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Mayor backs off affordability recommendation for Seattle single-family zones

Backing down from slow growth opposition and in a nod to a wave of bungalow nostalgia, Mayor Ed Murray announced Wednesday afternoon he will not support one of the most controversial — and possibly widely impactful — elements of the 60+ recommendations from his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee.

Murray said Wednesday he will not support the recommendation that could have opened 94% of single-family zones in Seattle to more multi-family style development to help offset soaring rents.

In the announcement, the mayor blamed “sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets” for helping to create the backlash. “The Council and I created the HALA process because our city is facing a housing affordability crisis,” Murray is quoted as saying. “In the weeks since the HALA recommendations were released, sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets has created a significant distraction and derailed the conversation that we need to have on affordability and equity.”

UPDATE: Council president — and candidate for citywide Position 8 — Tim Burgess foreshadowed the announcement with an updated posted Tuesday about HALA’s recommendations:

While the list of recommendations from HALA is long, one specific policy has received the most attention and criticism from neighborhoods across Seattle. It’s the recommendation that single-family zoning be relaxed in all areas of the city to allow for new duplexes, triplexes and stacked flats, a policy some believe will lead to speculators buying up homes, tearing them down, and replacing them with more expensive multi-family structures. We should take a step back from any policy that leads to that kind of speculation, disruption, and the widespread loss of existing, more affordable housing.

Meanwhile, support for an alternative affordability plan galvanized Wednesday as a coalition of City Council candidates has pledged to pursue the plan from HALA member and Position 8 candidate Jon Grant. Grant’s plan calls for an expanded linkage fee program that includes residential development in order to fund construction of 9,000 units of affordable housing for households at 0-30% of area median income — 4,000 more units than recommended by the HALA committee. Grant would also dedicate 5,000 of those units towards homeless housing.

The full announcement from the mayor’s office is below.

Murray to focus on housing affordability in denser neighborhoods 

SEATTLE (July 29, 2015) – Today Mayor Ed Murray issued the following statement announcing he will not recommend pursuing a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee recommendation that could have changed 94 percent of single-family zones in Seattle. Instead, he is calling for renewed public dialogue on how best to increase affordable housing in denser neighborhoods:

“The Council and I created the HALA process because our city is facing a housing affordability crisis. In the weeks since the HALA recommendations were released, sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets has created a significant distraction and derailed the conversation that we need to have on affordability and equity.

“Fundamentally, this is a conversation about building a Seattle that welcomes people from all walks of life — where working people, low-income families, seniors, young people and the kids of current residents all can live in our city.

“We also must not be afraid to talk about the painful fact that parts of our city are still impacted by the intersection of income, race and housing. Look at a map and take a walk through our neighborhoods. We can move beyond the legacy of the old boundaries of exclusion that have remained largely unchanged since nearly a century ago when neighborhood covenants were used to keep people of color south of Madison Street.

“I have always believed that Seattle can step up and have a difficult conversation about our history of racial discrimination and economic inequality. Our shared vision for Seattle includes affordable housing and diversity in all our neighborhoods.

“To advance the broader conversation about affordable housing and equity, I will no longer pursue changes that could allow more types of housing in 94 percent of single-family zones. Instead, we will refocus the discussion on designing denser Urban Centers, Urban Villages and along transit corridors that include more affordable housing.”



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27 thoughts on “Mayor backs off affordability recommendation for Seattle single-family zones

  1. “sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets” for helping to create the backlash.

    Wait a minute, is Mayor Murray not able to truly explain and articulate the HALA ctm recommendations? Because if that is true, he is a weak mayor. C’mon, a little heat and he’s out of that kitchen? No courage of his convictions, I think.

    And now he wants a dialog- great, let’s start with calmer rheoric and a middle ground. I think the wording choices in the HALA reporter were quite deliberate and if anyone ruffled feathers, it was the HALA committee.

    We also need to talk about what they said about public education (repeatedly calling schools “amenities” which they aren’t) and giving first preference to any new schools in any housing to charter schools (which Seattle itself said no to in a decisive manner).

  2. Well that was fast! He had to have known that the single family zones were going to have a cow. My bet is it was a bargaining chip to allow ADUs and a few other concessions.

  3. Basically all I’m reading is that white people are up in arms because they refuse to rub elbows with the poors/POCs with their refusal to tear down wastes of space for multi-family homes which could offset rising rent costs. Oh Seattle–you so racist.

  4. The Mayor really blew it on this one. As a long-time resident of a single-family neighborhood in Seattle, he should know how much we value our purely-residential neighborhoods as they are.

    The commercial and transitional zones are another matter….that’s where the focus on increasing density and affordability should be. But, please, no more apodments!

    • Yes, freeze the city in amber. The people moving here will magically stop, because gosh darn it, two thirds of the city has a god-given right to forever be houses with yards. That’s the way it’s always been! And if there’s one thing we know about Seattle, it’s that it never has changed over time.

  5. I was going to say… I live in the CD and there are tons of single family homes with people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. The race card is so lame in this argument. Pathetic.

    The white guilt in this city is so strong it makes me laugh.

  6. Good urbanism has like-kind buildings facing across streets. Single family home streets should probably remain so. But low density commercial strips could evolve into “living above stores and businesses,” with 3-4 story (or higher) buildings facing across that street. Affordable workforce housing could be added in large numbers on these streets. The activity on these denser streets would make living on the single family streets even better, as shown many places across the country.

    • Yep. But you need to have the conversation about transportation and other “amenities” (schools, which clearly are not an “amenity”, parks, community centers, pools, etc.) and how the new housing units will integrate with the existing neighborhood. Back when we did neighborhood planning, that was the approach (failures notwithstanding). HALA is top-down as opposed to bottom-up, and did not have buy-in from anyone other than developers for many of its recommendations. Not, then, a big surprise to see so much opposition.

      None of this takes away from the historic reality of race and housing in Seattle, and I applaud the Mayor for bringing up that point. But I don’t see how our current communities of color benefit from much of HALA’s recommendations.

  7. If you live in a single-family neighborhood and you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, there’s nothing stopping you from writing a restrictive covenant into the deed of your land.

      • Yes – a covenant is independent of zoning and would be agreed to by the buyer of your property. They could be sued by your neighbors if they broke it.

        Imagine a scenario where, for instance, the residents of Madison Park form a HOA and all write a covenant into the deeds of their properties that limits the property to single family use. This is probably a better alternative to zoning since it keeps the power over the neighboorhood in the hands of its residents.

  8. I live in a townhouse in Eastlake that I bought in 2012 for $550k. There are three other townhouses on this lot, all of which sold for about the same amount. These four structures replaced a bungalow that the developer bought for well under $500k.

    This story gets retold over and over again in my neighborhood. There are at least a dozen townhouses going up within a two block radius. In each instance, it’s a developer tearing down a cheap bungalow to build townhouses that only well-compensated white collar workers can enjoy (yes, that includes me). Typically, this means four+ townhouses that sell for many times the cost of the original bungalow.

    No doubt that Murray’s answering to politics, but coming from a neighborhood where density is driving prices up rather than down, I can’t say he’s making the craziest call.

    • I see what you’re saying, but do more people fit in those 4 townhouses than were in the original bungalow? If so, filling those 4 townhouses with 4 households took a little extra pressure off of the demand (and therefore price) for housing everywhere else in the city.

      • You are correct in theory and practice. There is greater supply and more people are housed on account of the development. The detail that seems to undercut HALA’s approach is that it’s just housing for more upper-income people. I know that the same developers are repeating this strategy literally all over the city. This is why I don’t think that blowing open neighborhoods that are majority SFH is gong to help. It will do the opposite. The city literally needs to regulate how future high-density developments are implemented to ensure more low-income housing.