59 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: A Plan for New Housing”

  1. It’s California style. Don’t let anyone else have what you have. If you own a house in Seattle, why would you want to increase supply and thus reduce the escalation in your net worth? Folks who live here also vote. The 100000 residents to come have no voice or vote.

    1. True, but people who rent also vote and, if you rent, increases to the housing supply is the only way to keep rent increases in check – and make home ownership in the city affordable someday, even if you can’t afford it right now.

    2. Seattle 2014 is merely a very expensive version of what it was in 1994, while many American small cities and towns are still that bargain that combines the amenities of culture with relaxed living.

      1. Like which ones? House prices are like most everything else. You get what you pay for.

      2. Does “amenities of culture with relaxed living” include frequent buses? Or do the buses run hourly and end at 6pm and don’t stop within a mile of your house?

        I took the Greyound through Pasco once when it was still running there, and I was glad to see a Gold’s Gym, but it was at the edge of town, with at least a half-mile of widely-spaced buildings to a more built-up area. So not a place you can go to every day without a car. To be fair, there are probably other gyms in Pasco more in-town. But this auto-centered mentality just irks me. Why would I want that, when I can go to the Gold’s on 97th & Aurora and it’s right on RapidRide E, with apartments and houses within walking distance. In fact, that’s how I first joined that gym, becuse of a friend who went there. He lived five five blocks away and worked at the Burgermaster — and walked to all of them… and a supermarket and movie theater. Why didn’t Gold’s do something similar in Pasco?

      3. Because the Gold’s Gym in Pasco didn’t have to pave their own road to the gym.

      4. In today’s modern apartment complexes, the gym is right there:

        Check out “Urban Center” in Lynnwood:

        http://www.urbancenterapts.com/photogallery.aspx

        Is it in the middle of nowhere? Yep..but that’s because it’s a somewhere in and of itself!

        And yes, you have to drive to the other things, but so what? Much of the time you can lounge, go to the gym, pool, gameroom…right where you are!

    3. At the risk of defending Californians, it is “everywhere popular to live”-style. Austin and Dallas are encountering the same thing even though they have more land and lower costs and property prices. Everyone who came before you is a stick in the mud who refuses to see the future; everyone who came after is a carpetbagger who just won’t integrate with the community. (For generic values of “you.”)

      1. I am having this argument with the urbists over at SLOG on a thread about Microsoft cutbacks. I keep finding listings for jobs, houses around the country that, economically at least, would let people have a permanent high tech job, but maybe not at sky-high rates. However, I can also find quality houses at costs that are so ridiculously low, you can easily live like a king.

        Here’s one I found in North Canton, OH.

        2 beds, 1 bath, 1,425 sqft
        For Sale $128,900
        Est. Mortgage: $494/mo

        A charming brick ranch built in 1950. Many updates to the interior and exterior of the home. New carpet, vinyl floors, ceramic tile, resurfaced cherry cabinets in the kitchen. Lot size is almost 1/2 acre with a vinyl fenced in back yard and storage shed.

        http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1014-Mcdowell-St-NE-Canton-OH-44721/62946156_zpid/

        And based on the “Zestimate” you could probably bargain them down several tens of thousands of dollars! And still end up paying one-fifth the rent of an Eastside apartment.

      2. John,

        The people who could stomach living in North Canton, OH already live there. There’s more to life than a backyard barbecue.

      3. It’d still be a multi-hour commute. Any idea where I can put my hands on one of those Teleporter Transit units some people seem to be familiar with?

      4. Good point, John, but I’m sure you can find a similar, if not better deal in Detroit. That there is the problem. We have an economy that is very localized. A handful of cities (and some small towns) are booming, but most areas of the country are not.

        There are areas (and Seattle may be becoming one) where people from all over the world push prices higher. San Francisco is certainly a place like that, as is New York. Move all the businesses there to Texas and you would still have high property values because of the intrinsic value of the area.

        I don’t think Seattle is that kind of place (yet). I think Seattle, like Detroit, is dependent on employment. Seattle has really low unemployment, while Detroit suffers. Comparing the two from a housing perspective is about as instructive as comparing housing prices in Oslo and Sao Paulo.

        I think it is much more instructive to compare neighborhoods. As much as the urbanists would like to think otherwise, if you have money to burn, you get a bigger place. So, with employment high, and money being singed, if not burnt, what type of place do people want? The property values, in general, go down, per square footage, as you head out of town. For example, a nice three bedroom place in Wallingford will cost a fortune compared to a similar place in Shoreline, even though the place in Shoreline sits on a bigger lot. Why is that? I can think of several reasons:

        1) Distance matters. Not only distance to work (a big factor) but distance to a restaurant, bar, playground, or in the case of Wallingford, zoo. But back to employment, whenever they show the statistics for commuting, I am surprised, but not shocked by the number of people who walk to work. I’ve known several people who do this, but I thought they were unusual. But in a big city, they are actually fairly common.

        2) Smaller lots are better. The biggest mistake that suburbs made is that they didn’t keep the lots tiny. Smaller lots mean more interesting, as well as more affordable houses. Walking in Wallingford, or Fremont, or Ravenna, or the Central Area is a lot more interesting than walking in Shoreline. I have nothing against the “mid-century” style of housing (which now, like a ’68 Impala, is interesting to look at) but it simply takes longer to walk by every house. A suburban neighborhood may be quite interesting, or quite charming, but you have to walk significantly farther to enjoy the same number of houses. But aesthetics aside, a smaller lot is simply more affordable. It also more desirable. Consumer reports did a recent poll on lawn mowers and the most surprising thing to me was that most people wanted less lawn, not more. Did they want more fruit trees? More paved walkways? More Sunset Magazine style gazebos, ferns, vine maples and little ponds? No. They simply wanted less. Less yard, less hassle, less time spent on lovely Sunday afternoons mowing the lawn, and more time relaxing with the family. The kicker, of course, is that if everyone had smaller lots, we would have cheaper houses. Nixon commissioned a study (way back when) to try and figure out how to lower housing costs. They studied everything (lowering the cost of supplies, labor, manufactured housing, etc.) and the number one solution was simply to shrink the size of lots. That was a long time ago, but I don’t see anything that has changed that calculus. If the suburbs had the same single family housing structure as the city, then it would use a lot less land, and be a lot more affordable and desirable.

        3) A mix of apartments and houses is good. There are plenty of very nice neighborhoods in Seattle that are mostly houses, but with a sprinkling of very nice apartments. The idea that apartments will “ruin” the character, and beauty of a neighborhood is ridiculous, especially when there are so many obvious counter examples. The main thing is to try and build nice looking structures, whether they are houses or apartments. It is very difficult to do that with regulation, and for the most part, we have failed. Requiring parking is one big reason. Most of the obvious examples of beautiful houses or apartments either lack parking, or have minimal amounts of it (an old house with a small garage).

        4) Sidewalks are good. When your choice is either to walk on a quiet street on the side of the road, or walk on a busy street with a sidewalk, you will probably just choose to drive (or move to another neighborhood).

        5) The Cul de Sac design of the suburbs is a big failure. I have to commend the person (or group) who thought up the design. Very clever, and on the surface, very desirable. The swirly design seems more organic, more in keeping with the natural surrounds. In reality, it just confused people. But even if you know your way around, it actually makes things worse for pedestrians. This is the great unintended consequence. While it is very nice to walk to a neighbor’s house (very few cars passing by) it is extremely hard to walk to a restaurant, bar, playground (or zoo). Those same streets that block car access also (generally speaking) block pedestrian access. Not only does that mean that pedestrians are forced (in some cases) miles out of their way, but they are forced to walk long distances (again, sometimes miles) on busy streets. Compare this to say, Wallingford, where one can walk from Gasworks Park to Woodland Park (a couple miles) without ever walking along a busy street. You would have to cross several busy streets, but if you walked on, say, Woodlawn Avenue, you would never have to see cars rushing buy you. This means that someone with a stroller, living half way in between, in an apartment or house, would not hesitate to travel that way.

        If we can make the suburbs more like that then we would all be better off. More affordable, and more desirable places would exist. As it is now, we are moving more towards the Sao Paulo model — those that can afford a nice place in the city move there — those that can’t move to the less desirable suburbs.

      5. Easy enough — just add a very progressive property tax. Square footage owned above what an “urban” person would need becomes prohibitively expensive. Lots would be broken up and sold off very quickly.

        Of course, you now have a Liberal Mayor, a Socialist Councilwoman and a host of Democrats –all installed to prevent a fair property tax from ever being enacted.

  2. The Seattle City Council is really a do nothing group. They are all nice people who manage their constituency’s expectations by doing just enough to make residents think they care. I suggest lowering their salaries to a living wage, constraining their staff budget to what is actually needed and setting campaign funding limits. While this would be hard to enact, i think people should carefully watch Ksama Sawant and see how she is doing with funding. Is she joining the status quo or retaining her purported values?

    1. 1. All our current city councilmembers were elected at-large. Wards were just passed last year, with a couple at-large slots, and won’t have their first election until next year.
      2. I don’t see how reducing council staff size will increase their productivity.
      3. We have contribution limits. What we don’t have, that would help reduce the appearance and actuality of corruption, is public campaign financing.

      1. Whether or not they are at-large, they are managing a constituency. My point was to reduce council member budgets, again, by reducing staff salaries. If you are saying contribution limits in terms of how much they can collect for one campaign, that is not the solution. My issue is how much they can spend in one campaign. I realize this is all fantasy but I will still say it. Never dismiss the possible.

      2. If the candidates are forced to have smaller campaign budgets, they will focus more sharply on perfect voters (which is to say, long-time homeowners). That would be bad for the renting class.

        LIkewise, how will reducing staff salaries or size lead to more productivity?

        I don’t dismiss the possible. I challenge the poorly-thought-out.

      3. Brent, the intricacies of campaign strategies will get you lost in a neverending process. You may think very well on strategy but there will always be someone with a different approach.

        Council members and their staff should be there to serve the public, not their careers. I have worked in government and been part of many campaigns where jobs were seen as a step in the career ladder. You could say that’s the way it is but I will just keep saying, that is not the way it should be. This is very carefully thought out but not a popular way to think. There is a difference.

      4. Government jobs should lead to better communities. They aren’t about you. People can live on $60K or less in Seattle but they will complain because of their consumer desires. There are many ways to make money if you want to get rich. Find a business that gratifies your personal need for money or prestige.

        Since you are one of the “worlds top comment journalists”, there is no point in discussing anything. You’re an internet troll.

      5. Don’t confuse me with Sam.

        Also, don’t presume to know why people want to earn more than $60,000 a year. Perhaps they want to raise a family. Perhaps they want to be able to afford to live closer to work.

        If you are proposing to spread the work among more staff, who are paid less, then we have something real to talk about.

        But as someone who grew up in El Paso, and saw the difference in quality between El Paso police officers and Juarez police officers, I have to say: Paying your employees enough that they have less incentive to take bribes is probably a good idea.

    2. Imagine that instead of a “City Council” they were a management team of a condo complex.

      What would their goals be?

      Making the units cheaper…or finding the highest value customers who would then fund their salaries?

      The City of Seattle does not “owe” anyone cheaper housing.

      If you want cheaper housing you have to move, period.

      I moved from New York to Pennsylvania to get a better deal, then from PA to Seattle. Then from Seattle to Kent. This year I’ve been looking around as far as Yakima to escape the crush of population.

      That’s what it takes — yelling and screaming about a bunch of bureaucrats who have no interests but their own and the people who back them is fruitless.

    3. They all have an agenda to represent solely their own special interest “citizen” group within the city and gain as much as they can for them. They aren’t looking out for what’s good for Seattle.

  3. Finland’s plan to make cars in cities ‘pointless’

    …planners are implementing a combination of Big Data, big public transport, many smart phone apps, and universal access to smart phones. Helsinki plans to use these tools to transform its existing public transport network into a point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025. By doing this they hope to make the need for a private car obsolete.

    “Kutsuplus” picks you up where you want and takes you where you want to go in small mini buses, and costs more than the regular bus but less than a taxi.

    http://www.treehugger.com/public-transportation/funky-finnish-way-make-city-travel-super-easy.html

    1. I live in Helsinki, and I heard about this recently too. It’s a little weird because the city has strict laws that cater to car ownership when it comes to land development. Compared to other cities in Europe the requirement for parking spaces in new residential construction projects is ridiculous. I commend them for pursuing this, but if they’re serious there are many more pressing ways to promote carless lifestyles here in Helsinki.

      1. The article says…

        Next year will see the first pilot of the system in one Helsinki neighborhood, in Vallila.

        So maybe you can report on it to us — in a year or two!!

  4. The video mentions workforce housing, but one of the leaders of SmartGrowthSeattle sent in comments to the city council saying they are too obsessed with workforce housing.

    Could someone elucidate on what the beef is?

    1. Has the Council done anything for worforce housing? I hear a lot about low-income housing, but nothing about the gap of people don’t qualify for subsidized housing but can’t easily afford those $1100 rents either.

    2. The biggest crunch seems to be in very low income housing. Units available to workforce are actually petty balanced with demand. I think the term workforce is just politically more popular, given American values on work.

  5. Seems to me, when it comes to housing, the more rules, the better. When I think of places with zero rules, what comes to mind is third world shantytowns. When I think of cities with lots of housing rules, I think of clean, safe, modern first world cities. Yes, it may be a little bit more expensive, but that’s the price we have to pay so our city doesn’t become degraded. Don’t let them ruin Seattle!

    1. You are right, Sam. The proliferation of Tent Cities is a direct result of loosening height limits.

      1. Brent, are you trying to tell me that we have no housing rules to thank for cities like Vienna and Stockholm, and we have strict housing rules to thank for Soweto and Dharavi slum in Mumbai?

    2. Take Germany.

      Very ordered society.

      Stable population.

      Most property including “private” homes are rentals.

      The government keeps rents very low to avoid using up people’s incomes.

      Advanced technology…they are building a green grid with solar, wind and hydrogen.

      Prosperous job market, low unemployment.

      What else could you ask for?

      1. And density and a strong urban growth boundary. And comprehensive transit. And strong unions. But that “density” part… you won’t find a Dallas suburb in Germany.

      2. Let’s forget about rural America for a second.

        How about comparing the “country” of Puget Sound to that of Germany.

        All the things you mention are here. But in Germany, they have affordable rents.

        Take Berlin:

        Rent Per Month [Edit] Avg.
        Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 604.16 € 444.00 700.00
        Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 428.19 € 340.00 550.00
        Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 1,249.42 € 1,000.00 1,500.00
        Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 876.21 € 700.00 1,000.00

        So a three bedroom in-city apartment there is a mere 1690.28!

        Wow, how many people spending $5000 a month for “city” living in Seattle would prefer that same deal, for $1700 in Berlin!!

      3. In Berlin (1 euro = $1.35) –

        Average salaries after taxes 1,784.24 €, range from 1,400 – 2,340 €
        Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar) 80.73 €
        Basic monthly (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment 180.34 €
        Monthly Transit Pass (Regular Price) 77.00 €
        Combo Meal at McDonalds or Similar 6.00 €

    3. Cities actually have quite lax rules when it comes to land use and zoning, compared to suburbs,

  6. During one campaign I was involved in back in Texas (Yes, I am a “carpetbagger”.), one of the volunteer coordinators told a roomful of assembled volunteers to skip apartments, because people in apartments don’t vote. Someone asked for a show of hands of all the volunteers who lived in an apartment, and everyone raised their hands.

    The same nonsense goes on with campaign consultants in this town, too. The “3s and 4s” is a self-fulfilling prophesy created by cookie-cutter consultants who cater to the homeowning class. Until we get more renters voting, zenophobia will remain unofficial city policy. That approach contributed to the downfall of King County Proposition 1 this spring, when there was no high-level plan to turn out renters in Seattle.

  7. I have great news! As one of the world’s leading comment section journalists, my readership here has just reached the 2 million people a day milestone, and I am now being followed in over 70 countries!

    1. I think the affordable housing will be the housing next to the rail yard. Yes, Sound Transit, who may be “masters of construction management,” aren’t too bright when it comes to rail yard placement. One of the proposed rail yard sites is right next to the Spring District, the new neighborhood Bellevue is creating to replace commercial and industrial part of Bellevue. Duh, oops.

      1. If the Bellevue Chamber won’t put up with a rail yard next to the Spring District, they certainly won’t put up with affordable housing there. But I could see them supporting a parking garage above the rail yard.

    2. How much affordable housing is there now? Or even, how much housing of any sort is there now?

      Do you have a better location for the railyard that you’ve been keeping secret?

      1. One of my proudest accomplishments in life is achieving a Bellevue zip code. Bellevue is a special place, and as such, I intend to defend her honor and integrity the best that I can. Furthermore, if the 1-90/I-5 interchange is blight, surely a rail yard is blight on steroids. Let me make myself perfectly clear: Blight does not belong in Bellevue. Just as a pig rendering plant doesn’t belong in Beverly Hills, CA, a rail yard does not belong in Bellevue. If there must be one, it should be buried or covered so people don’t have to view or smell it.

  8. I-90 closure

    I’m perplexed.

    Most of the highways are green on the WSDOT traffic map:

    http://www.wsdot.com/traffic/seattle/default.aspx?cam=1028#cam

    The cams show very few cars on the I-90 bridge.

    405 is clear
    520 is clear

    But the area south of the I-90 interchange coming into Seattle is red.

    With no feeder traffic or blockages and no bridge blockages — why is there Seattle traffic?!!?

    1. I drove through the I-90 construction zone yesterday afternoon without even needing to slow down. I guess people made other plans.

    2. People heard about the closures from the media, who hyped it up to the max, and adjusted their plans accordingly.

  9. Supply vs. demand. That’s the argument in the video, but there are other kinds of supply. Like water, power, places to put our garbage and treat our sewage, road and transportation space, and other infrastructure issues. Yes, we do need a housing and population plan, and that must lead to higher prices as new construction must fund their fair share of the new buildings. This happens now, kind of, but needs to be totally clear and apparent.

    More housing, which I favor, will not lead to lower prices if we are responsible enough to include the full and true costs of more people.

    1. New construction benefits everybody, not just the people who live in it. Too often “their fair share” means funding an entire new school or road or low-income housing, when that development uses only a few percent of said infrastructure. If you really look back at why that infrastructure is needed, it’s because the city underbuilt for decades, and pursued expensive-to-serve low-density development rather than inexpensive high-density development. We should look at infill development as a public benefit rather than a public liability, and all city residents should chip in for the infrastructure. If you put the entire cost on new construction as so many cities do, then you end up with developments that only the rich can live in.

      1. …Or no development, which was pretty much the case in most cities until recently due to ridiculous zoning requirements that have been thankfully relaxed in recent years allowing urban development to occur.

  10. What’s the story with the 47 bus? So is it going away entirely even if the measure passes? Are they keeping the wires up? I haven’t heard a clear answer.

    1. It will be deleted after the September service change. Metro will of course leave the wires up to see if we can buy it back. Look for a report on CHS from the last 47 run.

  11. Rode the Mariners Sunday Sounder service in again a week ago.

    I wonder if they’ll keep it — the trains seem well used.

    Ideally they would expand it for weekday, night games as well!

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