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A few sparks of hope for HALA proposals as Miller Park residents focus on affordability and density

The Miller Park Neighbors community group’s rallying cry encouraging residents to organize to address proposed increased building heights under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda drew about 100 people to a Wednesday meeting.

Jonathan Swift, a member of Miller Park Neighbors, said the goals of the group include preserving the neighborhood, keeping it diverse and making it affordable.

But it was hard to find many examples of clear support for the city’s HALA proposals and with elements like a presentation from Wallingford anti-density advocate Greg Hill, it was hard not to see the proceedings under a “not in my backyard” light.

Jack Thompson, a leader in one of the small groups attendees broke into for discussion at the meeting, has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. The diversity the group aims to keep applies both to the people living in the neighborhood and the housing options, he said. “We have a little bit of everything here,” Thompson explained.

Last month, CHS reported on a split on Capitol Hill — those living in already dense areas generally support the proposed upzones and changes, while many of those living in less dense areas generally, well, don’t. That fault line is especially apparent around the Miller Park neighborhood where the area around the Miller Community Center is slated for a boost to mostly 40-feet for townhouses, row houses, or apartments with 7 to 10% affordability. Near the southeast corner of the Miller Playfield, a 50-foot zone and 11% affordability is proposed. The current proposals upzones all single family housing in the neighborhood.

However, some Miller Park residents Wednesday night said they are in favor of more density. Miller Park Neighbors draft principles, they say, include protecting single family homes as a part of the area and prioritizing new affordable family housing and retaining setbacks and established trees. Some residents in the small group felt that to make the neighborhood more affordable, density needs to increase.

“If we want more families, we need more density,” resident JR Fulton said.

Ashley Jefferson said the group he helped to facilitate wasn’t all against increased density but wanted to ensure affordable housing is a part of any new waves of construction.

Another group felt the neighborhood is dense already, but acknowledged affordable housing is important, and more is needed in Seattle.

“But this way might be too much, too damaging and (the group) would like to find a different way to do it,” the group facilitator said.

The meeting Wednesday nigh held at the Holy Names Academy aimed to prepare Miller Park residents to speak about their ideas and thoughts on proposed zoning changes at the city’s Madison-Miller Urban Village Community Design Workshop on February 28th. The city is using the workshops in areas across Seattle to refine the HALA proposals.

Miller Park Neighbors make call to ‘protect’ neighborhood from affordability proposals

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24 thoughts on “A few sparks of hope for HALA proposals as Miller Park residents focus on affordability and density

  1. I haven’t looked at the specific demographics, but Miller Park doesn’t currently appear to be more diverse than any other part of Seattle north of Madison. And, I think it’s crazy to believe upzoning (which I’m for) would make things more affordable or diverse. The old house next to mine, three blocks east of the Miller playfield, was a room-for-rent kind of place that was razed to make way for 5 townhomes (starting price $750k). It definitely increased density, but my block is now 100% not diverse.

    • hmmm – not sure about the above now… I think the tax structure is a bit more complex than that… I have however heard that we are assessed differently here in because it is a designated urban village? Does anyone know how that works?

  2. Open your property tax bill and get back to me. Ours rose $3000 this year. Seattle will drive out anyone making less than $150,000.00 soon. Call me a NIMBY but after decades here and now $20,000.00 tax bill I’m not wild about 4 story townhouses crammed on a residential lot next door either.

    • Complaining about taxes in a $2 million property is pretty much why people in the city really dislike the wealthy.

      Oh, and $150K/year wouldn’t be in the ballpark to afford your own property. Which shows just how in touch you appear to be about the real costs of real estate in this city.

    • Both of you are deluded. You think someone sitting in a home with equity, which they’ve owned for years, somehow contributes to their cashflow. Equity in your house isn’t an ATM, and doesn’t pay you dividends. It doesn’t help you pay a tax bill you can’t afford, until you finally throw in the towel and sell it. Oh, and “Privilege”– plenty of long-time residents earn WAY less than $150k/yr, or even 100k. That’s exactly the problem. $75k salaries in non-tech jobs don’t make somebody “wealthy” by any means, and don’t pay enough to afford taxes of $20k/yr; and the only way to afford it is borrow your way right out of your house, leaving you housing-challenged like everyone you’re advocating help for. So you sell your house to a developer who builds multiple $1M+ townhouses and drives housing prices even higher. So you might want to take time out from your demonizing modest-INCOME homeowners to think about what good it does to hound them out of the neighborhood. Not much.

    • Alonso – my tax bill isn’t $20,000… it is more like yours *but* because we are in an “urban village” we seem to be assessed quite differently from other areas….

      I was just looking at a true million dollar home that is a little north of the urban village designation. The total appraised value of that house is over $1.2 million… but the taxable value is only $310,000…. OTOH I have to pay taxes on the *entire* appraised value of my house. I actually pay *more* in property taxes that the person who has that more than million dollar home, even though mine is worth less than half of what theirs is… How is that fair and how does it make this area more affordable??? – it would seem to make it less affordable…

    • If you’re on a fixed income sitting on $2 million in real estate holdings and can’t pay your property taxes, yeah, it sucks, I guess. I mean, most people would kill to have that setup since you’ve tons of options, the most obvious one being to consider selling. Homeowners need to “live within their means” too.

      I’m still not entirely sure how people making $75K a year today were able to afford today’s multi-million houses 20-30 years ago. Those were expensive places in those days too, and you would assume that a person purchasing that house would’ve needed to earn an equivalent high-end salary. Most of the people I know who live in those houses (think North Capitol Hill) were engineers and programmers and doctors, not working class folks. And if their salary has taken a dive, once again… live within one’s means. Sell the house, for crying out loud.

      CD Neighbor, I’m pretty sure assessments can be terribly out of date if a house hasn’t changed hands in a long time. One day, that person might see a crazy increase. The place I own just got reassessed for the first time in the last 5-6 years. And hey, wouldn’t you know our property taxes shot up like everyone else’s. And they’ll probably go up a ton next year too. I can afford it now, but when I can’t, I’ll move somewhere I can afford.

    • Ever heard of a “reverse mortgage”? Anyone with significant equity in their home can get one of these, and gain income to pay increased property taxes, go on vacations etc.

      I’m not sure what the requirements are, though…might be restricted to those of a certain age.

  3. The Pro-Developer Crowd is misguided if they think that tearing down houses and building condos will make Capitol Hill affordable for them. The developers will pay the penalty fee and build units that cost $800,000.00 that people will STILL not be able to afford. Tearing up city blocks is not the answer to the affordable housing dilemma. This only succeeds in making developers more money.

    • That’s not what we think. First of all, that area of the hill is *already* unaffordable to anyone that did not buy in before Seattle’s most recent growth spurt- this includes the homes that were bought for 130k in the 80s (which, by the way, prices were low because people left the city at the time). Check out some of the houses bought post 2010…going for 700k to even a million. That doesn’t sound affordable to me.

      Also, to add, why is profit suddenly frowned upon? Those houses in the 1900s which ring Miller Park weren’t built out of charity, but profit. I understand that we (as a city, and to an extent, nation) are strong believers in hatin’ on the 1%. Income and resource inequality IS a problem in our country, but I don’t think developers fall under this 1% umbrella. (Let me know if I’m wrong.)

      If we *really* believed in redistribution of income, we should have started reforming our regressive tax systems long ago. We’re suffering for it now- your property taxes suck because we don’t have income tax, for a start. We want affordable housing to pop from nothing, when our public coffers are dried up. It’s why it’s called a compromise.

      In general, building more means less demand on a finite set of housing. Yes, rents and property taxes will go up on a very hyperlocalized level, but will decrease demand on naturally affordable units (read: old buildings) around the city and neighborhood.

  4. We are helping to pay for more affordable housing through the levy, which I voted for. Why can’t the developers also be required to contribute without getting a tit for tat increase in density so they don’t have to feel it? Their profit reduction would be negligible. There is no need to glut the market with zoning capacity, drastically blanket upzone parts of the city with the most character, and displace people living in what “naturally affordable” units we do have when the City’s own figures show we have more than enough capacity in existing zoning to meet housing targets. These areas are a very big part of what makes people want to live in Seattle. Lots of people are moving here that don’t really care about what Seattle is like – they will have families or burn out on their new tech job or find a better one and move on. When the time comes to have a family they won’t be staying in Seattle, which has fewer families as a percentage than all other cities except SF. They will be moving to Redmond and farther out if they stay in the region, as light rail effectively shrinks the distance and those areas remain liveable and Seattle doesn’t. Seattle has an affordable housing problem, but we can solve it in other ways besides a developer give away and glut of small apartments. The Grand Bargain throws the baby out with the bathwater. The city can do better.

    • Those affordability requirements add substantially to the cost of development. At $7 to $20 per gross square foot, they are add a minimum $150k expense for even a small apartment building. That money will come out of land value paid by the developer to the seller of the land, out of interior or exterior finishes, landscaping, it will come from somewhere. Without the financial inducement you discourage development or encourage development of the worst kind.

  5. The only way that upzoning a neighborhood and allowing more density will lower rental costs is if the housing is subsidized by local government. I don’t believe that the free market will make the rents lower, I believe that over time, even with more housing, the rents will continue to increase.

    As an example, take a small rental house with 3 bedrooms that rents for $1800 a month, shared by 3 young people. They each pay $600 a month to live there. The home is located on a corner lot in a single-family neighborhood. The powers that be upzone the neighborhood, the owner sells the property for $500K to a developer and the developer proceeds to evict the 3 young people. Developer then builds 4 townhomes. They probably won’t be rented out, but sold, each one for an average price of $400-$500K. If the townhomes ARE rented, each one would rent for at least $2400 a month, perhaps more, depending on location.

    That’s a much more likely scenario when upzoning than a developer building rentals, especially under the new Landlord/Tenant laws with “First in Time” rules and other rules limiting the amount of deposits that can be collected.

    What happens to the 3 young people evicted from the older home? I dunno. I guess they move to Burien.

    • And in fact that is just exactly what happened down the street from me… Most of the lots here are already broken into tiny plots – around 2,000 sq ft, but a few through and half lots were still here when I moved in. We are the test case – we were one of the first areas to be zoned RSL – residential small lot, so it’s been possible to redevelop those lots for the last 20 some years now.

      One of those large lots had a old rambling house on it that always had multiple tenants – until that is it was sold to a developer – when it sat empty and boarded up for several years…. Now that house wasn’t exactly the nicest thing on the block and I highly doubt the rents were very much. What’s there now – 6 town home style units that all sold for more than my SFH (which btw is already on nearly the same lot size… as each of those town homes) appraises for. Did it add density to that lot – sure it did, did it add any affordability – nope.. it replaced an all be it smaller number of affordable spots, with a couple more expensive ones..

      I’m not against adding some density – I don’t think that the RSL zoning we have right now has been bad for the area. I do think that up zoning us 4 to 5X – yup that’s what’s being proposed is really hard to view as positive….

    • Thanks, Marlow. Actual data from someone who lives, breathes (and dreams?) Capitol Hill real estate.

      The presumption is that the developers will all opt to pay the HALA “affordable housing fee” rather than making 7% of their 4-plex affordable.

      Is there any thought where the City will build the housing funded by the HALA fees? I bet there will be a strong incentive to get as many units as possible for the $$, so presumably not round here.

  6. Well, I was trying to be cautious and optimistic. However, as several of you have pointed out, it’s worse than we think and will get even, uh… worser.

    It’s a fallacy to believe that any commercial developer will build low-income housing without huge incentives (profits). It makes more sense that the city/county or a non-profit build these properties and either pass the savings on to the renters or use market rate proceeds to build even more buildings.

    • Marlow, what you are describing is *exactly* what Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is. The upzones provide the extra value (“incentive”) that is then balanced by the developer either providing units in the same building that will remain rent-restricted to those making 60% or less of Area Median Income for 75 years, or they can choose to pay a fee that is roughly equivalent to the profit that would be made on those apartments plus 10%. The fee would go to a housing fund that can be accessed by non-profit developers. Because of the way low income housing tax credits work, those funds can be leveraged to get *more* funding for affordable housing. So the fees are not a way to “get out” of building affordable housing.

      Please note that MHA is only one of 65 recommendations for improving housing affordability in the HALA report. The Housing Levy was another HALA recommendation. That will provide housing and services for people who make less than 30% AMI. The Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE)–extension of which was another HALA recommendation–provides housing for people who make 80% or less of AMI. Other HALA recommendations–including backyard cottages and other options for housing in single-family zones, were meant to serve people in the 80-130% AMI range.