Though the locations for West Seattle’s light-rail stations are nowhere near finalized yet, it’s not too soon to start talking about how transit-oriented development (TOD) can ensure there’s affordable housing near them. That was the point of a panel discussion last night, presented by Welcoming West Seattle, whose Matt Hutchins – a local architect and community advocate – was co-moderator. We recorded the entire hour-long discussion on video:
Panelists included two City Councilmembers, District 1’s Lisa Herbold and citywide Position 8’s Teresa Mosqueda (who chairs the council committee that handles housing-related matters), as well as Sound Transit‘s Edward Butterfield, Mercy Housing‘s Bill Rumpf, and Schemata Workgroup architect Marijana Cvenček, with co-moderator Bryce Yadon of Futurewise.
If you’re interested in and/or curious about the topic, you’ll want to watch the whole hour – but we do have some toplines from the event, held at Southwest Youth and Family Services in North Delridge as part of Affordable Housing Week – after the jump:
Questions for the panel were gathered ahead of time via online solicitation, so it wasn’t an audience-open-microphone event, and covered issues and projects outside WS as well as specific to this area.
Butterfield took the first one, regarding transit agencies’ involvement in affordable housing. He explains that ST is “really connected to development in general” and says transit agencies nationwide are. They work in financing and “reducing development costs for these projects.”
Herbold picks up on affordable housing – saying it’s important that housing around stations isn’t only available to the well-off. “One of our larger planning goals is for everybody to live close to where they work … or reduce the costs associated with transportation.” She also is interested in “community preferences,” so that developers can “prioritize residents that would otherwise be displaced.”
Mercy’s Rumpf says they’re working on a Roosevelt light-rail-related project. “We see the win-win … because our residents are heavy users of the transit system.” They try to focus on family-size units, while the “building boom” has been largely studios and one bedrooms. At their Othello project, 40 percent of the people they hired were from nearby, he says.
Mosqueda says affordable housing is a “democratic equalizer.” So “as we create transit hubs we have to realize that” it drives up land costs.
Schemata’s Cvenček says it’s a “more holistic approach” if agencies help address the problem.
ST recently approved an update to its transit-oriented-development policy, Yadon notes. So a question: How is affordable housing ensured and how can people advocate for more of it? Butterfield says, they think about it, talk to the community, when things get going. “When we have some established goals,” they launch their process, including seeing what the developers are proposing. And how do they figure out the discount? The new ST policy starts with a financial assessment of the project. The board determines the amount of the discount. “It’s not a giveaway … we want to tie it to how much benefit is the community getting.” As for advocacy, “really get involved” in the three extensions they’re planning now (including West Seattle/Ballard).
Herbold added that the city’s role includes ensuring that these projects happen. “In some cases, TOD might be a for-profit developer working with a nonprofit; in some cases, it’s just a nonprofit. … The city works hard to make sure these funds are spent” to accomplish goals. She says it’s also important to think about what they need to be planning – even at the early stage at which West Seattle is currently, for example.
Sloan Dawson from ST, sitting in the audience, was also asked to answer. “Property acquisition is going to be a real cost pressure for us” here, he acknowledged, so they will look to partner with public agencies. They will be looking at urban design concepts and configurations for possible station locations, he added.
Herbold asked how much room they’ll need for staging. Dawson said it depends.
Next question: How is Seattle planning for/with small businesses regarding potential displacement near stations? That led Hutchins to point out that a station will be near the site where the event was happening, low density now. How can the city help? Herbold was asked.
Herbold said it would be important to have spaces to which small businesses could return. She in turn asked Butterfield “what kind of community mitigation is part of ST3?”
ST works to keep access open to businesses during construction, he replied.
“Ultimately community advocacy plays the biggest role,” Cvenček said. She talked about a project elsewhere in the region that among other things “will hold a permanent location for (a) Farmers’ Market.”
Mosqueda said the HALA report mentioned lower density in communities facing displacement, and that, she thought, was a mistake. HALA/MHA would replace displaced units, and then some. There would be new places to fill, if there were higher, bigger buildings.
Rumpf talked about Roosevelt neighborhoods taking a year and a half to work through objections.
What are the challenges of financing affordable homes? was the next question. Rumpf said it’s important not to have too much retail activity – “everybody wants a great pedestrian experience but that doesn’t mean four blocks of coffee shops.” Maybe that means residential stoops. Cvenček said that design simplicity is important too. She also said the permitting process in the city remains “cumbersome.” Mosqueda wondered about the problem posed by not enough workers available for all the construction that is in the pipeline – she asked for two ideas on streamlining the permitting process.
“The city is doing its best,” Cvenček allowed. Some suggestions ensued. Rumpf observed that uncertainty is tough. The councilmembers agreed that ensuring all the departments had the same priorities for expediting affordable housing.
Would you support altering zoning of large parcels so more housing could be built? was another question. Hutchins suggested the West Seattle Golf Course might be one example.
Herbold said citizens are very protective of their parkland, and that’s why an initiative passed long ago, saying that if park property was used for some other purpose, an equal amount had to be procured elsewhere. The Parks Department is re-evaluating golf-course use in general, she noted.
Mosqueda suggested that it’s more of a citywide zoning issue – perhaps people should look at maps from the ’30s and see what they showed. She talked about her century-old 8-unit building on Queen Anne as an example of something that couldn’t be built in her neighborhood now but was obviously considered a positive thing back when it was constructed.
In closing, Herbold said West Seattleites should “keep these ideas in your head as we move forward on Sound Transit 3.” Butterfield: “Get involved … we want to hear from you and be sure we’re working with communities and projects to implement successful projects.” Cvenček: “I’m hoping to see more bigger-picture thnking … thknking beyond property lines.” Mosqueda said it’s “significant that on Affordable Housing Week we have just passed a down payment” on fighting homelessness (just as the event began, the mayor sent word she had signed the “head tax” bill). Rumpf: “We have a new building we’re proud of on a ST site in Othello” and offered tours. Hutchins reminded everyone that the District 1 MHA public hearing is coming up June 5th.