was not met?

            They didn’t respond to you because your complaint had no merit. Your theories are baseless. There is no cheating. 

          • Jethro Marx May 4, 2018 (9:24 am)

            Since you’re interested, here’s the discrepancy, in my view:

             wanting to build over a hundred homes in an environmentally critical area, the builder was required to obtain an eis.

             the permit based on the eis expired.

             years later, a new permit was issued and an exception was issued by dci, allowing the builder to skirt the requirements for building on steep slopes and wetlands.

             This is not some crazy pet peeve of mine, it was just the first thing that sprang to mind when people were blindly saying that everything is always done above board.

             I’d rather see salmon in Longfellow creek than have builders bulldozing wetlands, but salmon don’t pay taxes.

             And as a citizen and neighbor, I think the point of the required comment period is to respond to such concerns. If they only respond to comments/questions they agree with, they’re not really serving the public, which, after all, is their job, being city employees tasked with regulating building in the city.

          • Nunnio May 4, 2018 (1:10 pm)

            Again- vague allusions of impropriety do not warrant an investigation. DCI is bound by code as law. Therefore, even if you say- but what about the salmon!? they must follow the rules and approve or disapprove. That is why no one has been able to provide a clear example of wrongdoing. 

            Tell us the reason why that eis is invalid, or blow smoke. 

          • Jethro Marx May 4, 2018 (2:37 pm)

            I don’t think you are using the phrase “vague allusions” correctly, but whatever…

             I’m not trying to get an investigation going and I have now joined the rest of the blog in being bored by this back and forth.

             I don’t know what your opinion is (except for the oft-repeated assertion that no one cheats on building codes) but you strike me as a so-called “urbanist” who feels it is your moral duty to worship density in all its many-headed splendor. I understand the argument for density, and I’m ok with it, and I’m still not willing to sacrifice the salmon.

             If you can’t see the downside to density, and can’t imagine someone cheating to make money, you’re as short-sighted as those who oppose development because it ain’t all craftsman bungalows.

          • Nunnio May 5, 2018 (12:27 am)

            Haha! This just gets more and more comical!? Now you’re telling us about MY personal stance on density? Where do you get this stuff? Must be the same place you found your developer/inspector conspiracy..

            You claim the building department/DCI/inspectors are in cahoots with developers and permitting projects that are not code compliant- for profit!? What rule was broken on which project?  How do they profit? Are they taking bribes? If you actually know of any such occurance- I’d like to hear about it! Please give us an example. Tell us of ANY instance at all- because it is my opinion that this is not happening. I’ve seen the workings of the system, and all is recorded and available for scrutiny. You do not know what you’re talking about, even from your lofty position. 

            It gets even more ridiculous when you start telling me how I feel about density and salmon!! Haha! OMG. Too much. 

  • J May 1, 2018 (11:14 pm)

    Every part of the city should be upzoned. There is a housing shortage and it’s not fair to only upzone certain neighborhoods while others dont absorb any of the growth. There are too many people moving here and not enough places to build. Upzoning only some neighborhoods is burdensome and  disruptive to those communities. 

    • KM May 2, 2018 (8:07 am)

      Rumor has it that the entire city, or most of it, was designed to be upzoned. What we have now is the compromise. Better than nothing, but yes, every single block in the city should be upzoned. The lot next to me could be a small apartment building or rowhomes, but it’s currently not allowed, and that’s too bad.

    • Sarajane May 2, 2018 (12:16 pm)

      “There are too many people here and not enough room to build.”

      You are mistaken. Lake City has 14 acres of prime urban village that have been actively marketed the past 4 years, with no takers. Everyone in Lake City supports a dense, walkable neighborhood (with sidewalks!) instead of car lots and strip clubs. Developers won’t build here because it doesn’t “pencil out.” I was dumbfounded to learn that they mean it won’t yield 20% to 27% annual return on investment. That’s what they’re getting in the hotter neighborhoods. Northgate and Aurora-Lictin Springs (85th to 105th St.) are also inviting development. We have plenty of capacity with current zoning and should upzone close to transit.

      Newsflash: it’s not necessary to upzone the 35% of Seattle zoned single-family (according to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Appendix A) when the 11% zoned multifamily will accommodate 8 to 10 times the units (in 7-story) as SF in one-story commercial along Aurora and Lake City Way.

      Since 23% of SF houses are rented, and 0% of the new multifamily units are 3 bedrooms, these older SF neighborhoods are the only place for large, extended and immigrant families to live in Seattle. Does it occur to you–or to the City–that upzoning them might be racist in its consequences?

      One size doesn’t fit all. Each neighborhood is different. 

      • Kram May 2, 2018 (7:24 pm)

        20-27% is not the return you are thinking. These developers typically have an investment pool and the dividends are spread around. There are nearly always incredibly large 7 figure loans that need to be repaid with interest. There is also the annual maintenance costs to take into account. What about the property tax payments? You are not taking into the account the risk involved when there is a down turn and vacant units. There is good money in being a developer but it’s not nearly what you think. The reason buildings don’t pencil in Lake City is because people are not willing to spend the $6 dollars a square foot in rent that they are in more desirable areas like Capitol Hill. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who wants to build an apartment. If your annual rental income is too tight to cover all the annual bills you won’t get through the bad times and you’ll loose your building. As Lake City continues to grow and add amenities people are willing to pay higher rents for than you will see things change. What’s missing in your point is the cost of construction. It’s high and you need to recoup it somehow. With current rents in Lake City its very difficult.

      • Nunnio May 3, 2018 (2:56 pm)

        Upzone consequences are racist?  What a ridiculous comment!  Not surprising, though..

        • CMT May 3, 2018 (6:53 pm)

          Well it will definitely negatively impact economically vulnerable populations that do not qualify for rent restricted units in what will be City-subsidized developments.  Currently affordable older buildings and rental homes will be redeveloped and replaced with market rate units.  It will also result in the promised affordable (subsidized) housing being built where land is cheap and away from the amenities that would ease economic burdens. I can think of only one group that benefits and that Is developers who made this deal with former Mayor Murray.

          • Nunnio May 4, 2018 (12:49 am)

            Nonsense. Without the up zoning, the property will still be developed- but no portion of units will be rent restricted, or no monies collected for affordable home construction elsewhere. 

          • CMT May 4, 2018 (7:30 am)

            No doubt that’s why developers are salivating over this upzone.

            Generally speaking, owners of affordable rental homes that would otherwise be satisfied with the stream of rental income will sell them precisely because of the upzone. This will displace the residents living there. Economically vulnerable people will be required to sell there homes because of the increased tax and other burdens.

            Unfortunately, calling it nonsense does not make it so.  

          • Kram May 4, 2018 (12:08 pm)

            You couldn’t be more wrong. The cost of going up out weights the benefits. Hala treats the upzone as a bonus but it cost millions of dollars to add height. That and the arbitrary hala s\f fees will actually put projects on hold. I have seen this first hand as some developers are waiting to see what happens. Hala will keep some projects from moving forward. Literally not one developer is ‘salivating’. You should ask one before commenting.

          • CMT May 4, 2018 (7:41 am)

            You may be unaware but almost 25% of the homes in the single family areas proposed to be upzoned in the West Seattle Junction Urban Village are rentals.  This is affordable housing that will be replaced with unaffordable housing, primarily market rate 1-2 bedroom units, unsuitable for families and unaffordable for most.

            If properly collected, the developer fees will be used to build subsidized affordable housing elsewhere.

          • Kram May 4, 2018 (12:01 pm)

            Why is Seattle getting into the building business anyway. They are twice as expensive and twice as slow as a private builder. King county has spent an astonishing 195 million+ on homelessness. Why not get out of the building business and subsidize rents? The timeline for seattle getting more ‘affordable’ units online is in years, not months. Seems like a simple solution to have a rental fund in place that makes rent affordable to people who apply. New York does something similar with hotels.

          • Kram May 4, 2018 (12:43 pm)

            It sucks that people don’t even know what HALA really is. CMT is so wrong it’s frustrating. Literally not one developer is ‘salivating’ for HALA. The opposite. It will kill many projects. The added bonus for HALA doesn’t take into account the millions of dollars it take to go up a story. Not one developer that is part of the HALA task force voted for the upzones.  Please google about HALA and the developer perspective. HALA adds an arbitrary s/f fee which can be 7 figures. So the HALA fees which are supposed to go into a fund will kill these projects.  These added costs for the buildings that are built will simply mean higher rents for others to compensate. Lower rents mean something has to give to keep the building operating year after year. Especially in the bad times which are coming at some point, it’s inevitable. Do you understand that even simple apartment buildings cost $350-$400 a square foot?

          • CMT May 4, 2018 (4:32 pm)

            Actually you are incorrect Kram, although I am sure you mean well.  There is a reason that the Grand Bargain that created the framework for HALA/MHA was signed by Mayor Murray on one side, and developers and their representatives and lobbyists, on the other.  And as for developers not wanting the upzones, the developer offers being provided to homeowners in anticipation of the one-sided rezones say otherwise.  Agree that the smaller developers do not want to have to pay the fee, which they will litigate and, if they win, will mean all upzones and no affordable housining.  Frustrating when people ignore the reality.

          • Kram May 4, 2018 (5:49 pm)

            I don’t think we’re going to hash this out in this forum. I put together proposals for developers that show how expensive it will be to build their project for a living. You said “No doubt that’s why developers are salivating over this upzone.” I work with both small and large and zero are salivating. That was the spirit of my reaction. You didn’t directly answer why developers voted against the up zone other then that properties are being bought. There is a lot of money buying up property in Seattle period regardless of HALA or anything else. That’s another topic. HALA will change/halt projects, that I know. You’ll also see the cost of giving money to the HALA fund passed down in some way to others (market rate rents). The whole point of HALA is to provide affordable housing. We’ll see how it shakes out but I don’t a see a path to that. If you think otherwise I’m under no allusion that I can change your mind. 

          • CMT May 4, 2018 (7:24 pm)

            “You didn’t directly answer why developers voted against the up zone other then that properties are being bought.”  

            I don’t see where you actually asked me that question and I don’t know how to respond since every developer on the Mayor’s hand-picked HALA Advisory Committee voted to recommend upzoning – which is where MHA was born.  I’m not sure what other vote took place that you are referring to. You can review both the recommendations and the voting online.  Yes, smaller developers have indicated their intent to sue if the residential HALA/MHA goes into effect and yes, I understand the developers do not want to pay a fee – why would they?  If successful, they can have upzones without the fee (which fee, BTW, is way smaller than fees other cities have implemented).

            I assume you are not suggesting that developers are not pleased with the upzone of single family to multi-family low rise in the urban villages.

            I also am under no allusion that I can change your mind.  It does sound as though we agree that MHA will not have the positive effects promised, so there is that.

          • Nunnio May 5, 2018 (12:53 am)

            Kram- do you feel like you’re beating your head against the wall? I think you’re right about this not getting hashed out here- because CMT is not hearing it. I can’t tell if he really believes what he’s saying, or just needs to be right. 

            CMT- a developers benefit in up zoning is more than offset by the cost of HALA. Higher costs, less profit- It is not a good deal for developers.  Regardless of this program, Cheap rental houses in urban areas of Seattle will not survive. The taxes are too high, the property is too valuable, and the houses are worth $0. They will be sold to highest bidder, and razed no matter what. If you want to blame anyone for this, blame seattle’s smoking hot job market, and bezo’s brilliant business model. Rich people work here now, more are coming, and they buy homes. The dearth of low cost housing is not caused by developers or ed (yuck) murrey. 

          • CMT May 5, 2018 (11:25 am)

            Thanks so much Nunnio – NOW I see the error of my line of thinking – forget all that pesky research I have done on the MHA proposal.   Its also fascinating that you assume I’m a he.  Stopping beating MY head on the wall now.

  • TJ May 2, 2018 (8:14 am)

    I know the recent history of condo lawsuits here, but why are so many being built in Palm Springs CA and Scottsdale AZ? I have been to both in the last 4 months and can tell you there are a LOT being built. The only ones to benefit from the equity of all this building can’t just be developers and builders. As is, put pressure on politicians that these developers will not receive any bailouts nor ability to declare any bankruptcy protection in the event of any serious market downturn. 

    • Jort May 2, 2018 (11:17 am)

      Palm Springs and Scottsdale (which are not exactly prime examples of sustainable city planning, since they’re in a DESERT) also are surrounded by millions and millions of acres of undeveloped land. 

      Seattle has geographical limitations to its growth. We’ve spent 75 years building outward, and we are reaching the edges of possible development sites (mountains, ocean), and I don’t need to tell you that our transportation infrastructure is insufficient (and always will be, because there is no way to build your way out of traffic) to support continued sprawl.

      We must now build either up (with more stories) or start infilling (with DADUs and townhomes). 

      Scottsdale? Palm Springs? They don’t face geographical limitations. They’ll certainly face ecological limitations, though, someday! There’s only so much water to steal!   

  • Susanna Lin May 2, 2018 (11:00 am)

    Thanks for the update. The City is once again plowing forward without regard for legitimate concerns from it’s citizens.

    If you’d like to learn more or donate to the appeal mentioned in this article, please go to seattlefairgrowth.org/appeal.

  • TJ May 2, 2018 (1:33 pm)

    I get the difference in real estate and geography Jort, but that wasn’t my point on condo building vs apartments. Litigation on condo construction shouldn’t be any different in those locations compared to here. And sarajane is absolutely correct in their comment on current zoning handling growth. White Center is another example similar to Lake City. Yes I know that it’s unincorporated and other issues, but it’s 4 miles from my house, and driving down 16th it looks the exact same as the eary 1980’s, with ramshackle 1 story buildings on the busiest road. Point being there is so much more room for growth here regionally, yet Seattle is giving tax breaks and give aways to these developersand sticking it to long time existing residents to try and get as much growth in the city. And these politicians also are wrong in their claim that population growth will continue here at the same rate for years to come

  • steve May 2, 2018 (6:05 pm)

    When will the upzoning in Magnolia start?

    • WSB May 2, 2018 (6:15 pm)

      Besides the urban villages – which do not include Magnolia – all multi-family and commercial property throughout the city is proposed for upzoning, and certainly Magnolia has some of that. – TR

    • heartless May 2, 2018 (6:16 pm)

      I hope soon, that neighborhood sucks.

      • Yeahbut May 5, 2018 (11:00 am)

        Magnolia said the same thing about you. 

  • flimflam May 4, 2018 (11:18 am)

    all of this rosy talk about “affordability” yet just about all of this new construction is pretty expensive. i mean, $1000 for a tiny apodment?

    this is mainly a way for developers to continue making money and absolutely a way for the city to collect more taxes. this isn’t some benevolent gift for the greater good…

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