10 conversations from the District 3 Mandatory Housing Affordability open house

The process to shape new zoning that will raise some building heights and introduce new affordability requirements for development around Capitol Hill and other dense Seattle neighborhoods came to District 3 last week as Washington Hall hosted a Mandatory Housing Affordability open house. CHS was there to hear what attendees had to say about the plan, questions, and what City Hall reps had to say about the proposals that are hoped to be the next big step in Seattle’s efforts to create a new surge of affordable housing production in the city.

The process will culminate on April 16 at Broadway Performance Hall for a public hearing before the City Council finalizes its legislation.

District 3 and District 7 MHA Public Hearing

You can submit your comments via email citywidemha@seattle.gov. No rush. You have until July.

Bill Bradburd, 20-year Seattle resident, a former candidate for the City Council, and a frequent critic of City Hall status quo said he came out to “see what the city’s dog and pony show was all about.”

Ed Murray, Mike O’Brien,Vulcan representatives and the non-profit housing industry came up with this plan of upzoning everything everywhere in exchange for these low fees,” Brafburd said. “The developers signed on because the fees are low, unlike San Francisco,” the plan critic continued. “The non-profits signed on because they’re the ones getting all the money to build this stuff. So all this cheerleading of HALA happens.”

“Most new housing in Seattle is replacing one-story retail or parking lots so there’s very little physical displacements especially on Capitol Hill and MHA is going to let us build slightly taller slightly more densely, which will push down rents –- that’s what the theory and study say and then the city will get MHA money to build affordable housing in our neighborhood,” Zach Lubarsky, a technology worker and member of the Capitol Hill Renters Initiative (and a CHS reader!) said. “Development without displacement is a net good in my view.”

We heard more from Bradburd, Lubarsky, and others and share more of their conversations below. Continue reading

To help ease Seattle’s affordability crisis, City Hall launches site for civic deals, discounts

How bad has Seattle’s affordability crisis become? The city has launched a new seattle.gov/affordable site that is tantamount to a Seattle City Hall discount coupon service.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is not calling it Groupon — but for living in Seattle. “One of our most important jobs is to make navigating your government a bit easier,” the mayor said. “Tens of thousands of families are currently eligible for money back in their pockets through the Child Care Assistance Program, Seattle Preschool Program, Utility Discount Program and dozens of other programs and initiatives.”

A quick visit to the site shows a wide selection of some 106 categories in which residents might find a way to save a buck or two living in the city. Its current “Popular Services” rankings include “Discount card for people with disabilities,” “Free ORCA cards for students,” and “King County taxpayer assistance.”

The mayor announced the new site along with a proposal for a new Seattle Rental Housing Assistance Pilot Program which would focus on “preventing households from falling into homelessness while on the waitlist for longer-term assistance.”

Nearly half of the 1,027 households issued a Seattle Housing Authority Housing Choice Voucher in the 2015 lottery experienced homelessness at some point during their time on the waitlist, according to City Hall.

Renters dealt a blow as judge rules against Seattle’s ‘First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice’ law

One of the key elements in a legislative package of renter protections passed in Seattle in the summer of 2016 has been struck down in King County Superior Court.

The “first-in-time,” “First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice” legislation required landlords to, as it was described in the Seattle City Council’s press release that summer, “review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis” in order to prevent “housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority.”

Tuesday, a judge sided with a suit brought by the Rental Housing Association and a group of land owners agreeing that the law infringed on property and speech rights.

The City of Seattle is expected to appeal the ruling.

It will have more legal work on its hands defending other legislative efforts to give tenants greater protections in Seattle’s rough and tumble — and hugely profitable — rental market. A move-in fee cap championed by District 3 rep Kshama Sawant also faced nearly immediate legal challenge. And a recent decision to temporarily ban the use of rent bidding services in the city is also entangled in the “first-in-time” decision.

Seattle earmarks $1M for ’emergency’ homelessness services as Sawant holds ‘Tax Amazon’ town hall

With Seattle homelessness advocates continuing to debate short-term and immediate services vs. more permanent housing, the city’s Human Services Department has earmarked $1 million in bridge funding to providers of emergency shelter, hygiene services in the city.

Meanwhile, District 3 representative Kshama Sawant will hold a Tax Amazon Town Hall Tuesday night at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute to raise support for the proposed $75-million Seattle “employment tax” on businesses that is hoped will fund housing and homelessness services in Seattle.

The $1 million in “augmented” funding for Compass, LIHI – Urban Rest Stop, SHARE/WHEEL shelters, and the Seattle Indian Center comes from the city council’s decision to sell a $11 million South Lake Union property and use the proceeds, in part, to address the city’s homelessness and affordability crisis. Continue reading

City Hall coming to Washington Hall to talk Mandatory Housing Affordability zoning on Hill, in CD

This week, Central Seattle residents will get a chance for an up-close look at how proposed zoning changes will affect this part of the city.

As part of a citywide effort to address housing affordability, the city 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. It’s an outgrowth of the HALA program began under then-Mayor Ed Murray, and this portion of it is continuing under a different acronym: MHA, or mandatory housing affordability.

Citywide Open House featuring Districts 3+7 MHA Maps

A City Council committee is digging into the issue and as a part of the process, they’re engaging in a series of open house meetings across the city. Next on the list is a joint meeting for council District 3 (Capitol Hill, the Central District and environs) and District 7 (Queen Anne, Magnolia, Downtown, South Lake Union and the International District). Continue reading

Rent bidding banned in Seattle — for now

Amid concern about the growing use of the services jacking up student rents in the University District, the Seattle City Council Monday voted unanimously to temporarily ban so-called “rent bidding” in the city.

Monday’s vote will ban the use of services like Rentberry for apartments in the city for one year to give officials time to study the impact the services could have on Seattle affordability. The Office of Housing, Office of Civil Rights, and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections are now on the hook for a report on the services.

The services work by creating “transparent” rental auctions where potential tenants have “the ability to submit custom offers.”

Last month, CHS reported on the few Capitol Hill properties utilizing the services and the concerns raised about the practice in the Bay Area real estate market. One report on the Rentberry service quoted the company’s founder taking credit for raising rents 5% above listing prices in the already ultra-expensive San Francisco and San Jose markets.

Under the moratorium approved Monday, the Seattle ban can be extended by the City Council if it is determined officials need more time to evaluate the services.

With 5,000 to feed every week, Cherry Street Food Bank seeks new home

After 35 years operating out of their space on 8th Ave and Cherry, the Cherry Street Food Bank is being displaced to make room for a new 30-story condominium tower. They’ve got until March 1, 2019 to vacate, and Northwest Harvest is scrambling to find a new home for their flagship operation which serves an average of 5,000 people a week.

Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds considers the Cherry Street Food Bank the “beating heart” of their operations.

“We deliver to others who provide food but Cherry Street is a direct line to our most important stakeholder group: people with lived experience of hunger.” The food bank provides bags of groceries as well as sandwiches and other ready-to-eat meals for people who have no kitchen in which to prepare meals. Continue reading

Design review board has first look at Belmont Ave low-income and re-entry project

(Images: SMR Architects)

Capitol Hill’s design review pipeline has slowed to a trickle but there are still a few important new projects on the board. Wednesday night, a development from Pioneer Human Services part of $101 million in funding for affordable housing projects across Seattle will take its first step in the process.

Design Review: 1717 Belmont Ave

Pioneer on Belmont will be a seven-story apartment building with 90 units designed for a mix of the lowest income tenants and housing for formerly incarcerated and homeless residents: Continue reading

‘Real progress’ — Task force recommends $75M Seattle business tax for housing and homelessness services

Seattle’s Progressive Revenue Task Force has finalized a set of recommendations for a so-called “head tax” that could raise $75 million a year to help create housing and provide homelessness services. UPDATE: The final report (PDF) released March 9th pushes the amount the city should raise to an estimated $150 million — $75 million of which would come from the head tax.

The recommendations were finalized last week in advance of a deadline legislated last year as the City Council agreed to back away from an earlier plan to tax large businesses a per-employee tax that would have raised only around $25 million per year.

“We believe it is imperative to raise a substantial amount of revenue -– enough to make a measurable and significant impact on the crisis –- so that the community sees tangible results from this new investment,” the task force report reads. “People are tired of half-measures and want to see real progress.” Continue reading

A demolition, a homeless camp, and townhouses: the 22nd Ave story of Cherry Hill Baptist Church

22nd Ave’s Cherry Hill Baptist Church — in the background, Tent City 3 has settled in across E Cherry

An 118-year-old Black church in the Central District lined up for demolition. A homeless encampment at the center of the city’s debate on how it should best approach providing housing to its residents most in need. A planned development that will build 14 townhouses that probably won’t be affordable but will help increase available stock in a booming city desperate for new housing. It’s a modern day Seattle story at 22nd Ave and Cherry.

Today, it’s mostly cold and wet. Tent City 3, recently moved in on church property behind the AM/PM and gas station at the corner, provides shelter to around 50 people. The New York Times just wrote about the camp and its most recent stay at Seattle Pacific University. “Some other cities grappling with homelessness, especially on the West Coast, have set aside places to allow camps or have opted not to enforce laws on outdoor camping for periods of time,” the New York Times remarks. “But the Seattle area went further into the experiment: It has, over the course of more than a decade, gradually allowed 11 camps to become permanent features of the landscape.”

The camps are also permanently on the move. Tent City 3 is now resident on land owned by Cherry Hill Baptist Church. Across the street, Pastor Willie Seals has big plans. Continue reading