District 3 renters speak out as Mandatory Housing Affordability public hearing comes to Capitol Hill

“I want our city to be accessible to all income levels, in the interest of equal opportunity and also because the continuing vibrancy of this place hinges on assuring mixed income neighborhoods.”

Brooke Brod: “I’m here to speak in favor of MHA and proposed zoning changes. I really want to challenge the council, if your’e serious about displacement and mitigating it, to do more, go further. Upzone my neighborhood, my single family neighborhood as well.”

Committee chair Rob Johnson and the City Council members in attendance Monday night

Many who hope to see the cost of housing on Capitol Hill and throughout Seattle stabilize — and, someday, maybe even drop — came to the Broadway Performance Hall Monday night for a special public hearing on proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning. With more than 100 people signed up to speak on the night, the Seattle City Council’s visit to Capitol Hill created a multi-hour stream of two-minute statements on the process to raise key Seattle neighborhood zoning heights tied with new developer requirements to either create more affordable housing or pay for it elsewhere.

Many were forward looking. “We have to make room for new people… cities are places that change,” said one woman in support of the legislation with most of the City Council including District 3 representative Kshama Sawant as an audience.

“Seattle needs more housing, housing in all shapes and sizes, for all our neighbors,” said another, a Capitol Hill Renters Initiative member and a Capitol Hill tenant.

If you can do the math, you’ll understand it was a long night full of ideas and statements from across Seattle’s housing spectrum. Speakers from the Miller Park Neighbors group had more immediate concerns. Resident Ellen Taft asked for rejection of upzone plans around the Miller Park neighborhood because “there is already a surplus” of “high rent projects” in the area. She said residents of the Miller-Madison area will be the “victims” of upzones, not the beneficiaries. “What the plan offers is a lot of units for high income people,” said another speaker from the group. “The current residents are not being considered, only the new development.” Another member of the group said he was worried the MHA would destroy his neighborhood’s “moderately priced homes.”

Monday night’s hearing at the Broadway Performance Hall focused on District 3 (the Capitol Hill and Central District area) and District 7 (Queen Anne, Magnolia, Downtown, South Lake Union and the International District). In District 3, the areas under consideration for upzones include 23rd and Union-Jackson, First Hill-Capitol Hill, Madison-Miller and North Rainier-Mt. Baker. If you were not able to attend or if you have more to say, you can submit your comments to Spencer Williams in Council member Rob Johnson’s office via e-mail at: citywidemha@seattle.gov

Speakers against the proposals were outnumbered on the night. Many expressed concerns about the loss of neighborhood character but there were also clear underlying issues around housing security for aging populations and the rising property taxes. “You can see affordable housing being torn down all through this city and ubiquitous boxes being built in their place,” another neighborhood critic said.

One of the few women of color to speak during the public comments talked about the difficulty her family faces remaining in the Central District and said MHA will accelerate displacement. “Are they going to come tear our place down too?” a second Black woman who currently lives in affordable housing in South Lake Union asked. “Please find something that is affordable to everybody.”

But many public speakers said that the worries about MHA were misplaced and that current zoning is what should be blamed for the city’s affordability crisis. “MHA is not the cause,” one landowner said. “Development is. The answer is to get some money and build affordable housing.”

Meanwhile, a speaker who said she was a homeless student at Seattle Central asked the city council to consider “any” legislation that might lower housing costs.

Ellen Taft: “The Yesler Redevelopment Project shows that such a project benefits Rich Developers like billionaire Paul Allen’s Vulcan Corporation, instead of increasing the supply of housing for Seattle’s urban poor and middle income earners.”

“When you see the people out there, they’re not there because they want to be, they’re there because they have no place to go. They need help…a lot of that could be solved by having somewhere to live, not a waiting list that’s 5 or 6 years long.”

Alex Brennan: “On its own, MHA is not a solution for our affordability and homelessness crisis. We need to do much more. If we are to truly come together as a city and scale our solutions to meet the depths of our challenges, we must learn from what went right and what went wrong with the MHA community process.”

“This process should have been more inclusive. Too many times, the city focused on the loudest and most resourced opposition, primarily white, single family home owners, when the city should have been prioritizing dialogue with low income communities and communities of color. Communities that both need affordable housing and have been hurt by bad land use decisions.”

“What HALA does is create unavoidable economic incentives for development to displace my 500 neighbors for living in affordable homes and replace those units with market rate homes and force those people to either live elsewhere in the city, or outside of the city…. There’s an easy solution, and that’s for the city to commit itself to one for one replacement of affordable homes in the neighborhoods.”

“I moved to Seattle four years ago for a job in tech, but I plan to stay here because of the progressive community that’s welcomed me. In the past four years I’ve seen the numbers of my neighbors experiencing homelessness grow exponentially, watch bungalows bulldozed for McMansions and talked with friends as they struggled to find affordable rent. At the same time, our community made $15 the minimum wage, passed ST3, and mandated paid family leave. For us to the staying power and the promise of our shared progressive successes we must have abundant and affordable housing options for all of our neighbors. $15 is only meaningful when it’s livable, ST3 only provides opportunity when it’s accessible, and family leave only benefits families when they have a place to call home.”

“The MHA upzone and the dollars will help…build permanent support of housing for the chronically homeless population as well as workforce housing for the individuals and families who can’t afford to live her on the paychecks they receive.”

“This legislation represents a way to grow Seattle without making significant changes to single family zones. Despite the fact that single family zones make up almost half of Seattle’s land area, only the Urban Villages will be upzoned.”

Ryan Packer: “These zoning changes and their affordability requirements should happen as quickly as possible, but after it will remain illegal to build multifamily housing in 90% of our city. Around Capitol Hill Station, highrises still won’t be allowed.”

Like most public hearings on significant topics, many of the two-minute statements repeated similar ideas and talking points from community groups and advocacy organizations. But there were also opportunities for new dialogues about the ideas behind MHA and how they will change Capitol Hill. Residents near 15th Ave E raised the example of the eventual development of the street’sQFC property to consider under the proposed zoning changes. Today, the zoning for the land would result in a four-story mixed-use building. MHA would likely open the door to a five-story building on the street. In the end, support — or non-support — for the MHA changes might come down to examples like this across the city.

Another speaker pointed out the shortcomings of the urban village concept noting that the area around the coming Judkins Park light rail station won’t be boosted by the upzoning and, instead, will remain dominated by single-family style housing when it opens in 2023.

As part of a citywide effort to address housing affordability, Seattle City Hall has embarked on a wide-ranging plan that would allow developers to build extra density in exchange for including affordable housing in their projects or making a payment toward an affordable housing fund. Born under the Murray administration, the process is moving forward under Mayor Jenny Durkan though she has so far kept her distance from the debates surrounding the proposals. Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the proposed upzoning vary by scale and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including rent-restricted units. The legislation “is expected to result in $380M in revenue from the payment option and 1,325 units” over 20 years, according to a presentation on the proposals to a City Council’s special committee Monday morning. That $380 million could build another 4,300 affordable units, according to the city’s analysis.

District 7 has only one urban village (Upper Queen Anne) under consideration for changes – its other areas, such as Downtown and the ID have their own plans that have already gone through the process. Many areas on the edges of the city’s so-called “urban villages” were found to not meet “frequent transit node requirements” under the agreed on framework for the planning process. Critics have pointed at these areas as lost opportunities in expanding the village borders and increasing the area of the city that will be opened up for increased development. Officials point at a growth and equity analysis that they say has helped make sure the MHA process will “vary (the) scale of zoning changes based on displacement risk and access to opportunity.”

“Most District 3 urban villages have high risk of displacement,” planners write. “All have high access to opportunity.”

A final, citywide public hearing will follow with legislation planned to be voted on by fall.

The proposed zoning changes for Capitol Hill and the Central District include transitioning Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to 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 also come around the Miller Community Center. In the Central District, most proposed changes are focused on the area around Madison and 23rd with smaller areas around 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson where surgical upzoning has already been approved.

There has been considerable opposition to the planned changes in some corners of the city though Capitol Hill’s community groups have mostly been supportive of the changes. The Miller Park Neighbors have not. The Miller Park YAY-bors? All for it. The proposals, meanwhile, face litigation from a coalition of 26 neighborhood groups.

Others, including many Monday night, have been critical of Seattle’s reluctance to find solutions that include allowing more multifamily housing in areas of the city now dominated by hugely expensive single-family housing where the city has been, they say, “focused on responding to white, single family home owners.”

Renters Monday night said it is time to listen to them. “Don’t tell me we’re not a community because we don’t live in single family homes and we’re just renters,” said one.

Others, still, said pass the MHA upzoning but then get on to even more important new legislation around inclusivity and preventing displacement. “Please pass MHA and then go further.”

Many reminded the council that this “long, rough, and unfortunately exclusive” process is dragging on and it is time to get the legislation passed this summer. “This is taking too long,” said Alex Brennan of Capitol Hill Housing. “No ordinary person can stay engaged in a policy conversation for over three years.”

With photography and reporting by Alex Garland

 

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17 thoughts on “District 3 renters speak out as Mandatory Housing Affordability public hearing comes to Capitol Hill

  1. Most noteworthy moment? That would be when the Holy Names representative stated their opposition to MHA. Why the opposition? Because it would make parking in the neighborhood too difficult. Their busy trying to build a 250 plus underground parking garage in a single family zoned neighborhood (which few other central Seattle schools have or need) AND their opposing MHA. Boy are they out of touch.

  2. I simply do not agree that MHA legislation will actually increase significantly the number of “truly affordable” units in our neighborhood. Most developers, who care only about making $$$, will include only market rate units and pay the relatively small fee instead of including less expensive units. Yes, that money will theoretically result in affordable units in other, mostly outlying areas of the city, but not on Capitol Hill or other more in-demand neighborhoods.

  3. Bob, the fees are not insignificant. They are hundreds of thousands of dollars, even for a smaller mixed use apartment and retail building. That is a fairly large line item for a relatively small building budget to absorb.

  4. The one glaring disconnect I noticed was the assertion that somehow the new development and the fees would ensure more affordability on Capitol Hill. No, the new apartments there do not have to be affordable and likely the fees will be used to build in other areas where land is less expensive. This assertion would only have some degree of logic if affordable units had to be included in the new developments. Also the idea that architecture and public views don’t matter is disturbing. It would seem that only the well-off would live in environments that promote health, safety and peace of mind. I am not necessarily against HALA the issue and identifying specific areas and transparency about where to accomodate growth. But there has to be room for family friendly units and options to purchase in the mix, not just temporary places to live like apodments, along with a realistic outline of where and type the growth for all of King County. Some of the numbers that people were quoting are the projections for regional growth–not Seattle alone.

  5. Ok, I have a radical idea. Reduce the tax percentage on homeowners.

    Why? Well property values in Seattle have skyrocketed year over year. And guess what? That pushes the tax rate to be sometimes double what it was 5 years ago.

    Especially those owning properties for over 5 years (but even current owners) it is tough to pay out the higher taxes just based on inflation of property values.

    I rent but have friends that own. I know that part of my rent going up is the building I’m in (8 units) went from 900k value 5 years ago to 2.6 mil value. That’s not sustainable. So for 8 units it now costs them 26k a year in property taxes. That’s way more than I pay in rent just in my unit.

    I don’t know, just saying.

  6. BTW, for renters. They can search their buildings on the king county tax site. All you need is the parcel number and you can see the assess building value and the tax rates. And you can see them skyrocketing (doubling) over a 5-10 year period of time. Great revenue for the city. But someone has to assume that cost. :(

  7. With all do respect, when purchasing a home real estate taxes should be considered (along with a laundry list of other expenses). I have very little (if any) sympathy for homeowners that cannot afford the taxes associated with their property. Take a second mortgage and pay your bill or sell and purchase a home in a city you can afford. Just a thought though.

  8. And I say this not just as a CPA but as a homeowner on the hill who has seen their taxes increase more than 200% since I purchased 7 years ago.

  9. I don’t think you do have any respect, CPA Man…. many of those people who cannot afford to stay are people who have been here quite a long time, who bought their properties when this neighborhood (around where I live at least) was considered to be blighted and nearly worthless. To ask them to have peered into a 40 year crystal ball plan to pay 10K in property taxes each year is ridiculous… while yes, there are programs to help those on fixed incomes, those taxes don’t go away…. they are only deferred and come due all at once when the property is passed on or sold, which means that their family is basically denied *nearly any* chance to inherit the small amount of equity the family has managed to amass. Meanwhile the federal government allows rich people to get a pass on their first 11 million… It’s so incredibly backwards.

  10. @Glenn…..I have read in several places that Seattle’s fees would be far less than those charged in other cities. And my main point is that, regardless of what the fees are, very few developers will opt to include affordable units in their buildings.

  11. P.S. I sure wish that the “reply” button would get back to what it was until recently, so that a reply appears directly under the comment replied to, instead of at the end of the comments section.

  12. @ CD Cyclist – No need for a crystal ball, its basic financial planning. And 40 years out, sounds like mortgage payments should be completed by then, allowing funds to free up to make such tax payments. Aside from that, selling a home IS the option for folks with fixed incomes, and yes that probably means moving to another part of the city/state/country that fits their needs. I’m not sure why there are folks still under the school of thought that there is a god given right to live in the city of Seattle. It’s just not the way it goes anymore – anywhere.

  13. Don’t like high property taxes? Join the fight to get an income tax instituted! Otherwise it’s just not going to happen, because Seattle is broke as hell.

  14. kasa, are you absolutely sure that property taxes would be significantly reduced if we institute a state income tax? I very much doubt that would happen.

  15. Bob Knudson, I am not sure if property taxes would significantly reduce the current property tax. That should probably be written into laws that enact income tax. Income tax would significantly slow the increases in property tax and hopefully allow some to expire. as we would have a new revenue source to help pay for public services.It would add revenue to the needs of state or hey maybe the city–we will see.