When Mayor Murray first announced his Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee, there was always a risk that it would be undermined by a lack of specifics. To get the committee on track for a May announcement, the mayor recently announced a goal of 20,000 affordable units over the next 10 years, nearly triple the current rate of production.
Funding these units will be difficult. (One would assume that the sometimes-maligned linkage fee, which Martin described last fall, will play a role.) Given that it costs $20,000 or more to build an urban parking spot, it would be counter to the spirit of affordable housing to spend scarce funds on private car storage. For the purposes of this blog, then, it’s interesting to consider how these 20,000 units might be oriented around transit and walkability, and what that might do to the transit landscape.
Ryan Curren, who manages the City’s Community Cornerstones program, told me that the city has financed “several really interesting affordable housing mixed-use projects at light rail stations” in the last few years, including projects at Mt. Baker Station (Artspace), Beacon Hill (El Centro de la Raza) and Columbia City (Mercy). All of thee projects feature limited parking and a mix of commercial and residential uses.
Financing and construction for projects like these would need to be expanded dramatically to hit the Mayor’s target. It would also mean acquiring more land near transit at a time when the cost of such land is at an all-time high.
“Land costs are an obstacle, specifically the escalating cost of land over time and land costs at stations relative to land located further out along corridors,” Curren said. Federal and state programs can help, but they’re limited.
Rather than chase the expensive land near current transit stations, the task force might consider how to bring frequent transit to more parts of the city. That would open up more neighborhoods to potential affordable housing. It’s encouraging that Prop 1 and Move Seattle, along with Metro’s long-range-plan, all nod in that direction. The housing task force could be another voice pushing for fast and frequent transit in more parts of the city.