City Hall’s affordable housing committee puts Capitol Hill demographics in its sights

Starting this week, the mayor-appointed group tasked with producing an affordable housing plan for Seattle by May 2015 is digging in with a series of public meetings.

While past city efforts to create more affordable housing have targeted Seattle’s poorest, City Hall officials say the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee will be considering a much wider band Seattle residents — a band that should include many on Capitol Hill.

Yes, even you.

In the lead-up to forming the committee, Mayor Ed Murray invoked the need to support longtime residents and those who choose, and may one day choose, to make Seattle home. In other words, working stiffs trying to eek it out in increasingly expensive neighborhoods.

Here’s a look at the income levels for one and two person households that the committee will be targeting:

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 3.49.49 PM

On Thursday some of the 28 committee members will be at the Garfield Community Center for a public meeting to hear what you want and need from a plan. The mayor won’t be making an appearance.

In convening a crowded, multi-disciplined committee, the mayor and council appear to have taken a page out of the $15 minimum wage playbook — though this time, Dave Meinert isn’t invited. They’ve also apparently applied a lesson from that experience: Don’t talk policy specifics until the plan is out (after all, there will be plenty of time to debate actual legislation… later).

Capitol Hill developer Maria Barrientos, who was appointed to the affordability committee, wouldn’t endorse any policies or say if the committee would take up the issue of rent control. She did tell CHS she hopes to bring some practical developer experience to to table, along with an understanding of the needs of Capitol Hill’s workforce and families.

“When we’re leasing buildings it’s always our most expensive and low income units that go first. We’d love to lease those middle ones faster,” she said. “We want a mix, but if people are pushed out of that mix, it becomes less exciting and interesting.”

Despite recent reports that Seattle and Capitol Hill have the fastest rising rents in the nation, Seattle’s building explosion may be catching up with demand. Just in the past few weeks, Barrientos said she and other developers have seen a market resistance to higher rents.

“We’ve started to see a cap on what people are willing to pay, there’s a lot more supply for people,” she said. “I don’t think rents will continue to grow in the next year.”

Whether or not that’s true, Barrientos said rents remain unaffordable for many residents on Capitol Hill and the committee should address that.

In September, the City Council laid out a minimum set of expectations for the committee, which included:

  • Determine current and estimated needs for affordable rental and homeownership housing according to household size and income, as follows: up to 30% AMI, greater than 30% of AMI to 60% AMI, greater than 60% of AMI to 80% AMI, and, if data is available, greater than 80% of AMI.
  • Study current and estimated housing development, both income/rent-restricted and market-rate.
  • Study current and estimated funding for affordable housing in Seattle and estimated net-new affordable housing.
  • Recommend new programs or policies targeted to market-rate housing development and projected impact on housing affordability.
  • Recommend new funding, programs, or policies for affordable housing production and preservation.
  • Recommend plans for preserving existing affordable housing, subsidized by any source or naturally occurring.
  • Recommend plans to increase access to permanent housing for people who are currently homeless.

The committee is expected to issue a report on their findings by May 2015.

As the mayor’s committee gets to work, other efforts are already underway on the affordable housing front. In October the City Council passed a resolution stating the council’s intent to draft a so-called linkage fee program and instructs relevant city departments to start drawing up the plans. The program would place a fee on new construction in Seattle in order to expand the city’s affordable housing efforts.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Housing Authority is considering steep rent hikes for some of its public housing tenants. Last week, the mayor nominated Capitol Hill Community Council vice president Zachary Pullin to the SHA board.

The affordability committee will meet Thursday from 6 PM – 8:30 PM in the Garfield Community Center, 2323 E Cherry St. You can learn more at murray.seattle.gov/housing/

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25 thoughts on “City Hall’s affordable housing committee puts Capitol Hill demographics in its sights

  1. Meanwhile, Sally Clark is pushing a downzone on Capitol Hill due to a NIMBY uproar. No way to get to unaffordable housing faster than to make it harder to build housing.

  2. god knows, we can anticipate what we’ll all say, but I’ll say my thing which is, if the space for housing, and that housing itself (when it does get thrown down) turns out – SURPRISE – to be out of the price range of what can be afforded, then that housing needs to go somewhere else. I think living in Washington Park down in Madison Park would be sweet, but I can’t afford that and so I don’t live there.

    • Agree. If you can’t afford to live somewhere, then don’t live there. This doesn’t require a blue ribbon committee or myriad of regulations.

      Neighborhoods evolve. Capitol Hill is evolving to be straight, expensive and slightly douchey. If that drives out what made it desirable in the first place, then it will get less desirable, and therefore cheaper, allowing all those interesting people and businesses to move back.

    • Maybe what’s attracting all these douchey people isn’t what everyone seems smugly convinced it is. Maybe it’s not all the art galleries and twenty-something tattooed scenester baristas at all. Maybe it’s all those gleaming new expensive apartments and condos that are close to their absurdly high-paying tech jobs in downtown and South Lake Union. Maybe all those douchey people won’t find it less and less desirable, but they’ll like it just fine anyway. And they won’t end up moving away at all. And all those “interesting people and businesses” won’t be moving back. Then what?

    • I continue to be ticked off at descriptions of new residents as “douchey.” That is a gross generalization and not based on first-hand relationships with the new people (at least in most cases…maybe not for you, Jim). Just because they can afford a more expensive apartment doesn’t make them “douchey.”

    • I agree with you. I was just adopting already-put there terminology for the sake of argument. To go one further than your point: I get really tired of this constant presumption that everyone long-inhabiting Capitol Hill is by definition more cool / funky / hip / tasteful / artistic / eclectic / talented / urbane / (ad nauseum) than anyone arriving now or later just because they’re there already. Most of this arrogant look-down-your-nose, cooler-than-thou attitude is nothing more than income envy.

    • The service people who work in the area cannot afford to live in the place they work. They’re essentially siphoning money out of that area — they get paid by people living there and spend it elsewhere. From a selfish perspective, it makes more sense to incentivize them to live closer to the areas in which they work. Less strain on traffic/public transit, better for the local economy, and they care more about the area in which they work because it’s also the area they live.

      It should make sense to support this even if you’re a douche.

    • Yes, it makes sense, but this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. You see it from Manhattan to Cancun to Whistler to the coffee shops down Madison in Washington Pk that Christine mentioned. It’s a nice idea but perhaps a slightly unrealistic one to expect that everyone who works in high-priced housing areas can afford to live there too. It’s not really fair to blame it all on those douchey people. Even if they’re douchey.

    • Well, those places you mentioned are the whole world, right? The only places that count? Yeah, sarcasm here. Plenty of big cities in Europe are very affordable for people who aren’t rich. Because they have rules in place that aren’t entirely geared to property speculation. I know people who are leaving Seattle to head back to Germany because of how much cheaper it is to live there. Seattle will never remotely be as hip as Berlin, so why pay an arm and a leg to live here?

      Almost every single person I know living in this neighborhood is well under the ‘median income’, what a joke. They have to buy groceries in the ID and rarely if ever partake of the hipster nightlife, limiting themselves to free street/park festivals. No way to funnel disposable income into the community because there isn’t a disposable income. All income goes to paying rent and communication costs. (A car hasn’t been affordable for a long time but it didn’t matter; living here was a way to be free from needing one.) This wasn’t true 5 years ago. None of these people are ‘interesting’ in the denigrating way described above. They all do normal jobs for normal pay. Which of course these days is quite a bit below the ‘median income’. Soon enough all us loser non-yuppies will be forced into the suburbs, the new sites for american poverty.

    • I agree too. If you can’t afford something, you don’t have some unalienable right to have it…..that goes for consumer goods, vacations, etc as much as it goes for housing.

    • Affordable cities in Europe? RU nutz? Paris, London – absolutely NOTHING affordable in those towns; the poorer element live outside the limits, way outside the limits, and take the metro in for their cheap service jobs. Europe does this no better than we do.

    • I’ll remember that next time someone has cancer, or an unexpected heart attack, or gets hit by a car in a place where good medical care is expensive. Need surgery? Oops, too bad, you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.

      Your argument is bogus. There are systematic, social reasons why large populations of people cannot afford things, and often their finances have nothing to do with this. No one is saying that everyone deserves a monthlong vacation in Cancun, but I do believe that everyone has a right to choose where they wish to live. Where you live can open new opportunities that other neighborhoods/cities/countries may not have. Since most African-Americans in Seattle cannot afford Capitol Hill, I’ll be sure to tell them that they don’t deserve to live on the Hill, if ever that absurd thought crossed their mind for a mere second.

      Go promote your white-supremacist/classist/sexist (women are paid less than men for equal work, after all! Sorry women, you can’t live on Capitol Hill, either!)/etc views elsewhere. Thanks.

    • It’s not a question of “deserving” to live on Capitol Hill. Of course, anyone can live here, but they still need to afford it.

      Medical ethics ensures that everyone is treated equally, regardless of ability to pay. This is especially true of emergencies and when surgery is necessary. Lower income people now have much better access to Medicaid (at least in some states), which is great insurance, or to plans on Obamacare if they are more middle class. And for the record, I am in favor of single payer insurance, which would be an even better way to be sure all are covered.

      I’d appreciate it if you would stop your inflammatory name-calling. Keep it civil.

  3. “We’ve started to see a cap on what people are willing to pay, there’s a lot more supply for people,” she said. “I don’t think rents will continue to grow in the next year.”

    I’ve notice more “two weeks/one month/two months free rent” ads for newer (and some older) apartments on the Hill on Craigslist. My fingers are crossed that the market is softening up a bit.

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  5. the problem and solutions are complex; not going to be solved by any one thing, such as packing a few neighborhoods full of vertical rooming houses. It’ll take far-seeing, intelligent planning – and not by companies whose only interest is in making quick big bucks for cheap(er) housing. In 10 years, it would be reprehensible if Seattle were to have all these buildings with under 200 sq feet, with renters paying a couple hundred dollars; they would be flop-houses and there is nothing about that culture that advances a city. I’m NIMBY to the core because I consider all of Seattle my neighborhood.

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