Capitol Hill mostly missing in Seattle coalition opposing affordability plan

“A coalition of local organizations” is, as the Seattle Times reported this weekend, making plans to use the state’s environmental review process to halt the proposed upzoning of 27 areas of Seattle under the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan. But you won’t find a group representing most of Capitol Hill in the mix.

“These​ ​upzones​ ​are​ ​not​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​the growth​ ​that’s​ ​planned,” the statement released Friday from the Seattle​ ​Coalition​ ​for​ ​Affordability,​ ​Livability​ ​and​ ​Equity reads.​ “​The​ ​city​ ​already​ ​has​ more​ ​than​ ​twice​ ​the​ ​capacity​ ​in​ ​multi-family zoning​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​all​ ​the​ ​growth​ ​that’s​ ​coming,​ ​so​ ​who’s​ ​driving​ ​this​ ​land-grab?”

Development-focused conspiracy theories aside, the group appears to have what it takes — lawyers, money, and time — to gum up the effort to increase building heights in core areas around the city’s transit systems and help drive down Seattle’s soaring rents. The group said its lawyers ​would file​ ​an appeal​ ​against​ ​the​ ​Final​ ​Environmental​ ​Impact​ ​Statement​ ​(FEIS)​ on the plan ​to​ ​the​ ​Seattle​ ​Hearing​ ​Examiner on Monday.

None of the groups signing on with the coalition directly represent core areas of the Hill like Broadway or Pike/Pine or neighboring population centers like First Hill. Nearby supporters included the Eastlake and Cherry Hill community councils, the Save Madison Valley group that grew out of the fight to stop a PCC-centered development along E Madison, and the Jackson Place Community Council. The Madison-Miller Park Community group is the only organization currently signed-on to the coalition from an area of the Hill. The absence of larger, more influential Central Seattle groups like the Capitol Hill Community Council, the First Hill Improvement Association, or the Central Area Land Use Review Committee is notable.

Capitol Hill’s core is among the areas likely to see the greatest changes under the proposed upzonings. The MHA proposal released last month includes transitioning Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to beyond Roy to 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning that would allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout. Some of the bigger changes would come around the Miller Community Center where planners already backed off a more aggressive upzone.

75 feet up and down Broadway — Seattle ‘Preferred Alternative Zoning’ plan released

Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the upzoning vary by “scale” and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including rent-restricted units.

Meanwhile, use of the State Environmental Policy Act to hinder and possibly halt the affordability upzones will further rile urbanists and developers who increasingly see challenges under the process as NIMBY posturing to sabotage development.

The coalition’s members claim the groups behind the legal challenge are also dedicated to increasing affordability in Seattle. “We​ ​share​ ​the​ ​City’s​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​for​ ​those​ ​earning​ ​less​ ​than​ ​60%​ ​of​ ​Area​ ​Median Income,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​not​ ​achieved​ ​by​ ​these​ ​upzones,”​ ​a ​”Lake​ ​City​ ​homeowner​ ​and​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​advocate​” ​quoted in the coalition announcement said.​ ​“That’s​ ​why​ ​we​ ​are filing​ ​an​ ​appeal,” said Sarajane​ ​Siegfriedt.​ ​”The​ ​real​ ​impacts​ ​that​ ​destroy​ ​and​ ​gentrify​ ​our​ ​low-​ ​and​ ​moderate-income neighborhoods​ ​are​ ​loss​ ​of​ ​affordability,​ ​community​ ​and​ ​livability.”

CORRECTION: The city’s goal is the creation of 50,000 units, “including preservation and production of 20,000 net new affordable homes.” Those who qualify for affordable housing include someone making less than $40,320 a year, paying no more than $1,008 for a one bedroom, or a family of four making less than $57,000 a year, paying no more than $1,296 for a two bedroom. MHA is hoped to drive creation of about 12% of the housing the city says is needed.

You can view the upzoning proposals here and navigate to specific addresses. Hashed areas indicate proposed zoning changes. The proposals came after months of public feedback after the framework for MHA was first set last fall.

Find the full statement from the Seattle​ ​Coalition​ ​for​ ​Affordability,​ ​Livability​ ​and​ ​Equity, below.

Twenty-four​ ​Community​ ​Groups​ ​Join​ ​to​ ​Appeal​ ​the MHA​ ​Grand​ ​Bargain​ ​Environmental​ ​Impact​ ​Statement
Neighborhood,​ ​housing​ ​and​ ​homeless​ ​advocacy,​ ​small​ ​business​ ​and​ ​environmental​ ​groups from​ ​around​ ​Seattle​ ​are​ ​holding​ ​a​ ​​press​ ​conference​ ​at​ ​12:15​ ​Monday​ ​in​ ​the​ ​City​ ​Hall​ ​foyer​​ ​to announce​ ​that​ ​they​ ​have​ ​formed​ ​an​ ​MHA​ ​EIS​ ​appeal​ ​coalition.​ ​Also​ ​Monday​ ​they​ ​are​ ​filing​ ​an appeal​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Final​ ​Environmental​ ​Impact​ ​Statement​ ​(FEIS)​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Seattle​ ​Hearing​ ​Examiner​ ​for citywide​ ​upzones​ ​known​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Grand​ ​Bargain.
The​ ​coalition​ ​is​ ​called​ ​Seattle​ ​Coalition​ ​for​ ​Affordability,​ ​Livability​ ​and​ ​Equity.
Jon​ ​Lisbin,​ ​small​ ​business​ ​owner​ ​and​ ​president​ ​of​ ​Seattle​ ​Fair​ ​Growth​ ​said,​ ​“We​ ​are​ ​worried about​ ​affordability​ ​and​ ​displacement.​ ​Our​ ​neighborhoods​ ​are​ ​so​ ​different​ ​that​ ​one-size-fits-all upzones​ ​don’t​ ​work​ ​well​ ​for​ ​residents​ ​or​ ​small​ ​businesses.​ ​The​ ​Final​ ​EIS​ ​completely​ ​neglects the​ ​differences​ ​between​ ​neighborhoods​ ​that​ ​are​ ​ripe​ ​for​ ​multifamily​ ​development​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Lake City​ ​and​ ​Northgate,​ ​and​ ​other​ ​racially​ ​diverse​ ​neighborhoods,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​South​ ​Park​ ​and​ ​Beacon Hill,​ ​that​ ​are​ ​mainly​ ​of​ ​older​ ​single-family​ ​homes​ ​owned​ ​or​ ​rented​ ​by​ ​lower-income​ ​families.​ ​The city​ ​is​ ​leaving​ ​low-​ ​and​ ​middle-income​ ​families​ ​with​ ​no​ ​place​ ​to​ ​go.”
Said​ ​David​ ​Ward,​ ​a​ ​Ravenna​ ​renter​ ​and​ ​president​ ​of​ ​the​ ​coalition,​ ​”It​ ​will​ ​make​ ​Seattle​ ​far​ ​more unaffordable​ ​and​ ​also​ ​make​ ​it​ ​more​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​live​ ​here​ ​due​ ​to​ ​more​ ​traffic,​ ​not​ ​enough​ ​schools, more​ ​pollution,​ ​fewer​ ​trees,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​loss​ ​of​ ​the​ ​diversity​ ​of​ ​residents​ ​we​ ​currently​ ​have.” “I’m​ ​worried​ ​about​ ​moving​ ​out​ ​from​ ​my​ ​parents’​ ​home​ ​because​ ​I​ ​know​ ​it’ll​ ​be​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​find​ ​an apartment​ ​I​ ​can​ ​afford,”​ ​said​ ​Beacon​ ​Hill​ ​Council​ ​Member​ ​and​ ​UW​ ​student​ ​Cacima​ ​Lee.​ ​“And the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​buying​ ​a​ ​home​ ​in​ ​Seattle​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​a​ ​joke.”
“Instead​ ​of​ ​invalidating​ ​all​ ​neighborhood​ ​plans,​ ​the​ ​city​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​support​ ​and​ ​celebrate differences​ ​while​ ​maintaining​ ​intact​ ​communities,”​ ​Christy​ ​Tobin-Presser​ ​of​ ​the​ ​West​ ​Seattle Junction​ ​Neighborhood​ ​Coalition​ ​added.​ ​“These​ ​upzones​ ​are​ ​not​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​the growth​ ​that’s​ ​planned.​ ​The​ ​city​ ​already​ ​has​ ​the​ ​more​ ​than​ ​twice​ ​the​ ​capacity​ ​in​ ​multi-family zoning​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​all​ ​the​ ​growth​ ​that’s​ ​coming,​ ​so​ ​who’s​ ​driving​ ​this​ ​land-grab?” Wallingford​ ​resident​ ​Susanna​ ​Lin​ ​states:​ ​”We​ ​have​ ​a​ ​school​ ​capacity​ ​crisis​ ​and​ ​the​ ​City​ ​is planning​ ​upzones​ ​without​ ​coordinating​ ​with​ ​the​ ​School​ ​District​ ​on​ ​a​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​build​ ​more​ ​schools. In​ ​addition,​ ​trees​ ​are​ ​disappearing​ ​at​ ​an​ ​alarming​ ​rate.​ ​What​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​future​ ​is​ ​this​ ​for​ ​our children?” 
The​ ​Grand​ ​Bargain,​ ​or​ ​Mandatory​ ​Housing​ ​Affordability-Residential​ ​(MHA-R),​ ​is​ ​a one-size-fits-all​ ​proposal​ ​by​ ​former​ ​Mayor​ ​Ed​ ​Murray​ ​and​ ​City​ ​planners​ ​that​ ​would​ ​give developers​ ​increased​ ​height​ ​limits​ ​and​ ​profitability​ ​in​ ​exchange​ ​for​ ​either​ ​building​ ​affordable units​ ​in​ ​their​ ​projects​ ​or​ ​contributing​ ​a​ ​fee​ ​in​ ​lieu​ ​of​ ​including​ ​them.​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​City, most​ ​developers​ ​have​ ​said​ ​they​ ​will​ ​decline​ ​to​ ​include​ ​rent-restricted​ ​units​ ​in​ ​their​ ​projects.​ ​They prefer​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​the​ ​fee.
According​ ​to​ ​Lake​ ​City​ ​homeowner​ ​and​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​advocate​ ​Sarajane​ ​Siegfriedt,​ ​the City​ ​Office​ ​of​ ​Housing​ ​then​ ​leverages​ ​the​ ​fees​ ​3:1​ ​mostly​ ​with​ ​federal,​ ​state​ ​and​ ​city​ ​tax​ ​funds​ ​to build​ ​low-income​ ​housing​ ​in​ ​other​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​Seattle.​ ​Most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​required​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​will be​ ​built​ ​in​ ​locations​ ​with​ ​cheap​ ​land,​ ​not​ ​in​ ​the​ ​neighborhoods​ ​where​ ​builders​ ​maximize​ ​profits by​ ​replacing​ ​older​ ​houses​ ​with​ ​costly​ ​new​ ​market-rate​ ​housing.​ ​Then​ ​there’s​ ​the​ ​delay.​ ​It​ ​takes four​ ​or​ ​so​ ​years​ ​for​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​to​ ​receive​ ​City​ ​and​ ​state​ ​grants,​ ​assemble​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the​ ​funding, and​ ​construct​ ​a​ ​building,​ ​assuming​ ​they​ ​already​ ​have​ ​the​ ​land.”
“We​ ​share​ ​the​ ​City’s​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​for​ ​those​ ​earning​ ​less​ ​than​ ​60%​ ​of​ ​Area​ ​Median Income,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​not​ ​achieved​ ​by​ ​these​ ​upzones,”​ ​Siegfriedt​ ​said.​ ​“That’s​ ​why​ ​we​ ​are filing​ ​an​ ​appeal.​ ​The​ ​real​ ​impacts​ ​that​ ​destroy​ ​and​ ​gentrify​ ​our​ ​low-​ ​and​ ​moderate-income neighborhoods​ ​are​ ​loss​ ​of​ ​affordability,​ ​community​ ​and​ ​livability.”
Said​ ​West​ ​Seattle’s​ ​Tobin-Presser,​ ​”The​ ​purpose​ ​of​ ​an​ ​Environmental​ ​Impact​ ​Statement, required​ ​by​ ​the​ ​State​ ​Environmental​ ​Policy​ ​Act​ ​(SEPA),​ ​is​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​two​ ​or​ ​more​ ​alternatives​ ​to the​ ​proposed​ ​changes,​ ​to​ ​analyze​ ​as​ ​thoroughly​ ​as​ ​possible​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​alternatives​ ​and to​ ​propose​ ​mitigation​ ​for​ ​those​ ​impacts.
The​ ​FEIS​ ​appeal​ ​coalition​ ​asserts​ ​that​ ​the​ ​proposed​ ​upzones​ ​won’t​ ​provide​ ​affordability,​ ​that​ ​the alternatives​ ​studied​ ​in​ ​the​ ​FEIS​ ​are​ ​completely​ ​inadequate,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​and​ ​mitigation must​ ​be​ ​analyzed​ ​neighborhood​ ​by​ ​neighborhood.

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19 thoughts on “Capitol Hill mostly missing in Seattle coalition opposing affordability plan

  1. I’m not opposed to SOME degree of upzoning, but I think it needs to be very selective so as not to impact quiet residential streets, of which there are many, even in the “urban villages.” The city needs to avoid extensive upzoning which only caters to developer interests. Development will continue no matter what, but I think it can be mitigated by the kind of efforts put forth by these community groups. I only wish Capitol Hill was more a part of this effort.

    • I don’t believe that upzoning “only caters to developer interests.” I think the developers’ customers are also happy that they have more housing options at more affordable prices than if there were less new housing supply being created. This article—from our last housing boom a decade ago—summaries the issue nicely: http://old.seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2004181704_eicher14.html

      Fundamentally, this is a conflict between the interests of existing homeowners and new owners/renters. Developers just make a convenient boogeyman.

    • LOL – that article ScottH linked to calls out *Houston* as a great example of housing expansion that was meeting growth because few restrictions were in place.

      Yeah – that turned out to be absolutely great for all of those people who’s houses were built in flood plains….

    • Yes, my CD neighbor, there are plenty of good reasons to have zoning restrictions, building codes, and other regulations, including environmental concerns, public health/safety, and arguably concepts that are more subjective like “livability” and “preserving neighborhood character.” But the fact is that they do tend to make housing more expensive than it would otherwise be, and this burden is mainly born by renters and new homeowners. Considering the rapid increase in housing costs and corresponding decrease in affordability, it’s not unreasonable to take a look at up-zoning to increase housing supply.

    • @ ScottH: You are pretty naive if you don’t think developers are playing a major role in the HALA changes. I would agree with you IF the new recommendations actually resulted in a significant number of affordable units in more expensive neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, but the fact is that there will be very few of these (the minimum required, around 5-7% of new units, which is a laughable requirement) because developers make more money with market-rate apartments. Many of them will choose to pay into the fund instead of providing any affordable units, and that fund will undoubtedly be used to build apartments only in outlying areas. Renters will continue to be pushed out of Capitol Hill as rents continue to rise, and the developers will laugh all the way to the bank.

  2. Kudos to Capitol Hill for not joining the city’s fight against housing.

    “Affordability,​ ​Livability​ ​and​ ​Equity” occur in the name of the coalition opposing housing. Let’s unpack what these words mean.

    “Affordability” means that the residents of low-density neighborhoods want their homes to keep rising in price. New multi-family housing would allow for small condos that would sell for less than existing single-family homes in northern neighborhoods command today, but in the interest of “Affordability,” these neighborhoods oppose housing.

    “Livability” means “I demand the right to park in front of my house.”

    “Equity” means a desire to excessively favor the housing-rich owners already in high-income neighborhoods by excluding people of lower socioeconomic strata who would like to live throughout the city. Some of the homeowners in these neighborhoods signal virtues such as love for refugees and racial tolerance, but by freezing out new neighbors in their historically white and immigrant-resistant neighborhoods, they show their true intentions.

    The hatred of “developers” is just a way for Seattle’s housing-rich homeowners, the most numerous opponents of affordability, of livability, and of equity to project their own hatred onto a class they feel is universally despised. Fortunately, most of the knowledgeable non-hateful neighbors of Seattle know that the solution to our housing crisis is to build more homes. In the anti-housing neighborhoods, this is happening already with thousands of encamped RVs on residential streets. In the pro-housing neighborhoods, developers are building new multi-family buildings. I know where I’d rather be.

    • Just because you would be a greedy, grasping person if you owned a home doesn’t mean that the rest of us are.

      The dollar value of my house means nothing to me – the value of it as a *home* means everything. Livability means that sitting here right now, with light streaming through my windows and leaves blowing past from the trees on the street, the thought of becoming another Edith Macefield, is indeed horrifying.

      Not to mention you are woefully misinformed if you think the new condos around existing houses are worth less than the houses… Every one of the new, small condos that have been built near my house has sold for at least $200,000 – $300,000 MORE than my house has ever been valued at. They make my property value (and my taxes) rise, not fall.

      This neighborhood is still and always has been racially and economically diverse – but development has been eating into that as fast as it can – who do you think moves in when a family that’s been here probably since the 40’s sells because the taxes have become too onerous and their modest house gets knocked down to build 4 condos? Clue – it’s not a family that looks like the one that left…

      Your hyperbole (as bad as it is, there are simply not 1,000s of RVs on residential streets….) and uninformed pious spew is what is hateful here, and simply wrong.

    • The CD continues to be populated with families “that [look] like the one[s] that left”. Historically the CD has been a Native American neighborhood, a Jewish neighborhood, and a significantly Japanese neighborhood before restrictive covenants mandated that it be a black neighborhood. Peoples of many colors have found it livable for over a hundred years. People will continue to find it livable even as it changes in the coming years. I respect that it serves a unique and diminishing place as Seattle’s black community hub today, and I also recognize that our laws don’t allow our city to preserve its historical racial distribution.

      I apologize for my misstatement about the RV population count; it’s “more than a thousand” living on all our streets, not thousands living on residential streets alone. http://crosscut.com/2017/08/seattle-city-council-legislation-homeless-rv-vehicles/

    • Really…. seriously …… tell me you did not just *defend* that this neighborhood becoming less racially and economically diverse through development because it has had a changing population throughout it’s history…. really…..

      Do you even see how that is hypocrisy of the highest order?

      We [homeowners] are not allowed to oppose development because that means we must be anti economic and racial diversity, but when we point out that development has been reducing the diversity in our neighborhood – well there’s always been population change over time…

      Check – no matter what if you are a homeowner you are a greedy, grasping, monster who is always wrong. I see clearly now…

    • Remember when this rush of 300 sq ft apodments were first touted as allowing “affordable” housing for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to live somewhere like Capitol Hill? They promised reasonable rents that you wouldn’t have to be a TechBro to afford. Now those tiny hamster boxes are renting for $1100+ and they’re still full of highly compensated tech workers anyway. Upzoning isn’t making Capitol Hill any more affordable for non-tech workers, it’s just cramming more of those highly-paid people into the same space. Which, to be sure, was going to happen anyway. I’m not saying that’s necessariky bad, but I don’t think leaving Capitol Hill out of this “resist” movement loses much for “affordability”. It doesn’t work anyway.

    • I have no idea what you mean by – “diversity” as a goal – as I didn’t say that…. You were the one who said… “Some of the homeowners in these neighborhoods signal virtues such as love for refugees and racial tolerance, but by freezing out new neighbors in their historically white and immigrant-resistant neighborhoods, they show their true intentions.” Nice of you to say “some” at least I guess…

      Look – you are accusing at least “some” (I hear it as all…) of us who simply don’t want our neighborhoods, our homes (yes home means more than just your own house), bulldozed of being racist and classist – but when I point out that very bulldozing is pushing out the people I’m supposed to not want here – you are turning around and saying well, that’s the way things go.

      Linking to current demographics doesn’t mean anything…
      nor does the make up of this neighborhood vs the rest of Seattle as to whether this neighborhood is becoming less diverse…

      Seattle Central District demographics-
      2000 – 41% White, 36% Black, 23% Asian, Hispanic, Other
      2010 – 53% White, 53% Black, 24% Asian, Hispanic, Other
      Now (your source) – 59% White, 17% Black, 12% Asian, 12% Other

      @ Another CD neighbor – you are right, development isn’t the *only* reason people have left this neighborhood and I never said that or meant to insinuate it, but I definitely do not see the new apartments and condos here helping or stopping it from happening either, which pro development people want to claim. It’s just making happen faster – because of zoning changes the land a property sits on is now the real thing of value, an older home that may require attention no longer sells for a more reasonable price because the house is less important – and to a developer who can put 4 or 6 buildings in the place of your one – completely unimportant. Just look at your tax bill breakdown… the value of the land has increased about 10X – the value of the house on the land only about 3.5X.

  3. CD neighbor, it is simply not true that development is responsible for the displacement of racial minorities in the CD. The Black population plummeted in the 90s and 2000s, well before significant development began in areas it’s taking place today.

  4. You are wrong on the apodments – they are being turned into Airbnb units. They go at $80-120 night his making 2-3x the monthly rent. And so far Seattle has done nothing to stop it – indeed the cities current proposal is to allow it in urban villages such as cap hill, QA, lake Union, downtown etc. hard to believe..

  5. So people are misusing environmental laws to halt up-zoning and thus contributing to unaffordable housing. I didn’t know there are so many Republicans in Seattle!

    I own a house in Seattle, and I get wanting to preserve your neighborhood, but Seattle really needs to put in sky rises since there isn’t enough housing. 75 foot height limits are too short.

  6. This seems very, very complicated and likely cannot be reduced to right vs. wrong. Name calling those whose opinions differ from yours lowers the chances of a fruitful dialogue. Yes, Seattle has seen a huge and rapid spike in rent. And yes, many folks don’t want to see the neighborhood they’ve lived in for decades change rapidly. ‘Urban Village’ should mean the city mitigating the impacts–making sure people can walk,bike,drive and park near their homes. If there will be more density there should also be plans for more public green space. Seattle has been developing at a rapid pace but one that can’t keep up with the amount of new jobs–many of which are bringing people here with high wages and a need for housing. Displacement is real, and hurts. Here’s an article pointing out that trend: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/seattle-region-ranks-near-top-of-nation-for-new-housing-so-whats-with-the-soaring-prices/. Having not spent enough time in the weeds with this issue it’s difficult to come out strongly on either side. But I do think that if HALA will have so much long term impact, it should be looked at under a microscope. Who sits on the committee? Non-profit based housing advocates? Local residents? Developers with vested interest? What’s the balance?