While the repealed Employee Hours Tax was not a Housing Now campaign, the Seattle group has learned from mistakes that were made. With new understanding of how things get done — or don’t — in Seattle, the group has vowed to take on the city’s restrictive zoning laws.
“The Comprehensive Plan stems from the Growth Management Act at the state level which requires every city and county to designate growth areas.” Housing Now’s Alex Broner said in a Sunday afternoon meeting earlier this month on 12th Ave across from Seattle University. “They took our already exclusive zoning system in 1994 and codified it into the City Comprehensive Plan.”
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In Seattle, zoning laws — the rules for what kinds of buildings you can build and how big those buildings can be — can only be changed by updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Having started the Comp Plan aspect of Housing Now in March, the group is chipping away at the hurdles to a zoning update, allowing multifamily units in more areas of the city.
Housing First sees three areas of focus in the debate. The first is to try to explain why the current plan is “messing up our affordability.” According to Broner, the current plan is “preventing a lot more housing, it’s making the housing that is getting built more expensive, and it’s focusing housing in high displacement areas with low income renters.”
The second thrust is a deeper dive into not only the city’s Comprehensive Plan, but Seattle’s process of treat new housing as something suspicious that needs to be “vetted very carefully.”
The group hopes to call the new plan the “Welcoming Communities Framework, because that’s what this is all about,” Broner said, “You can’t say that you’re a welcoming community if you’re forbidding people from living in your community, by forbidding the housing they can afford, and new housing in general. Why aren’t we allowing multi-family units next to mansions? Why is that illegal? Is it because the mansion owners don’t want it? Is that a valid reason to prevent housing during a housing crisis?”
The third piece is the solution, and naturally, this early on in the process, it’s less detailed. “This is still a work in progress,” Broner said. “We have a few bullet points of things we want to see, but it’s not comprehensive yet. There’s more that could be included. If we’re updating something called the ‘Comp Plan’, then let’s have a really big update, not fiddle with it.”
The Housing Now effort, so far, is small. Seven people attended the work meeting CHS listened in on. Broner says the group goes through phases of attendance with 17 people having been involved so far and a core group of 12 or so that attend regular meetings.
Though topics ranged from MHA, HALA, and Accessory Dwelling Units, the majority of the time was spent talking about EHT and changing the City Comprehensive Plan. The group seems determined to pressure city council and the mayor to begin acting now as the comprehensive plan change is less of a legal challenge and more of a political one. “We’re planning events including a series of house parties and we need volunteers for all kinds of things, including planning additional events,” Broner said.
Housing Now meetings are generally every two weeks. The next one will be Sunday July 8th at Kaladi Brothers at 2 PM. UPDATE: Rescheduled! We’ve updated the meeting date.
You can learn more at housingnowseattle.org.