2013 Capitol Hill Housing forum by the numbers — Build more, regulate it

9027278497_44cb03ba46_bThis year’s Capitol Hill Housing forum on the neighborhood was a little more existential than most. The death of a neighborhood isn’t necessarily something you can quantify. But, in a similar fashion to the “ignore the conclusions, utilize the analysis” Broadway retail study we shared with you last week, Tuesday night included — along with big picture takeaways — some potentially useful numbers about those things which can be measured.

On the biggest possible picture end of things, eventually the question was asked. What can be done about the relentless redevelopment of Capitol Hill? Live with it, panelist, philosopher and Seattle City Council president Sally Clark suggested, saying Seattle’s leaders must “figure out how to make it so people can live with loss at a pace they can withstand.”

That’s one way to go about it. Developer A-P Hurd suggested another saying Capitol Hill must build its way out of it as thousands of people continue to move to Seattle and choose the neighborhood. The neighborhood will have to “increase supply” of its housing to keep prices from continuing to soar, Hurd said. New construction requires a solid return “to get pension funds to invest in it,” she said.

The academic representative on the panel concurred. The University of Washington’s new leader of the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, East Coast transplant Stephen O’Connor said Seattle developers are still rushing to get projects approved and built, the market’s “dynamics” are just “unbelievable” — and more demand is “coming.”

One private market player on the panel said the only way to balance the market and have a chance at keeping some portion of Capitol Hill affordable is government regulation. “I don’t think the private market is ever going to do a good job,” said developer Liz Dunn, adding that solutions like rent control are also not the answer as those kinds of protected apartments merely ended up passed from friend to friend or family member to family member in a “perverse” twist on the housing market.

What can be done, then? Boiling down the group’s moments of consensus, the answer appears to be continue to build more housing in a more regulated environment that either creates incentives or requires affordable development. Attention City Hall: Get on that.

The forum also roamed, at times, beyond affordability. A question about the potential of a Capitol Hill Cultural Overlay District brought mostly a collective blank stare — read up on CHS, panelists — but panelists batted around questions about whether Capitol Hill is still gay — it is, kinda — whether we have a nightlife problem — we do, “sidewalks are full of vomit and broken glass” — and whether the massive investments in public transit will help — it will, cars are expensive.

Numbers and more “big picture” takeaways are below.

There Goes the Neighborhood?
Moderator: Michael Wells, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce
+ Sally Clark, Seattle City Council Member
+Stephen O’Connor, Director of the University of Washington Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies
+ Liz Dunn, Principal of Dunn + Hobbes, LLC
+ Knute Berger, Columnist at Crosscut.com
+ A-P Hurd, Vice President of Touchstone


  •  2,816 — Number of new apartment units under construction or in planning stages across Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons said in his introduction to the session.
  • 1 — Number of Capitol Hill apartment projects currently being built with “affordable” units. That project? CHH’s 12th Ave Arts
  • 14 years — Time Persons said it took his organization to develop the 12th Ave Arts project
  • $700 million — CHH’s estimated value of multifamily housing currently under development on Capitol Hill
  • $86,000 — Median income for a Seattle family according to UW’s Stephen O’Connor. ” You can’t tell me that you can’t build workforce housing.”
  • 1 — Times recent transplant from the East Coast O’Connor asked “Where are all the black people?” pointing out Seattle’s — and the forum’s — lack of diversity.
  • 60% — Percentage of housing stock built before 1980 in Seattle according to A-P Hurd.
  • 37% — Percentage of Seattle workers Hurd says actually live in the city according to the Office of Housing
  • $600 — Average monthly cost of car ownership according to Hurd as she cited one study which showed foreclosure rates were higher in areas without transit
  • 7 to 9 years — How long O’Connor says economic cycles last
  • 3 to 5 years — How long O’Connor says memories last. Cities boom and bust –“very difficult to do anything to block momentum.”
  • 329-7303 — CHH’s phone number today and in a copy of the group’s 1980 newsletter shown Tuesday night
  • Several — Times Crosscut’s Knute Berger reminded the crowd he was “born in Seattle.”
  • 0 — Times issues “apodments, transit overlay, upzoning, affordable retail” were raised by moderator Michael Wells of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce during the night

The Seattle Channel will air the forum on TV starting next week at which point, we’re told, it should also be available online.

Past topics of the annual forum have included the future of 12th Avetransit oriented development on Broadway, and the Capitol Hill ecodistrict.

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13 thoughts on “2013 Capitol Hill Housing forum by the numbers — Build more, regulate it

  1. Doesn’t look like the words “single family” were uttered. We’ll just pay continue to pay lots of taxes and continue to be diminished with less parking, less safety, less park land without used syringes and condoms, etc., etc.

    • No, that’s a good point. Well, maybe not the syringe part but single family never really came up in the discussion.

  2. Its the non-single family home sections of Capitol Hill – the hot restaurants, the cool bars, the dense commercial corridors, the massive amounts of transit access (for Seattle), the cultura & social vibrancy that comes with density – that provides the minority of properties in Capitol Hill that are single family with a value premium. If it weren’t for all the cool stuff that density and non-single family homeness provides Capitol Hill, the single family homes in Capitol Hill would be worth a LOT less money.

    Take a single family home in Seattle and dump it in a neighborhood where the hottest bars & restaurants weren’t a 5 minute walk away, and your house is worth a lot less, all other things being equal (like quality of schools, etc.). Add on top of that the MASSIVE public (taxpayer funded) investment in fixed-line, rail infrastructure (the First Hill Streetcar running down Broadway, plus the Capitol Hill U-Link Station), and you have another factor adding tremendous value to single family homeowners in Capitol Hill as a direct consequence of Capitol Hill’s density and non-single family homeness.

    Single family homeowners should be prostrating themselves in undying gratitude for the growth and density on Capitol Hill. As their homes (which generally include some form of private yard) become a smaller percentage of the overall housing stock – while at the same time Capitol Hill continues its rise at THE “It” nabe in Seattle, their property values will continue to climb, far in excess of what their homes would be worth on a pure square foot basis or based on overall quality.

    You want to know what the most valuable single family home would be if it existed? The single family home (with yard) on Houston Street in NYC.

    • I am not a homeowner but don’t think most single family homeowners are as worried about the value of their homes as the loss of “neighborhood” due to unregulated development. And, Capitol Hill has been the “it” neighborhood in Seattle since the 90’s – for (almost) all the reasons you stated above. It is precisely those attributes (sans new transit developments) which makes Capitol Hill what it is. And that’s what homeowner’s don’t want to lose.
      The anger over NIMBYism always puzzles me (granted you did not mention it above). No one seems to consider that homeowners are
      against unregulated growth DESPITE the money it would put in their pockets, despite the increased value it brings to the bottom line of their home.

      • I agree. I’m a homeowner and live about a block away from the light rail station, so I suppose it’s true that my property value is increasing, but I could care less! I’m here for the long run (33 years and counting) so it just doesn’t matter to me how much I could sell my home for. The general health and livability of my neighborhood is what’s important to me, and that includes advocating for new buildings which are reasonably attractive (after going through design and environmental review) and which are in character (size, height, etc) with older buildings in that same area.

      • Capitol Hill was left for dead in the ’60’s and ’70’s and gay people turned it into a happenin’ place waaaaaaaaaay before the ’90’s. Its arguably changed for other reasons than home values such as hipsters and “hangers on” looking to find the “it” neighborhood and others moving here after the gentrification ( aka hard work) has been done by the gay community…

  3. It is inaccurate to say there is only 1 building currently being built with “affordable units.” What about all the apodments that are springing up all over Capitol Hill? (with no doubt more in the planning stages, unless the City Council makes some code changes soon). These uglies are being allowed to skirt zoning rules (height, bulk, etc.), avoid design/environmental review, and are getting massive tax subsidies…all because they are supposedly “affordable.”

    I’m sure that at least some of the new housing in the upcoming light-rail station development will be affordable. Combined with the existing Seattle Housing, Seattle Senior Housing, Capitol Hill Housing, Section 8 buildings, and now with the many apodments, our neighborhood has more than its share of work-force housing.

    • Strictly speaking, CHH is not the only affordable building in the works, it may be the only one currently under construction. I know of at least two others- there is a 45 unit building on Boylston and Republic that is designated for homeless with mental health issues slated to break ground, and there is a 40-something unit ‘work-force’ housing building, for those with AMI at or below 60%, going in on Summit and Harrison (this one has been featured on this blog). These two buildings are supposed to begin construction soon.
      The point that there is a woefully small number of affordable units in construction is sadly all too true especially given the rate of growth occurring in the city and on the hill in particular.
      I seriously doubt that any of the other new construction units will be “affordable,” regulated as such or not. Market rents are well in excess of affordable rents. Affordable housing is in extremely short supply and at this rate of growth is not keeping pace with the need, not by a long shot.

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