Who Wants Affordable Housing?

Belmont Apartments by Rob Ketcherside on flickr

Belmont Apartments by Rob Ketcherside on flickr

The strange thing about building housing is that, almost by definition, the potential buyers and renters don’t yet live in the neighborhood, and therefore don’t get a say in how said housing gets built.  Instead, the city, the developers, and existing residents decide.

This leads to conversations like this CHS comment thread, where it’s generally agreed that “everyone on Capitol Hill” is against small apartments.  Of course they are – they already live on Capitol Hill! The apartments aren’t being built for them.

As a homeowner near Capitol Hill*, I wish more people who live on Capitol Hill — people whom I generally believe to be pro-social justice — would take a moment to think about the young people who want to live in a diverse, transit-friendly neighborhood with good access to jobs, but can’t afford it.  Not everyone works at a big tech firm or bought their house in the 70s.

In other words, I wish these folks would take a moment to think about people like Duane Taylor:

SEATTLE — Duane Taylor was studying the humanities in community college and living in his own place when he lost his job in a round of layoffs. Then he found, and lost, a second job. And a third.

Now, with what he calls “lowered standards” and a tenuous new position at a Jack in the Box restaurant, Mr. Taylor, 24, does not make enough to rent an apartment or share one. He sleeps on a mat in a homeless shelter, except when his sister lets him crash on her couch.

Duane would probably like an affordable apartment on Capitol Hill.  I’m sure if he knew that attending a community meeting would increase the supply of affordable housing, he would have made the effort to attend. But I doubt he has access to CHS from his mat in the homeless shelter. And so the result is that “everyone” at the meeting opposes affordable apartments.

Look, we can debate forever whether these micro-apartments are “legitimate” or just “regulatory loopholes” being exploited.  For whatever reason, housing is in demand and this is what’s being supplied.  There are a million reasons why a certain type of housing gets built over another.  And the trend, in Capitol Hill and elsewhere, has been to oppose all forms of zoning changes, “micro-housing” or not.

Here’s the broader point. Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country**.  Yet we manage to provide halfway-decent public services and quality of life for two and only two reasons: we’re growing (6th fastest), and we’re young (19th youngest). That means more people paying in to the system than receiving benefits.  If that growth starts to slow and the population starts to age, we’ll be in deep fiscal doo-doo and quick. Having young people is the best way to ensure long-term growth. Just ask Japan.

Fortunately for Seattle’s fiscal future, the youngsters just keep on coming (yay highest favorability rating in America!). From the aforelinked article:

Across town, Roman Tano, 20, woke up recently at YouthCare’s James W. Ray Orion Center, another shelter for young adults that offers training programs. In October, its capacity grew to 20 beds from 15.

Two months ago, Mr. Tano gave up an apartment in his native Dallas after losing his job. He sold his Toyota and sought opportunities in the Pacific Northwest[***].

People like Duane and Roman are going to be paying for my retirement some day. I’m not sure why I’d welcome them with anything other than open arms****. It’s good for Seattle and good for America (people are 15% more productive when they live in cities).

Unfortunately, there are only a few neighborhoods in this town suitable for young people seeking good jobs and car-free living. Capitol Hill is one of them. I’d like to see many more of these neighborhoods, through strategic up-zoning and and expanded transit network. Until then, we need a find a way to live together harmoniously, even if it means it’s a bit harder to stash 2,000 pounds of privately-owned steel, glass and rubber in the public right-of-way.

*I live in Squire Park, which some unscrupulous real estate agents call Capitol Hill. Truth is, I couldn’t afford real Capitol Hill! But I’ve got Ba Bar now, so suck it, Hillsters!
 
** Washington’s poorest residents pay 17 cents on the dollar in state and local taxes, more than any other state. Full report here.

*** How much lower is Mr. Tano’s carbon footprint since he left Texas and ditched his Toyota? Yet another reason to bring people to temperate, walkable Seattle.
 
**** A couch on Capitol Hill was my first bed in Seattle when I arrived here many years ago.  

About Frank Chiachiere

Frank Chiachiere is the General Manager of Seattle Transit Blog. He has lived in Seattle for over a decade, and designs digital products by day. Commute: 2, 3, or 4.




Comments

  1. Matt the Engineer says:

    Regarding your second note, I just remembered this map.

  2. Andrew Smith says:

    I live in Squire Park, which some unscrupulous real estate agents call Capitol Hill.

    This has always bothered me. I understand neighborhood names change, sometimes for the better (“Belltown” vis-a-vis “Denny Regrade”), sometimes for the worse (is it just me or is “South Lake Union” a terrible neighborhood name? Are we too far gone to change that?). But a hill is a topographic feature. When you start going down the hill and hit flat land, that can’t part of the hill any longer. A 5 year old could figure that one out for you.

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

      Flat land?

      Which city are we talking about here?

    • David Seater says:

      Listings in my neighborhood (near 23rd & John) seem to choose between “Capitol Hill” and “Madison Valley” depending on what kind of property they’re selling.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        That’s kind of the border, isn’t it? Certainly three blocks east of there is no longer capitol hill.

      • I used to consider everything east of I-5 between the Ship Canal and Yesler if not I-90 that wasn’t First Hill as Capitol Hill.

      • David Seater says:

        Yes, it’s definitely the borderlands. Difficult to tell, though, where the Hill ends and the Valley begins. If you look at the City Clerk’s map Capitol Hill is a “neighborhood area” that is the combination of the Broadway, Stevens, Madison Park, Portage Bay, and Montlake neighborhoods (bounded by I-5, Pike/Madison, the Ship Canal, and Lake Washington). I think it’s interesting how loosely defined neighborhoods are in practice, and how those definitions change depending on what you want to convey.

      • I think what happened is that in the 70s and 80s people used the larger district names (“Capitol Hill”, “Central District”, “Ballard”, “Greenwood”), and now they’ve started to use the smaller census tract names (“Bryant”, “Squire Park”, “Blue Ridge”, “Broadview”).

        The other thing is the real estate industry making up names to dispel a bad reputation and make the neighborhood sound exclusive and trendy: “Madison Valley”, “SODO”, “West Edge”.

      • Depends on the neighborhood. I’d never even heard of “Central District” until fairly recently, and I saw the area north of Carkeek Park as “Broadview” even when I rode the school bus through there in the mid-90s. Same for Blue Ridge and Loyal Heights; maybe it was not ever being in the area, but I actually believed in Loyal Heights as distinct from Ballard more back in the day then I do now. On the other hand, “Bryant” and “Squire Park” have never really stuck with me.

        Maybe I pay too much attention to the signs as you enter each neighborhood, but then I’d put too much stock in the existence of “Licton Springs” as anything more than the hinterlands between Aurora and I-5 then. Maybe it’s also the “neighborhoods” Metro lists on its timetables and headsigns.

      • I’d never even heard of “Central District” until fairly recently

        And I thought I didn’t get out much.

    • Capitol Hill = $$$$
      Squire Park = $$

      Simple equation for realtors to make. They’re just trying to get eyeballs on their listings.

      The worst are the craigslist apartment listings. My favorite is Magnolia/Interbay/Ballard/Queen Anne. How can an apartment be in four neighborhoods?

      • Frank Chiachiere says:
      • It’s even more ridiculous if you’re looking out of town. I’ve seen “Kent/Auburn/Des Moines/Seattle” before. Heck, even postage databases can’t keep it straight; I live in Des Moines, but when I put in my zip code (98198) a lot of web sites automatically fill in “Seattle.”

      • Andrew Smith says:

        I live in Des Moines, but when I put in my zip code (98198) a lot of web sites automatically fill in “Seattle.”

        Some times addresses don’t represent proper geographic boundaries. I had a friend years ago who lived in Lake Forest Park but his address was “Seattle” has far as the post office was concerned.

      • Yeah, but the weird thing is I have a Des Moines address — we have our own post office and everything — but some databases show us as part of Seattle, which we aren’t even contiguous with.

      • It’s because unincorporated areas have the mailing address of the nearest city. The Sea-Tac strip and Shoreline had “Seattle” addresses until the 90s when they incorporated. Old databases would still have the old addresses. I’m not sure about Des Moines, I think it’s an old city like Burien, but I also think I remember “Seattle” addresses there too. It may have to do with the precise boundary of Des Moines and SeaTac. I take it you’re sure you’re on the Des Moines side of the line?

      • Is it possible to get something other than “Seattle” with other zip codes? It’s possible they’re pulling up the metro area rather than the precise city, depending on what it’s for.

      • On the Eastside it’s Bellevue and Kirkland. Except in those cases it was later formalized with annexations.

      • Yep, we have old correspondence addressed to Kirkland prior to being annexed into Bellevue. Evidently Houghton was not incorporated because that was the closest Post Office. Kind of strange since Houghton retains a Community Council. But then Eastgate wasn’t incorporated and they got to keep a Community Council too. And my mom’s address was Tacoma prior to Lakewood being incorporated even though it’s closer to Steilacoom (incorp. 1854).

    • “Green Lake,” if you believe real estate agents, has now swallowed decent chunks of Phinney Ridge, Wallingford, Latona, Roosevelt, and even Maple Leaf.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        Yeah, when I was in high school the neighborhood I lived in went from being a part of Wallingford to being the “tangletown” neighborhood of Greenlake.

      • Sotosoroto says:

        “Green Lake” goes to the county line, doncha know?

    • If you want to define Capitol Hill topographically, then almost all of “Squire Park” (which I’ve never heard of until now, but whatever) is within Capitol Hill. The 90 ft topographic line seems like the best way to define Capitol Hill, since below that you start including First Hill, and above that Broadway and Pine wouldn’t be included, which is clearly part of Capitol Hill in my opinion. This 90 ft elevation line extends all the way to nearly Yesler and 20th. You can see for yourself at http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=47.60396,-122.30611&z=15&t=T

      Generally, I go by the neighborhood boundaries established at http://clerk.seattle.gov/public/nmaps/fullcity.htm, and looking at that map it calls Squire Park simply “Minor.” I actually like Squire Park better, maybe the city will update their map as some point.

      • Sotosoroto says:

        That ridge from Volunteer Park southward was originally called “Renton Hill” and/or “Second Hill” where Madison Street crossed it. And isn’t it called “Cherry Hill” by Swedish Medical Center?

      • By the time you’re to Cherry St., it’s not “Capitol Hill” anymore by any honest standards. It’s part of the Central District. Heck, it’s not Capitol Hill if it’s south of Union St.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        Heck, it’s not Capitol Hill if it’s south of Union St.

        I think that’s right. I don’t think, the border moves to Pike West of Broadway

      • Squire Park is way down in the south end of the CD, isn’t it? Between Cherry and Yesler, maybe even down to Jackson?

    • Ironically, Squire Park itself is a rather interestingly named neighborhood (I live just east). There is not a “Squire Park” anywhere in the neighborhood.

      I miss Denny Regrade as a name, since it was really a larger entity than the original Belltown, but am grateful that ‘West Edge’ does not appear to be getting much traction. And I still think of Cascade, as opposed to SLU. We should never let marketing people and developers come up with neighborhood names.

      The Central District is a hotbed of real estate agent misdirection. Not too many listings ever use the neighborhood’s real name. “Minutes from Capitol Hill” is a common tactic.

      • We should never let marketing people and developers come up with neighborhood names.

        Who do you think came up with the names in the first place?

      • Maybe there was a squire? It’s probably named after something in England.

        I never understood how the Denny Regrade became the Denny Triangle, or whether the two are synonymous.

      • I think everybody is avoiding “West Edge” to prevent it from catching on.

    • It used to be, that entire area was typically called “The Central Area” or “Central District” (shortened to “CD”). I think emphasizing the hill, as opposed to the area, was done by realtors. The other terms had certain racial or socio-economic meaning. In other words, it made sense from a demographic and geographic standpoint (basically, Seattle’s old red line). Capital Hill, on the other hand, emphasizes the stately big buildings (as opposed to the other side of the hill, which was not so stately). As the area has gentrified, the realtors want to emphasize the more appealing name, so as not to scare off the ignorant buyer.

      Getting back to your original comment, I wonder why the writer didn’t say something like “everyone in the C. D. feels this way”. Maybe because it would be total B. S. This looks to me like a small percentage of well to do folks griping about the fact that some ugly buildings (with lots of people) will be built in their neighborhood. Somehow, a more thorough design review is supposed to fix that. It won’t. There are tons of really ugly building being built around town that pass the design review just fine.

      Besides, there is nothing stopping anyone from building really ugly houses. The folks in that neighborhood should get out more. I can point to plenty of really ugly, big new houses that have built around town (and in the suburbs).

      The other arguments against this just don’t make sense.

      These are crappy places: Then people won’t rent them.
      They are too small: Then people won’t rent them.
      It increases density: You live in central Seattle, deal with it.
      It puts pressure on parking: Bummer. The alternative puts pressure on housing. Which is more important?

  3. This is an excellent and well reasoned post Frank. Thanks for writing it. I see some variation of “screw the new guy” in most of the arguments people have about new housing. Truth is — most of those people are good people that don’t realize that their bias can have a direct negative impact. Its a connection that needs to be made. Example: parking requirements = requiring higher rent.

    • Andrew Smith says:

      The parking thing is a particular example of the people not living there yet have no say. Suppose you live in a pre-war walk-up on capitol hill and park your car on the street. If they build a new building and don’t provide parking then there will be less street parking for you. So you oppose it, even though your building doesn’t have parking either.

      • This is entirely reasonable. There is enough onstreet parking for a certain number of people. If that number is exceeded, then there is not enough onstreet parking for everyone who wants it. This is a downgrade of the neighborhood for people already living there. Of course people will oppose their neighborhood being downgraded.

        Is this a difficult concept?

      • Right, because the only thing that’s valuable about a neighborhood is how easy it is to park.

        More people living in the neighborhood is inherently an upgrade, because those people generate valuable economic and cultural activity. At least some people might see that improvement as more important than whether it gets slightly harder to park in a neighborhood (inner Capitol Hill) where you’d already have to be a lunatic to rely on street parking anyway.

      • Norman, it’s a ridiculous concept. It’s also known as “I got mine so fuck you!”

        The city does not exist solely to benefit single-family homeowners who have bought into a neighborhood. The city needs to adapt to growth.

        Unless you feel like floating an initiative to build a big gate and a “Closed” sign at the city limits?

      • Another funny aspect of Norman’s post: “There is enough onstreet parking for a certain number of people.”

        The assumption underlying this is that people scale linearly with cars. In Capitol Hill, that’s very far from being true. It’s entirely possible that no residents of a new apodment building in Capitol Hill would own a car.

      • You can make a good analogy between a neighborhood and a bus, or a concert.

        At some number of people a bus is “full.” Then, the people already on that bus refuse to “move to the back” any more, and nobody else can board that bus. So, are those people on an already full bus “NIMBYS” because “they already have theirs so fuck you”? Or, are they reasonable to say the bus is already full, and they are reasonable to say they don’t want any more people on that bus?

        Or a concert. Say a small venue holds 1,000 people for a concert. Once there are 1,000 people in that venue, nobody else is allowed in, unless someone leaves. So, the 1,000 people inside “already have theirs so fuck you”? Is this wrong? Is it unfair to allow the first 1,000 people into the concert and then close the doors and say “fuck you” to anyone else who wants to get in? Is that unfair?

        Does the concept of “capacity” mean anything to you? If streets and parking are already at capacity, why is it “bad” to stop allowing more people into that neighborhood?

        For many people in this city density ruins the quality of their life. Why shouldn’t they try to stop the “central planning committee” of Seattle from ruining the quality of their lives?

      • Lack Thereof says:

        Parking is a private sector problem. It does not need a government subsidy or mandate, the private sector can manage supply and demand of that just fine.

      • If someone feels that “density ruins the quality” of their life, they would never have moved to Capitol Hill in the first place. Capitol Hill has been a dense neighborhood since before anyone posting to this blog was born.

        As Lack Thereof points out, the free market can manage parking capacity very well indeed. If there is not enough, it will be worth it to some developer to add a lot or garage. The taxpayers of the city do not owe you a free parking spot in front of your house, and it would be folly for the city to choke off its own economic prospects because a few more new arrivals bother you.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        At some number of people a bus is “full.” Then, the people already on that bus refuse to “move to the back” any more, and nobody else can board that bus.

        Yeah, but we’re not even anywhere close to being there. People are still getting on the metaphorical bus. People are piling in as fast as we let them. It’s like the government is standing in the door saying “It’s full”, and they’re banging on the windows saying “No, I can see plenty of room”.

        Does the concept of “capacity” mean anything to you? If streets and parking are already at capacity, why is it “bad” to stop allowing more people into that neighborhood?

        Because you don’t have to add cars to add people. People are moving in to these neighborhoods specifically because they won’t need cars as much, if at all.

        You can increase the capacity of a place by adding walkability and transit far beyond what it is capable of with cars alone. Why should we accept that artificial limitation, especially when we’re talking about adding residents who are disinterested in cars?

      • Hotels, restaurants, theaters etc. are “private sectors”, also. Yet they all have capacity limits, where the first people there have theirs, and then, when those private businesses are considered “full”, anyone who comes along later gets told “fuck you.”

        What does that have to do with private or public? It is a very common concept. There are capacity limits, and when they are reached, other people who come along are not allowed in.

        What an unfair world, right? This restaurant is full, you can’t come in. Oh, boo hoo hoo.

      • “If someone feels that “density ruins the quality” of their life, they would never have moved to Capitol Hill in the first place. Capitol Hill has been a dense neighborhood since before anyone posting to this blog was born.”

        Capitol Hill is a perfect example of a shithole slum in Seattle. I avoid that area as much as possible.

      • Norman, If you think Capitol Hill is a slum, I hope you never go within 2000 miles of the east coast. North Philly or the east side of Cleveland is a slum. Capitol Hill is what you call “a lively neighborhood”. I know you hate that concept though.

        Slums don’t have 1 bed apartments going for $1500+

      • “At some number of people a bus is “full.” Then, the people already on that bus refuse to “move to the back” any more, and nobody else can board that bus. So, are those people on an already full bus “NIMBYS” because “they already have theirs so fuck you”? Or, are they reasonable to say the bus is already full, and they are reasonable to say they don’t want any more people on that bus?

        Or a concert. Say a small venue holds 1,000 people for a concert. Once there are 1,000 people in that venue, nobody else is allowed in, unless someone leaves. So, the 1,000 people inside “already have theirs so fuck you”? Is this wrong? Is it unfair to allow the first 1,000 people into the concert and then close the doors and say “fuck you” to anyone else who wants to get in? Is that unfair?”

        Um, yes. I know I’m pissed off when a bus goes by packed to the gills because I didn’t go to an earlier stop.

        If you were a passenger on that bus or a concertgoer, would you oppose the bus being upgraded to a larger one or with more frequency, or the concert being moved to a larger venue? Because the quality of the bus or concert would be downgraded or some such nonsense?

        By what measure is Capitol Hill or any other neighborhood “full”? How do we define the capacity of a neighborhood? You’ve been talking about physical limits. Here, the limit is essentially whatever the people there want it to be. There are physical limits, but those limits are determined by what people wanted from the neighborhood when it was being built, and very little by practical considerations. If you want the neighborhood to be something else, something with a greater capacity, why should the neighborhood’s current residents impose their past decisions, made at a time when we assumed the planet had unlimited resources, on everyone else?

        In a broader sense, we all have to find a place to live somewhere, so we’re all in this neighborhood called planet Earth. In that sense, keeping neighborhood capacity artificially low is just hogging space for no reason. It’s like if I got on a bus, found a seat, plopped my backpack on the seat next to me, and refused to remove it even when every other seat on the bus is taken and the bus is SRO from front to back.

        “‘If someone feels that “density ruins the quality” of their life, they would never have moved to Capitol Hill in the first place. Capitol Hill has been a dense neighborhood since before anyone posting to this blog was born.’ Capitol Hill is a perfect example of a shithole slum in Seattle. I avoid that area as much as possible.”

        Yes, it’s such a shithole slum, which is why the only people there are incredibly poor people and no one wants to live there. Oh wait… (By the way, Seattle’s stereotypical “shithole slums” are not very dense at all.)

      • “the free market can manage parking capacity very well indeed”

        Why can’t it manage public transit then?

      • Lack Thereof says:

        “the free market can manage parking capacity very well indeed”

        Why can’t it manage public transit then?

        I dunno. Why don’t you ask the owners of all the failed privately-run for-profit public transportation systems from the turn of the last century.

        Capitol Hill is a perfect example of a shithole slum in Seattle.

        I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

        The actual slums in Seattle are the places where the people who work near-minimum wage jobs on Capitol Hill commute home to every night.

    • It’s possible some of them really don’t want more people moving in, even if for misguided reasons, or would prefer it take a different form even if that form was more expensive.

    • “Yeah, but we’re not even anywhere close to being there.”

      So, are you one of the Central Planning Commissioners who is going to make that judgement for everyone else who lives in Seattle?

      Sort of like Communist China? You’ll let us know what is good for us?

      • The people who claim “they know what is good for us” are the people imposing zoning that prevents the market from providing the density the area wants, not the people agitating to allow the free market to establish the level of density in a neighborhood.

        (Hint: that’s you, not me.)

      • Martin H. Duke says:

        You are associating the position of getting the Seattle city government out of telling people what they can do with their property with “central planning.”

        How Orwellian.

      • I am saying that neighborhoods should decide what is best for them — not some central planning committee.

      • Martin H. Duke says:

        And we are saying that property owners and potential renters should decide what is best for them – not a neighborhood central planner.

      • Norman, you’re arguing for each neighborhood to have a Central Planning Committee. Did you notice? Of course not.

      • I think the distinction Norman is drawing is that each neighborhood would decide what’s best for themselves rather than having it be imposed from without.

  4. Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

    “And the trend, in Capitol Hill and elsewhere, has been to oppose all forms of zoning changes, “micro-housing” or not.”

    And yet Peter Steinbrueck thinks we need to give neighborhood groups MORE power over zoning.

    • On land use issues, it’s safe to assume that the opposite position from the one Peter Steinbrueck takes is the correct position.

      All these years later, and he still remains infatuated with the kind of “open space” that just turns city blocks into forbidding, windswept expanses of emptiness.

    • I wrote to the city council when the activists first asked for this emergency legislation, and I said please don’t do this because they’re not speaking for all Capitol Hill residents, some of us are just fine with Apodments. They serve a neglected market niche.

  5. Andrew Smith says:

    The video at the Duane and Roman link really bummed me out. It’s worth noting that housing isn’t enough for these guys, they need jobs too. Congress meanwhile is taking the country off the fiscal cliff.

    • Frank Chiachiere says:

      +1

      Sorry to bum you out but yeah. We’ve wasted TONS of human capital out of a misguided fear that spending some actual capital to put people to work might cause inflation or misspending or something. It’s sickening.

      Can we get a debt clock that measures wasted human capital and potential?

      • But! But the free market ALWAYS knows best! Government ALWAYS makes the economy worse! The real waste of human capital has come from letting the government run the schools, the education system would be so much better if it were completely privatized!

        (It’s tempting to consider a conspiracy theory that the elites have intentionally kept the education system down to keep people dumb and unquestioning…)

      • the education system would be so much better if it were completely privatized!

        So, your faux outrage is against private schools?

      • I’m satirizing a perspective that would have ALL schools be private schools. As well as all of everything else.

  6. Great post! This is one the best arguments for affordable housing that I’ve heard in a while. Thanks!

  7. Has anyone actually said this on CHS or is this just preaching to the choir?

  8. I’m fine with building small housing if there is demand for it, but how come nobody talks about room sharing as an affordable housing option? There are plenty of room shares available at http://seattle.craigslist.org/roo/ and it can actually be a better living situation than renting a tiny place by yourself. I rented a room in a 6 bedroom house by Greenlake (along with 5 others that didn’t know each other until moving in) for nearly 3 years and it was great. I met my wife by moving into that house. And you can’t beat the value: $500 per month for a house a couple blocks from Greenlake, with utilities split 6 ways.

    Advocating that someone like Duane Taylor should be able to afford a home of his own while working at Jack in the Box just doesn’t make sense. He should really be renting a room in a bigger house.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      Alan Durning has an excellent series on this, one article being specifically about renting spare bedrooms. Spare bedrooms and house sharing are excellent options. But we need more available on the market than exist currently. How do you increase supply? Force SFH owners to start renting out rooms? It’s often difficult for people in low income situations to have the organization and stability needed to gather together and rent a house.

      aPodments effectively are new homes built specifically for this room sharing arangement. They’re replacing a home or two with housing for dozens. The spaces are a bit more formally separated than house sharing – for instance, everyone gets a bathroom.

      $500 a month is exactly what you pay in an aPodment in a new home, with your own bathroom, in a great location, and a month-to-month lease.

    • Andrew Smith says:

      Advocating that someone like Duane Taylor should be able to afford a home of his own while working at Jack in the Box just doesn’t make sense.

      $500/month is a lot of money for someone making minimum wage ($18,000 a year or $1500 a month before taxes).

      • $500 per month just happens to be 33% of the income of someone making $18,000 per year. That is right about the maximum that most financial planners suggest spending on housing should be, so it seems pretty reasonable to me.

        In fact, the Census Bureau defines affordable housing to be 30% of one’s income (http://www.census.gov/housing/census/publications/who-can-afford.pdf) so if this person making $18,000 per year could find a room for $450 per month, which is totally reasonable if you’ve ever browsed the room share listings on craigslist, it would be considered affordable.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        $500 per month just happens to be 33% of the income of someone making $18,000 per year. That is right about the maximum that most financial planners suggest spending on housing should be, so it seems pretty reasonable to me.

        Is that 33% pre-tax or post-tax? I just wonder.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        Rooms for rent are shared housing, something that’s distasteful to many. There are neighbor compatibility concerns much bigger than anything that two neighbors in apodments would have. It is currently the best affordable option for low-wage workers, though.

        Given the option of $450 for a room or $500 for an apodment, I’d take the apodment, even if it stretched my budget.

        Also regarding his annual income, anyone working in fast food at minimum wage is NOT receiving full time hours. 30 tops, 20 or less is more likely without any experience (they’ll have him on rush shifts). Full time hours in foodservice are often only available to management, and the extremely peak-centric nature of the scheduling means that it’s nearly impossible to work 2 part-time jobs without having schedule conflict. But as the City’s own study shows, paying 50% or more of income for housing is not out of the ordinary at all.

      • I remember when I was visiting San Jose in the 90s, multiple low-income families packing into single-family houses was seen as a big issue. They would park cars on their lawns, etc, in areas that didn’t have good street parking. So the city made a rule that you could only park cars on driveways. Many owners responded by simply paving the entire front yard and calling it a ‘driveway.’ I learned about this when they were looking at passing a rule saying you couldn’t pave more than a certain percentage of your front yard. ;)

      • There are neighbor compatibility concerns much bigger than anything that two neighbors in apodments would have.

        This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem in Seattle.

        Seattleites are historically accustomed to living without roommates, so the pool of potential shared-housing mates is small and errs on the side of… eccentric types.

        In San Francisco, New York, and Boston, where living with roommates well into your 30s is not only socially acceptable but standard practice for most, the pool is large and normal. Finding compatibility is not difficult.

      • …And ironically, the average shared living tenants in those three cities wind up with more personal space than they would in less-dense Seattle, where they would feel the need to seek their own separated units.

      • “$500 per month just happens to be 33% of the income of someone making $18,000 per year. That is right about the maximum that most financial planners suggest spending on housing should be…”

        The financial planners are probably assuming a large chunk of your income is going to car payments. If you don’t have car payments, you can afford to spend a larger portion of your income on housing. It’s simple math.

      • I’ve always wondered if it’s 33% after-tax or pre-tax and I’ve never seen an answer. I always assumed after-tax because I can’t spend tax money so it might as well not exist. That has usually put me around 50% the past several years although I’m luckier right now. But if it’s pre-tax, that would have put me closer to 33%.

      • “Seattleites are historically accustomed to living without roommates, so the pool of potential shared-housing mates is small and errs on the side of… eccentric types.”

        Transit nerds and urbanists?

      • Laugh all you want.

        In those other cities I mentioned, you’ll build entire social networks through your friends and their (socially adjusted) roommates, and you get a hell of a lot more (shared) living space for your dollar.

        In Seattle, with its insistence on tiny individual boxes and individual bungalows, you get to overpay for miniscule square footage and you become isolated and bitter.

    • I think the reason people aren’t talking about sharing houses and apartments is that it’s so common it doesn’t need to be mentioned.

      “In San Francisco, New York, and Boston, where living with roommates well into your 30s is not only socially acceptable but standard practice for most,”

      That’s because the rent is so damn high! Here people with middle-class salaries can afford a single apartment so that’s what they get. Or sometimes they share a 2 BR because it has more space and amenities than a single unit. Or they’ll go to Bailoland and get a big luxury unit. In San Francisco people with middle-class salaries can’t afford an apartment so they share or even double up in a room or rent a murphy bed in an apartment or rent a sofa. I remember I was floored in the 90s when a friend moved to SF and got a fancy dotcom job and I asked what his rent was. “There’s three of us and we each pay $800, and one of us lives on a sofa.” $2400 for an apartment? The entire apartment would have been $800 here.

      Of course, the opposite occurs in most of the country, where you can get a house for $100K so people who live in apartments here buy a house there.

      They don’t get a luxury unit in Bailoland because even if you go 40 miles out you still can’t afford more than a closet.

  9. John Bailo says:

    Is the question really “affordable housing”?

    Because the country currently has homes that can be afforded with the minimum wage. And young people often live in group homes so 3 or 4 can easily afford an entire home.

    However, the question seems more like is everyone entitled to live exactly where they want to live regardless of their ability to pay?

    • couldnt have said it better myself…if individuals can’t manage their own personal economic realities, why do we bend zoning restrictions for them.

      [ot] im all for government spending and funding of transit and agree that density has its place, but let it be organic.

      i guess if you dont like it, move to Vancouver BC where there are random skyscraper towers of apartments and condos sprinkled haphazardly across the Fraser valley.

      • if individuals can’t manage their own personal economic realities

        At risk of going [OT], the economy is still suffering from a demand shortfall. IIRC, the Fed is forcasting an NGDP growth rate of slightly under 4% for this year. The pre-recession trend was about 5% annual growth, and given how bad 2008 was, we should have had higher than 5% catchup growth the past few years. There are millions of people unemployed or underemployed, not because they want to be, but because there isn’t enough spending.

        why do we bend zoning restrictions for them… agree that density has its place, but let it be organic.

        Restricting zoning is the opposite of allowing organic growth.

      • Heh, I’d love to move to BC, but that’s much easier said than done.

      • Phil, it has nothing to do with federal economic numbers, it has to do with simple economic truths…if you want to live some place, but cannot because the demand is so high that the rent is more than you can afford, you shouldn’t try to move there.

        Zoning restrictions control growth, retain neighborhood character, and maintain property values for landowners. It is taxation WITH representation.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        I’d come at this from the other direction. If the demand is so high that rent is more than people can afford, let developers build more capacity.

        “Zoning restrictions control growth” And why exactly are you controling growth in an area with demand so high that it’s unaffordble?

        “retain neighborhood character” Freezing zoning changes neighborhoods just as fast as allowing zoining, if there’s high demand. You’ll notice your neighborhood gentrifying at a rapid pace, as homes become unaffordable for working families.

        “and maintain property values for landowners.” I’ll give you that one. This is the real core of NIMBYISM. I have mine, keep out.

        “It is taxation WITH representation.” Wait a minute. The “taxation” you’re adding is on the people that don’t live here yet. You’re causing design reviews, forced garages, restricted heights, etc. on developers that pass this on to new residents. You’re imposing taxes on people that have no voice.

      • Matt,

        High Demand = build more capacity…sounds like freeway hawk terminology

        ‘unafordable’ is a relative term, thats what John and I have been getting at. Zoning restrictions are just as much for new tenants as the ones that live there currently.

        Neighborhood character is something that a homeowner buys into, if you are a renter you arent paying community dues or taxes. You’re part of the community but with a dimished voice becuase you could up and leave at any moment, own it. If you’re in a mortgage and the value around you goes up, congrats, you made money on your investment.

        NIMBYism is often demonized, frequently deserving, but at the same time isnt caring about your neighborhood and being cautious about the policies that may change it something we all care about? NIMBYism is as selective as you make it.

        To the last point, if prospective buyers dont like the zoning restriction, garages, building heights, they don’t have to move there. If renters dont care for them, dont move there either, no one is forcing you. And this is full circle, you don’t pay taxes on property, why should get as much of a voice in the community as a land owner who pays taxes and for all intensive purposes, will stick around on average longer, caring more about their community. The most powerful voice anyone has is the one in his/her wallet, if you dont want to live in a community because of restrictive policy, dont live there, it doesnt get any simpler than that.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        “sounds like freeway hawk terminology” The difference is the cost/benefit. Freeways create sprawl and harm our planet. Adding density does the opposite.

        In the end, it comes down to what kind of city you want to live in. I get it – you want it frozen in amber. Good luck with that.

        I’d prefer a thriving city that’s growing, adding interesting businesses, better transit, new cultural trends. I want to be able to walk to more stores, have an easier ride to work, and reduce our region’s footprint on the planet. What’s your goal?

      • Phil, it has nothing to do with federal economic numbers, it has to do with simple economic truths

        It has a quite a lot to do with the macroeconomy. Here’s a simple economic truth: if demand is slack, and the economy is growing slowly, and unemployment is high, then millions of people will have trouble paying their bills.

        if you want to live some place, but cannot because the demand is so high that the rent is more than you can afford, you shouldn’t try to move there.

        So what’s Mr. Taylor supposed to do? He at least has a job in Seattle, albeit a low-paying, tenuous one. Seattle’s unemployment rate is still higher than it should be, but we’re still doing better than most of the country. It would be useless for him to move to an area with cheaper housing if he doesn’t have a job to pay for the housing.

        Zoning restrictions control growth, retain neighborhood character, and maintain property values for landowners. It is taxation WITH representation.

        OK, then you’re opposed to greater density, organic or not.

      • “Neighborhood character is something that a homeowner buys into, if you are a renter you arent paying community dues or taxes. You’re part of the community but with a dimished voice becuase you could up and leave at any moment, own it. If you’re in a mortgage and the value around you goes up, congrats, you made money on your investment.”

        Neighborhood character is not the only factor, though. There’s a reason the real estate industry’s mantra is “location, location, location.”

        You can’t have a small-town feel less than five miles from downtown. And if you do, it’s unrealistic to try to stop it from becoming more of a streetcar-suburb feel, and amounts to too much of an imposition on the rest of the metro area and the environment to cater to your narrow demands.

        We let parochial, narrow interests rule the day too much. Residual cold-war-era fears of communism and vague familiarity with Orwell-related buzzwords have prevented us from realizing that ultimately, we’re all in this together and our decisions and actions affect everyone else. There’s a reason communism was so huge to begin with.

      • You can’t have a small-town feel less than five miles from downtown. And if you do, it’s unrealistic .. fears of communism and vague familiarity with Orwell-related buzzwords have prevented us from realizing that

        You will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

      • ^That’s another thing that gets in the way.

        Funnily, it all reminds me of another dystopian novel, Brave New World, where everyone is brainwashed to spout platitudes at each other to reassure each other everything’s perfect in the new society. The instant you talk to some people about subordinating individual goals for the greater good, they start spouting “communism” and “1984″ and “assimilation” (never mind the identical houses that typified 1950s suburbs). I don’t consider Brave New World a great book (literally a third of it is exposition and the rest of the plot is rather disjointed), but it may have predicted the modern world better than Orwell did.

        We’re already seeing the consequences of extreme individualism, and it’s not even all that extreme; read some Hobbes or Rand to see where that road really leads. One of these days I’m going to write my own dystopian novel showing the oppressive effect individualism can have.

      • “if individuals can’t manage their own personal economic realities, why do we bend zoning restrictions for them.”

        Because they have a right to live is nice white, hip ‘hoods like Capitol Hill! It’s in the Constitution!

    • I think if you look at the parts of the country where housing is affordable at minimum wage, you’ll find that those are areas where even minimum wage jobs are hard to come by. My experience is that most places that have an extremely low cost of living have one for a reason — there are no jobs. Places like that are great for retirees on a fixed income but not much good for anyone else.

    • Buying a house means taking on a long-term mortgage. Do all 4 people intend to live together for 30 years? Can they all guarantee they won’t be unemployed during that time?

    • Ryan Carson says:

      Grrr. John, I don’t normally respond to your posts, but framing the issue as “entitlement” is really chafing. The issue with Apodments is that you have a willing buyer and a willing seller and that exchange is going to be disallowed if “everyone at the meetings” has their way.

      Moreover, and I can’t believe I have to state this again, it is those who are complaining about losing easy access to a publicly funded spot for their privately owned vehicle are the ones with the “entitlement” mentality.

    • Frank Chiachiere says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the response. I don’t think anyone’s “entitled’ to anything. I do, however, believe, that there is a shortage of inexpensive housing in transit-friendly neighborhoods. We can solve this in one of two ways: build better transit to more places, or build more housing in the current transit-friendly places. Likely we need to do both.

      If we don’t, we’re doing a disservice to our long-term growth prospects, IMO.

    • Lack Thereof says:

      Sure, the country has homes that can be afforded by people at the minimum wage. The problem is that there are minimum wage jobs right here in Seattle. Lots of them. We can’t import all our cheap labor from the exurbs; the laborers can’t afford the fuel costs of driving and there’s not much commuter transit out that far.

      Also not everyone working these jobs are young. I’m in retail management, the average age of a near-min-wage sales associate is somewhere around 30; once you get to that age you really want to move out of mom’s basement or the party house and get your own studio. Also there’s a lot of retail veterans in their 50′s or higher, just as many as there are teenagers.

    • All neighborhoods come at a certain cost per square foot. Regardless of what your income is, as long as it’s not zero, you can afford some about of square footage in any neighborhood. Yes, the amount of square feet in capitol hill someone with limited income can afford is small enough so that most people would consider it too cramped. But that’s not the point. Each individual should have the opportunity to strike an appropriate balance between space, commute, and being close to amenities nearby.

      By mandating minimum apartment sizes, you are denying limited-income individuals the right to make that choice. Yes, there will be many, many people who will choose an 800 sq. ft. apartment in Kent over a 300 sq. ft. apartment in Capitol Hill and that’s perfectly fine – it’s their money, it’s their living space, it’s their choice.

      But for someone who would choose the 300 sq. ft. apartment in capitol hill to be told by big government that 300 sq. ft. is too small and not allowed – leaving the 800 sq. ft. apartment in Kent the only legal choice, that’s what I object too.

      Now as far as character of the neighborhood, obviously every neighborhood is different. I can sympathize with rich people’s objections to building apodments in places like Lauralhurst, or next to the mansions just south of Portage Bay. Fine. But Capitol Hill is not like that. You already have residential highrises all over place. And whether such a residential highrise has this many or that many people living in it, at long as the building is structurally sound (the residents won’t all die in an earthquake), I say fine. I have also walked through capitol lots of times and seen some of the apodments with my own eyes. And they don’t look out of character at all with the rest of the neighborhood. You can’t let a few old people making a big deal over nothing define the city’s policies.

    • “is everyone entitled to live exactly where they want to live regardless of their ability to pay?”

      Everybody should have the opportunity to live in a walkable neighborhood with good transit. In the past all neighborhoods and towns were like this so you could live anywhere, near the city center in an expensive place, or in a streetcar suburb in an inexpensive place. The rich had their villas, but only the rich lived there. Now we’ve got a situation where only a small fraction of the housing is in “walkable neighborhoods with good transit”, and that drives up the price and makes it unaffordable to people without a high 5-figure salary. The poor are the ones who most need to be able to live close-in, because being poor in the suburbs is a significant burden: the buses run hourly and don’t run late, and they don’t go near your job. So you spend hundreds of dollars a year on a car, or you’re limited to a few jobs that happen to be on your busline.

      Part of the solution is Apodments and density in inner-city neighborhoods, and part of it is reorienting suburban commercial/apartment areas to be more walkable rather than automobile-scaled.

  10. “Who Wants Affordable Housing?” = Who wants their neighborhood turned into a slum?

    • Ah, Cultural Elitist Norman to the rescue! Haven’t you heard? If you can’t price out the riff-raff from your hoity-toity community, you ain’t livin the American dream!

      • Everyone basically wants their neighborhood locked in the state it was in when they started living there. Unless they’re homeowners, in which case they only want it to get more gentrified. “Don’t reduce my property values” is essentially the motto of the American NIMBY.

      • (Me, I’m a renter, so I vote against upzoning proposals. The last thing I want is to have the inexpensive apartment building I live in demolished for some luxury high-rise.)

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        [Orv] You’re voting against your own interests. Increased supply drives down the prices of the older apartments that didn’t get demolished.

      • Matt, it doesn’t work that way. The people who were in the demolished building are still in the market for a cheap apartment but now the supply is less. Add to that the people that are willing to move into the remaining cheap apartments because the neighborhood is now more desirable. And sorry, waiting 100 years for it to maybe become next century’s affordable housing isn’t relevant.

      • What does density bring to a neighborhood, but increased congestion, more noise, more pollution, less parking and higher tax rates?

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        “The people who were in the demolished building are still in the market for a cheap apartment but now the supply is less.” No. The people that moved into the new apartments moved out of their old apartments. Since the number of units increases, so does the number of vacancies in these older apartments. And prices go down.

        Every new home you build in Seattle means one more household can afford to live here.

      • Maybe so, but for me personally, it means I have to move, probably to a worse neighborhood that hasn’t been upzoned yet. And since upzoning almost always happens in areas close to urban cores or transit, that means moving farther out, too.

      • Also keep in mind that since Seattle is growing, overall, a lot of those people moving in WON’T be vacating apartments in Seattle; they’ll be vacating apartments in Los Angeles, or San Jose, or Detroit.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Sure, but they’d be coming in anyway. If we don’t make room for them they’ll be bidding on your apartment along with the people already here.

        “And since upzoning almost always happens in areas close to urban cores or transit, that means moving farther out, too.”

        Sure, if you want even lower rents. But remember – we’re adding capacity in those close-in areas. So demand for units in those areas is relieved. If someone with more money than you wants to move live close in, you’ll lose your next apartment to them unless you allow more building. Other than SLU every close-in neighborhood has a wide selection of old units.

      • Oh, I’m all for density — in other neighborhoods. But upzoning in MY neighborhood basically means, “we’re going to kick you out so we can use this land to build somewhere to live that you can’t afford.”

        That may make me a NIMBY, but I’m tired of moving, and no one really looks out for the best interests of renters. We’re seen as disposable.

      • Or to put it less generally: The only reason I can afford to live near the water, in Des Moines, is land is cheap there, which means by extension rents are cheap. And land is cheap there because the City Council has a reputation of being hostile to developers, so no one wants to pay a bunch of money to buy up the land there and put luxury condos and hotels on it.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        I doubt that. Des Moines is cheap because there’s not much demand out there.

      • The people that moved into the new apartments moved out of their old apartments.

        That’s crazy talk. Read what Orv posted. If they demolish his apartment building there is no way in hell that he’s moving into the new construction that replaces it. When they torn down the 1960′s rambler next door to us the old neighbors didn’t move into the new McMansion. Nobody with that income level could possibly afford to. They could certainly afford to take the profits and move out to Monroe and live on 5 times the acreage though.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Sure Bernie. Nobody lives in Seattle anymore, it’s too crowded.

        I don’t believe you’d claim that every person that moves into a new apartment is a California import – you know the numbers better than that. So if all of the people in the old units move to Monroe, are all of the new units left vacant?

      • What makes rents go up is a low vacancy rate. If you block too many new buildings from being built, it will send the vacancy rate down to 3% or less and that will push up the rent in your old building. The reason San Francisco is so expensive is that the vacancy rate has been so low for so long. In cities like that, you can’t just look for a “For Rent” sign, view a unit, and decide a day or a week later that you want it. Instead you show up and five people are lined up with a check ready to sign, or you have to pay an agent because the agents have locked up all the vacancies between them.

      • Nobody lives in Seattle anymore, it’s too crowded.

        It’s deja vu all over again. Not everyone that moves into a new apartment is a California import. Some of them come from Beantown. Many come from Mumbai. None of the people moving into new high price units came from the old dives that were bulldozed. Many of the people in the ones that were destroyed did have to move out of the city. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad but it is the reality that new development displaces those at the bottom of the economic scale. We just like to sweep it under the rug. If you own the property you’re compensated; sometimes extremely well. If you’re a renter… too bad, so sad.

      • If we don’t make room for them they’ll be bidding on your apartment along with the people already here.

        Another proposition you’re making that is absolutely wrong. I’ve talked to “kids” that are out here interviewing for jobs. The concept of where they will live is very prominent on whether or not they accept an offer. Thay’re not going to live in a “slum” that’s got plumbing inferior to what they lived with in college. I’m not saying it’s bad but it is a consequence that attracting the “best and the brightest” is going to put the squeeze on those displaced. Claiming otherwise is just plain dishonest. Fess up; you favor gentrification and stop pretending your “helpin’ the pho folk”.

      • “Ah, Cultural Elitist Norman to the rescue! Haven’t you heard? If you can’t price out the riff-raff from your hoity-toity community, run away to one that can!”

        FTFY.

        Realistically, the people moving into “luxury apartments” might be coming in from the suburbs.

        “Oh, I’m all for density — in other neighborhoods. But upzoning in MY neighborhood basically means, ‘we’re going to kick you out so we can use this land to build somewhere to live that you can’t afford.’”

        If I hadn’t seen your other posts I’d think you were a parody or troll. You’re being refreshingly honest, if willfully disregarding the Golden Rule / Categorical Imperative.

        “Or to put it less generally: The only reason I can afford to live near the water, in Des Moines, is land is cheap there, which means by extension rents are cheap. And land is cheap there because the City Council has a reputation of being hostile to developers, so no one wants to pay a bunch of money to buy up the land there and put luxury condos and hotels on it.”

        Then I guess you and Matt were talking at cross purposes the whole time. I suspect you’d have a very different tune if your old apartment was in Capitol Hill or Belltown.

        “Another proposition you’re making that is absolutely wrong. I’ve talked to “kids” that are out here interviewing for jobs. The concept of where they will live is very prominent on whether or not they accept an offer. Thay’re not going to live in a “slum” that’s got plumbing inferior to what they lived with in college. I’m not saying it’s bad but it is a consequence that attracting the “best and the brightest” is going to put the squeeze on those displaced. Claiming otherwise is just plain dishonest. Fess up; you favor gentrification and stop pretending your “helpin’ the pho folk”.”

        They are going to move to the metro area, though, because they want to work at Amazon or Microsoft or something. If we don’t build them fancy new apartments, where are they going to live?

    • Norman, I continue to think that you’d be much happier and less frustrated in a gated HOA community in the suburbs of Atlanta or Houston. No pesky transit sucking down your tax dollars, all the control you want over who comes into the community, and never an issue with parking. I’m not sure a city like Seattle suits your preferences.

      • LOL Seattle is great. I just despise all the a-hole newcomers who are trying to turn Seattle into another shithole like Chicago or NYC.

        If you don’t like Seattle the way it is, why don’t you go live in some dense shithole of a city? There are many around. Why are you determined to ruin Seattle?

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Funny, I’ve always wondered the same about you.

        A city without growth is a dying city.

      • LOL yourself at “newcomer.” I first moved here when I was 4 months old. I was here without interruption from 1976 to 2005, before I moved away and then came back early this year.

        You can’t keep a city exactly the way it is. Cities are just like people, businesses, or civilizations: grow or die. Any effort to say “We loved Seattle as it existed in 1994, so we’ll keep it exactly the way it was then” just means decay and rot (accompanied by San Francisco-style housing prices). If we don’t want decay, growth and densification are inevitable. What everyone else here argues about is how to make the inevitable growth and densification give the city the best results.

      • “If we don’t want decay, growth and densification are inevitable.”

        That is just the ultimate in stupidity. Everything can be rebuilt when it decays. A house can be replaced with a new house of the same size. That is replacing “decay” without growth or densification. You honestly don’t believe that can be — and is often — done?

        Like replacing a “decayed” bus. You junk the old bus — take it off the road — and replace it with a brand-new bus. You have a new bus without “growth or densification.” This happens all the time.

        Growth is like a cancer. Growth is destroying the planet. If you care about the environment, you must be absolutely opposed to growth.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        The growth that’s destroying this planet is in the exurbs, which is where you’re forcing people to move by not letting them into our city.

      • The thing about cities is if they’re not growing, they’re probably shrinking, and they don’t shrink well. Detroit is a good example. When a city shrinks you end up with more infrastructure than the tax base can support.

      • “The growth that’s destroying this planet is in the exurbs, which is where you’re forcing people to move by not letting them into our city.”

        Again, that is just flat-out stupid. All growth is terrible for the planet. “Smart growth” is the ultimate oxymoron.

        I am opposed to any growth, including in the exurbs. Growth is the disaster that is destroying the planet.

      • Norman, it doesn’t work that way, and plenty of Seattle neighborhoods demonstrate it. The one I live in is a good example

        I live (rent) in a SFH neighborhood with fairly large lots. Most of the housing in the neighborhood consists of medium-size houses built in the 1950s and surrounded by trees and gardens (which is what makes the neighborhood character special). But the neighborhood’s restrictive zoning has radically driven up prices, relative to metro area income, since the 1950s. The result is that the neighborhood’s character has dramatically changed for the worse, without any densification. New arrivals, who have a lot of money (as they need to in order to buy property in the area), tear down the existing mid-size 1950s houses and build ostentatious palaces that are as big as FAR will allow, because at their class level that’s what they expect. Renters and older residents continue living in the older houses, many of which are indeed decaying. But when those houses are finally replaced, the nice forested neighborhood of midsize houses will be gone and Medina West will be there instead.

        As an alternate reality, instead of holding the zoning the same and making lots so expensive that the buyers want to build mansions on them, imagine if you allowed subdivision and MIL apartments. You’d get modest housing that would be denser but more likely to keep the neighborhood’s socioeconomic balance the same and less likely to destroy the neighborhood’s character.

        Grow or decay.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        I am opposed to any growth, including in the exurbs. Growth is the disaster that is destroying the planet.

        Aaah, ok, now I get it. But you must recognize, pragmatically, that growth is happening, invited or not. Unless you close the borders and embark on a campaign of forced sterilization, there will be growth. More people will need to be accommodated.

      • Lots of countries are not growing. Germany’s population is declining. Do you think Germany is in “decay”?

        I would stop all net immigration into the U.S. right now. That is pretty much all of the growth in the U.S. The U.S. birth rate is not high enough to keep population growing.

        The world’s population needs to stop growing. This is patently obvious. Growth is a cancer on the planet.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        Not a newcomer. Been here since I was 5 years old. I hated the influx of Californians as much as anyone else, but the irresponsible sprawl I’ve watched happen pisses me off so much more.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        The U.S. birth rate is not high enough to keep population growing

        Got some bad news for you there. According to the CDC, in 2011 we had 2,513,171 deaths and 3,953,593 births.

        Our birth rate is the lowest it’s been in a long time, but our life expectancy gains have more than offset it. We don’t need to breed as fast to maintain population now as we did in, say, the 20′s.

        Closing the borders isn’t enough to stabilize the population. If you want zero growth you will need to do more.

      • Even if you stopped or limited births (speaking of China…) and stopped immigration (hmm… North Korea?), you wouldn’t stop growth in Seattle caused by people moving here from other cities within the US or from the countryside/exurbs into cities.

      • Why don’t you go live in some dense shithole of a city? There are many around. Why are you determined to ruin Seattle?

        These fifty United States contain exactly one New York, exactly one San Francisco, exactly one Boston…

        And about 470,000 places exactly like your precious Magnolia.

        Why do you insist on imposing your crushing blandness on the rest of us?

      • “Closing the borders isn’t enough to stabilize the population. If you want zero growth you will need to do more.”

        You are wrong. There is a delayed effect, unfortunately, but the current U.S. fertility rate is below replacement rate. If we stopped all immigration, population would continue to increase for several decades, it is true, but then it would start to fall, if the fertility rate remained where it is today, at below 2 births per woman in the U.S.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_fertility_rate

        “a population that maintained a TFR of 2.0 over a long time would decline (unless it had a large enough immigration). However, it may take several generations for a change in the total fertility rate to be reflected in birth rate, because the age distribution must reach equilibrium. For example, a population that has recently dropped below replacement-level fertility will continue to grow, because the recent high fertility produced large numbers of young couples who would now be in their child-bearing years. This phenomenon carries forward for several generations and is called population momentum or population-lag effect. ”

        But, the current birth rate in the U.S., if it stays the same or decreases, will result in population decline, but that won’t happen for several decades. And that assumes zero net immigration.

      • Martin H. Duke says:

        Of course, doing anything that might interfere with your ability to drive your car and park it on city property anywhere you please is an unacceptable infringement of rights. But forcing millions of people to live in dysfunctional nation states with no political rights and/or grinding poverty? That’s just good sense!

      • And you know what, Norman? That reduced population wants to live in DENSE CITIES. Not in your suburban oil-dependent hellholes. You are the past. Seattle is attractive to youth because it is densifying; if you don’t like it perhaps indeed Seattle is not for you.

      • “That reduced population wants to live in DENSE CITIES.”

        That is your opinion. That might be where YOU want to live. So what?

      • Norman is right about the population rate. It has been rising because of immigration, and because some immigrant groups tend to have large families. Without immigration the population would already be declining like Europe. Right now the birthrate is just about stable. Immigration is down because of the recession and post-9/11 visa restrictions. And because the immigration process is so slow and uncertain that people are starting to choose Canada and Australia and Europe instead.

        Jane Jacobs says, what keeps a city humming is creating new exports. That can be physical exports, first-class universities (exporting knowledge), replacing imports with locally-made products, etc. That makes a lot of sense. Having ever-new industries naturally leads to a population increase, while stagnant industries lead to stagnation, and eventually unemployment and decreasing population.

        In any case, population growth can have a less negative impact if you move toward urbanism rather than sprawl.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        How far away is that “delayed effect”? Assuming the birth rate doesn’t follow historic precedent and rebound as the economy recovers, how many decades before the death rate surpasses the birth rate? In these intervening decades, growth will continue to happen. As a society we will need to accommodate it, or take draconian measures to halt it.

      • Norman is right about the population rate. It has been rising because of immigration, and because some immigrant groups tend to have large families. Without immigration the population would already be declining like Europe.

        Last I looked (2010 census) Washington State was actually growing only because of home growth births. By immigrant groups I’m guessing that’s code for Catholic families?

      • “LOL Seattle is great. I just despise all the a-hole newcomers who are trying to turn Seattle into another shithole like Chicago or NYC.

        If you don’t like Seattle the way it is, why don’t you go live in some dense shithole of a city? There are many around. Why are you determined to ruin Seattle?”

        Funny, I think if they agreed that those places are “shitholes” they wouldn’t be trying to turn Seattle into one. Newsflash: Seattle doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

        You have three options. One, keep Seattle at the population profile it has now, and watch those “shitholes” have better economies with more people interacting with each other more while Seattle remains stagnant. Two, let Seattle sprawl out all over the place; see you in global warming hell then with half the population having two-hour commutes and farmland prices through the roof to boot. Three, cram more people into the space that exists now. In that context, it seems to me that people on STB would say that, if option 3 is going to happen, let’s do it in a way that doesn’t turn Seattle into a “shithole”.

        “That is just the ultimate in stupidity. Everything can be rebuilt when it decays. A house can be replaced with a new house of the same size. That is replacing “decay” without growth or densification. You honestly don’t believe that can be — and is often — done?”

        Cities don’t work that way. A city is a living machine with people playing their roles in the economy. Sure you can rebuild Detroit, but with what? Can you stave off growth or densification indefinitely that way? (Oh, and I shouldn’t have to mention that you can’t just replace the planet when it decays.)

        You’re not going to tell the human population to just stop reproducing, or to limit the number of children they can have (just ask China). If growth is inevitable, it has to be done in a way that limits its negative effects – and amplifies its positive ones, namely a larger and more skilled labor force. All you need to do is look at the history of the immigration debate to see why halting all net immigration is a losing cause – unless you’re arguing for intentionally causing America’s decay.

        All growth may be terrible for the planet, but some growth is more terrible than others. If you add a million people to Seattle, do you think it makes no difference whether they sprawl or densify?

      • “The growth that’s destroying this planet is in the exurbs, which is where you’re forcing people to move by not letting them into our city.”

        Actually it’s the growth in India and China that’s doing that. Millions being lifted out of poverty. Sucks, I know makes 3rd world vacations much less ‘picturesque’.

  11. By the way, New York City, which is the densest city in the U.S., also has the highest housing cost in the U.S. So, are you really trying to argue that density equals low housing costs?

    • Lack Thereof says:

      It is no secret that a Manhattan apartment is a prized and coveted thing. The demand is incredible. The supply is limited by zoning.

      Supply and demand dictate housing costs.

      • So, density has nothing to do with housing costs, then?

        Or, is it the higher the density, the higher the housing costs, a la Manhattan?

      • Lack Thereof says:

        Assuming a fixed amount of land, and a fixed demand for housing, density decreases housing costs.

        Imagine what an apartment in Manhattan would cost if there were half as many of them!

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        The other side of the equation is income. Incomes in Manhattan dwarf ours. That’s why people want to live there, and rent is high (compared to rent here). Nobody makes minimum wage there, and teachers make 3x the salary they do elsewhere.

        What matters is cost:income ratio. Density brings higher costs, but also higher income. Manhattan will never be as cheap as Kent in a $/sf sense, but even Manhattan can grow their cost:income ratio by allowing more supply.

      • The supply in Manhattan is limited by the high cost of development. The Donald can build but someone without deep pockets is shut out. Ironically the more density zoning allows the higher the barrier to development. That’s one of the reason no new apartment towers have broken ground in DT Bellevue since the crash.

      • teachers make 3x the salary they do elsewhere.

        It’s nice if it works out that way. It does for firefighters and police but teachers in our public schools have a problem in Washington because the State doesn’t allow local levies to compensate for higher cost of living. There’s virtually no teachers on Mercer Island that can afford to live there. And while McDonalds in DT Seattle might pay better than a McDonalds in Lynnwood it doesn’t compensate enough to cover the difference in cost of living. That’s because there is a ready supply of people in the metro area willing to take a low wage job. If you move to Williston North Dakota sure you can get a high paying job as a Walmart associate. Of course, if you just let the market work eventually employers will either move somewhere else (think Filson) or be forced to pay higher wages (McDonalds, Starbucks, et al).

      • “Assuming a fixed amount of land, and a fixed demand for housing, density decreases housing costs.”

        No, lack of demand decreases housing costs.

        The reason dense areas are expensive is that a lot of people want to live there (because it’s dense and has excellent transit), or have to live there (because their job is there).

        It’s not clear that two neighborhoods, each with the same amount of housing but one twice as dense as the other, and all other environmental/job factors equal, would cost different. Any difference would be because people are preferentially choosing the denser neighborhood. It doesn’t even have to mean more people like density in the abstract. It just means that currently in the US, the demand for dense neighborhoods exceeds the supply, so prices are higher, and if you build more of them people move into them. But one token dense building is not enough to necessarily thrive (Burien town center, Renton Landing). You need the other factors too for the most success (large dense neighborhood, lots of destinations, frequent/fast transit).

    • Doesn’t New York have rent controls? That would explain the limited supply.

      • New York rent controls don’t limit supply because they are simply bypassed. Most apartments in rent controlled parts of NY have multiple levels of subletting involved. It does make it a case of who you know more than what you know in finding a good deal on an apartment though. It wouldn’t be appreciably different without rent control. I know one family that kept an apartment in the bay area by subletting for years because they knew someone in the family would undoubtedly be seeking a place to live there in the future and trying to find a new place was so difficult.

  12. I was born here. I’m fifty. My father was born here. His dad moved here when he was a little kid. Saying you want to keep Seattle like it is, is beyond ridiculous. When I was a kid, there were nothing but farms in Redmond. When my Grandpa was born, Ballard was its own city (oooh, that’s an idea — now we’re talking!). Cities change, it is just a question of how. We can see more sprawl and more really expensive housing in the protected city, but I personally would like to see the city grow in a nicer way. I see lots of problems with the way we’ve grown, but I don’t see how putting restrictions on these sorts of buildings will help in the least. My only problem with these buildings is that they might be ugly. But solving that problem is not easy, nor will stopping these buildings do anything about that (less dense, but just as ugly buildings will be built).

    Requiring more parking will only make it more likely that the people who move into the neighborhood have cars. That will increase congestion (in that neighborhood). Restrictions on density will only push development to the suburbs. In the suburbs, cars are more likely to be needed or wanted. Thus congestion overall will increase.

    Of course, if we really want affordable land, less congestion and more parking we can try really hard to destroy the economy. I would start with killing off the UW. It has been responsible for all sorts of problems (lots of smart, educated people with ideas for how to build companies which only leads to more people wanting to live here — Acch!).

    • I would start with eliminating all tax breaks for Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, et. al.

      • “I don’t want to live in a city that’s a world leader in technology and building the engine of the world economy that allows me to live in the luxury I live in today! I want to live in a small town that does jack shit so that I can live in my personal fantasyland and keep everyone else out, regardless of what that fantasy implies about the wider world needed for it to exist!”

  13. Ba Bar is awesome. And I’m hoping that its addition to the neighborhood will encourage others to do the same. If there were a grocery store somewhere near there (closest up at Madison), it’d also help a great deal. But please don’t let any of that happen until I move up that way, as prices will then be real Capitol Hill prices. Thanks.

  14. I didn’t read all the comments, so maybe this was covered but I can’t help but feel like this post is trying to connecting a lot of disparate issues.

    Capitol Hill is expensive and will remain expensive, no matter how much new development goes in. It’s an attractive, desirable neighborhood and so people are willing to pay more (even for tiny housing) to live there. Hence the reason people want to build there. If Duane is poor, his best bet for finding housing is NOT Capitol Hill.

    I’m also with you that perhaps some people are a bit over-zealousness regarding the zoning restrictions and regulations in this city. But I also think that active and engaged citizens (something this city pioneered in the early 90′s) is why many of our neighborhoods are so wonderful. Its why we have innovative companies and smart young people flocking here regularly.

    I’m very sorry that Duane is hard on his luck right now. But at least he’s hard on his luck in Seattle, a place with a hell of a lot more opportunity than, say, Detroit. Of course, I bet he could find a pretty cheap apartment in Detroit.

  15. So, does anyone here want to argue that density means low housing costs?

    The top four densest major cities in the U.S. are:

    NYC
    SF
    Boston
    Chicago

    Would you care to argue that the top 4 U.S. cities in density have some of the lowest housing costs in the U.S., because of their high density? Does high density result in “affordable housing”?

    • Anytime you gave government-imposed regulations limiting the supply of housing to less than the market demands or otherwise interfering with the housing market, prices go up, which is exactly the case with all 4 of those cities.

      Also, you are confusing cause and effect. Regardless of zoning, density can only happen in areas where a whole lot of people want to live. When a lot of people want to live in an area, that makes living there more expensive. Even without government interference in the housing market, this is always going to be true to some extent because it’s much cheaper construction-wise to build a single-story home on a large plot of cheap land than to build a high-rise. That’s why nobody builds highrises unless land is sufficiently expensive, even if they are allowed to.

      Now, if you want to seriously propose that we find ways to intentionally make Seattle a less desirable place to live in order to reduce demand and reduce prices that way, you are welcome to your opinion. After all, getting rid of demand in Detroit did a very good job at holding prices down.

      But most of us believe Seattle should continue to remain a desirable place the live. And the best we can do do increase the supply of affordable housing is to get out of the way and let developers build the supply that the market demands.

      • Wrong. The best way to keep Seattle desirable place to live is to stop the development that is ruining it. All the new development has made Seattle a less desirable place to live. Why do you think most neighborhoods in Seattle oppose new development? Because it ruins their neighborhoods.

        I am not worried about the price of housing. It is other people on this blog who find that to be a problem. I am just pointing out that the cities with the highest density also have very high housing prices.

        So, obviously, density does not create low housing costs.

      • Lack Thereof says:

        Correlation does not equal causation.

        All the new development has made Seattle a less desirable place to live.

        That must be why all the new apartments & condos in Seattle are being offered for such bargain-basement prices and sitting vacant, huh. That must be why rents are dropping. That must be why on Friday nights the sidewalks on Broadway are deserted and the storefronts all closed up.

      • So, the best way to keep Seattle a desirable place to live is to keep anyone from actually living here? Even if that means making it a less desirable place to live (see your “get rid of tax breaks” comment earlier)?

      • In the Bailo world, the sidewalks on Broadway are deserted, and the storefronts are all closing up.

  16. So basically people are no longer allowed to fight for their vision of their neighborhood. If you object to some new project you’re a NIMBY, or if you object to the burj khalifa being built on your block you’re a conformity nazi, or, after reading this post, if you object to apodments in your neighborhood, you are a heartless bastard who hates the poor.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      You’re free to fight for whatever you want, Sam. But I’m sure it’s not a surprise to you that fighting against affordable housing won’t earn you the next Nobel Peace Prize.

  17. I hear this is pretty affordable, free market, dense housing:

    http://www.rdj4u.com/flash/city/favela/images/4.jpg

  18. Check out this fantasy alternate reality Seattle at Mitch s YouTube

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Who Wants Affordable Housing? - by Frank (12/21): Frank ponders how we can accommodate the droves of young people flocking to our city. [...]

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