No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.
No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This afternoon, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat had an excellent, but inartfully headlined, scoop: Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee (HALA–rhymes with balla) could, according to a draft plan leaked to Westneat, recommend doing away with the label “single-family zoning” and replacing it with the more inclusive “low-density residential zone,” which would allow more flexibility to build backyard cottages, duplexes, and other very low-density (but not exclusive single-family) housing types.

The new designation, even if it’s limited to a pilot project, as the draft suggests, would be a stunning rebuke to the supposed sanctity of single-family zoning, which applies to an astonishing 65 percent of all the land in Seattle.

The recommendation seems almost designed to fan the flames of single-family protectionism (ten bucks says the leaker was a disgruntled HALA member who believes he or she benefits from those protections), and Westneat (or his editor) didn’t do urbanists any favors by reporting on the proposal under the inflammatory headline, “Get rid of single-family zoning in Seattle, housing task force says in draft report.” (That headline has since been changed to “Drop single-family zoning, housing panel considers.” By tomorrow it may be “Housing panel considers change,” but the 500-plus unhinged comments on Westneat’s piece suggest the damage is already done.)

Those who believe it’s their God-given right to own a four-bedroom house on a 5,000-square-foot lot and never have to cross paths with a single apartment dweller on their route from house to two-car garage to office tend to see any incursion on that right (including a rule change that allows them to build an apartment for Grandma) as an assault on their way of life.

I mean, how dare those HALA hippies point out the historical fact that single-family zoning was originally designed to keep minorities and poor people out? Don’t they know that exclusive areas for wealthy white homeowners is just the natural order of things? The draft report begs to differ:

The exclusivity of Single Family Zones limits the type of housing available for sale or rent, limits the presence of smaller format housing and limits access for those with less income. Seattle’s zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the city’s goals for equity and affordability. In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic level of Single Family zoning is no longer either realistic or sustainable. HALA recommends allowing more flexibility and variety of housing in Single Family zones to increase the economic and demographic diversity of those who are able to live in these family oriented neighborhoods. In fact, HALA recommends we abandon the term “single family zone” and refer to such areas as low-density residential zones

But as much as I love the symbolic potency of a rule change designed to drive single-family protectionists apoplectic, there are so many other reasonable recommendations in the HALA plan that I hate to dwell on the most sensationalistic. Among the lower-profile HALA recommendations are two other relative bombshells that would probably have a much greater immediate, on-the-ground impact than the new low-density zoning designation.

The first is increasing maximum heights in all multifamily areas; the second, getting rid of minimum parking requirements everywhere.

The draft report recommends increasing the existing 65-foot zoning designation to a 75- or 85-foot zone and considering the same increase in 30-foot zones, to allow builders to max out the practical limits of wood-frame construction. These upzones would require changes to the city’s building code and, potentially, approval of new technologies like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), which allows taller wood-frame construction, to make six- and seven-story woodframe buildings possible. The recommendations also include removing barriers to small apartment and condo buildings in low-rise zones, and encouraging rules that replace empty lots with multifamily housing.

And it recommends “reforming parking policies” to acknowledge the fact that car ownership is declining, by reducing parking requirements for all multifamily housing; redefining “frequent transit service” so that more multifamily developments can be built without excess parking; and eliminating parking requirements not just for backyard cottages but potentially for single-family homes as well. Justifying that last proposal, the committee writes,

Requiring one off-street parking space for every single family home is an artifact of an earlier era and is not a necessary or effective requirement. The space occupied by an off-street garage or parking space could be used instead to accommodate space for housing, including an accessory dwelling unit. The most common parking configuration – a driveway and curb cut accessing a garage from the street – occupies curb space that could be used to provide a parking space on the street. A 1:1 parking requirement eliminates exactly as many on-street spaces as it mandates off the street, causing no increase in parking supply, bisecting sidewalks with countless driveways, and gobbling buildable housing space for redundant (and expensive) parking. Therefore, the City should consider removing the parking requirement for single family homes.

When’s the last time you heard parking referred to as “gobbling” up space for housing?

There’s plenty more to like in the draft proposal—including a new buffer multifamily zone between single-family and commercial areas; expansion of urban village boundaries; increasing the amount of multifamily land across the city, and expanding funding options for affordable housing, along with many incremental changes that would lower barriers to entry for housing–but the connective tissue joining all of those elements is an eye toward long-term improvement, not instant gratification.

Gentrification and displacement may both increase in the short term, but upzoning land now will, the report argues, “help to stem rent increases over the long term. This strategy should be viewed as an investment in Seattle’s overall housing market affordablity for both current and future generations.” Translation: Don’t focus on the short-term loss of the dilapidated but affordable apartment that’s being torn down for transit-oriented development. Instead, see transit-oriented development as a long-term gain.

Similarly, transition zones between existing single-family and commercial areas may allow more density to “encroach” on single-family areas in the short term, but as the whole city densifies, they’ll serve as a needed buffer between more intense commercial uses and single-family areas.

Given the uproar over the very idea of putting single-family zoning on the table, it’s unclear whether the draft HALA recommendations will emerge from the committee in anything like their current form. But if they do, it could be a game changer for a city where urbanism has been a battle of tiny, incremental gains often offset by monumental backlashes from those who benefit from the established order.

224 Replies to “Draft Affordable Housing Recommendations: Far Beyond “Abolish Single-Family Zoning””

  1. Hey, not everyone in that comment section was unhinged. But figuring the tide of “you’ll pry my single family home out of my cold dead hands” was tough sledding.

    Seriously, though, this is an excellent proposal. Allowing the sorts of classic duplexes and small apartment buildings that were built from the 1800s up to the 1960s to be built again would be a good start on changing the dysfunctional situation where 3000 sq ft single family box home/four pack auto court townhouse/five over one mixed use are the only economically plausible housing development.

    And the existing ADU rules are ridiculous. We could be adding a large number of units painlessly just with a modest liberalization of those.

    1. One of the effects of removing the 1:1 parking ratio, with the right zoning options available, could be an actual increase in the single-family homes we hold dear. Why? Right now, intensifying land with small-lot, cottage and townhome/”duplex” housing is difficult because the parking on site consumes so much of the land, including the pavement needed for on-site driveways, often displacing garden space – and to me what is the point of single-family living without green space?. Consider the townhouse “four packs” which have been built around Seattle. The first floor of these townhomes is mostly occupied by a garage (limiting the possibility of accessible living) while the center of the site is covered with a driveway – despite having street frontage and (usually) alleyway frontage that could be used for parking. This is a far cry from the classic rowhomes that had their own gardens.

      In an urbanizing city with increasingly high housing prices, many of us don’t want the choice between apartment living and moving to a far flung suburb. While I’m not for tearing down our classic single family neighborhoods, I think we can accommodate much more single-family housing in the form of cottage clusters and rowhomes, with their own yards; we can also accommodate accessory cottages. (One idea would be to improve our laneways and allow for subdivided owner-occupied small homes on small lots, rather than rental cottages). There is no reason to lock in the 5,000 sq. ft. lot when many places do single-family living on smaller lots – whether the 33′ wide lots in Vancouver, the 20′ wide rowhomes back east, or in Japan where, in a crowded nation, many families live in their own homes on as little as 1,500 sq. ft.

    2. Sounds good. Now, can they authorize zero-foot side setbacks (given sufficient “firewall” designs and sprinkler systems) in order to re-legalize ROW HOUSES?

    3. The only problem is the idea that builders will build classic duplexes and apartment buildings like in the 1960s. All the things I see going in now have very little setback, are taller than the surrounding buildings and don’t have pitched roofs so they block the light to adjoining properties more than the classic style you’re talking about. If we leave it up to developers we’re going to end up with an ugly hodgepodge and no rules to keep them in check.

  2. Murray needs to title this the “No One Is Forcing You To Sell Your House Or Build A Duplex On Your Front Lawn Yeesh Aren’t You The Ones Screaming About Your Freedoms All The Time?” Modest Zoning Revision Act.

    1. Hmmm, it must be time for Hiz Honor to take a well deserved vacation and let HALA implode. Listen to the deafening silence of his support on this one.

    2. @dp
      Haha totally. Our nimbys don’t deserve the name, because they aren’t trying to stop projects on their land. They are trying to stop projects on your land. Maybe “not in your back yard” would be better.

      1. There’s an acronym for that:

        Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere, Near Anyone

    3. Brought to you by the “Forcing Seattle’s Dynamic Neighborhoods to Remain Static Committee”

      1. Or maybe better “We Love Seattle’s Dynamic Neighborhoods So Much We Force Them To Be Static Committee”.

  3. Pinch me I must be dreaming. This sounds like what I was hoping Seattle would do someday. And it comes right when the city is switching to council districts and the single-family reactionists are hoping to cement their power in 80% of the council positions.

    This draft, even if the final is watered down, marks the first time the city has acknowledged that we need more housing choices and a general moderate density increase (rather than just a few expensive highrises) to avoid suffocating the city into a rich people’s museum.

    I’ve been thinking that someday I may want a small house with a small yard for a dog and vegetable garden, but that I’d probably have to move to Kent or Spokane or Wenatchee to afford it, and then where would I work and how difficult would it be to get around without a car? It would be really nice to not have to leave Seattle for it. I had an opportunity to buy a duplex in 1990, which perhaps I should have. Does that mean that the people who did buy the duplex 1990 deserve to live in Seattle, and the rest of us don’t?

    1. which perhaps I should have”

      Ya think? You would have roughly tripled your investment; more if it was in what was then a “disfavored” district of the City. Because, with exception of Georgetown and South Park, there are no disfavored districts today.

    2. Creating more housing choices for middle-class people has nothing to do with creating any units affordable to people in the service economy who can only afford $500 in rent. Housing for seniors and people with disabilities living on Social Security and workforce housing for people earning less $40,000 can only be built with subsidies. The HALA recommendations are shaky on these funding sources.

  4. Continuing. Even if the draft fails, it allows a movement to coalesce, and documents that these things have been successful in other cities. That would help us to keep pushing for them one by one. We need a movement like that about as much as we need a movement for transit, because this is really the other half of the transit/land-use seesaw (or pie, or whatever metaphor).

  5. I would love to see someplace in the northwest accomplish this.

    I spent some time recently in Outer Magnolia. Even there, you can find a few older apartment buildings, and a couple I talked to that had recently moved from the Midwest were living in a daylight basement of a place that should probably be considered a duplex. An apartment building is right next door to the DADU were I stayed.

    Once one place changes its zoning this way and the world forsn’t come to a firey end, it will becvasytly easier for othrrs to follow. Maybe someday these areas will reflect the mixed building patterns that were going on before the more restrictive zoning went into effect.

      1. Bus went over a pothole.
        Odd thing is that the spell checker accepted it.

  6. What density opponents need to understand is, if you upzone a large area like an entire city, that doesn’t mean that the entire city will become skyscrapers because demand is still finite. It just gives wider choices where to put the same number of units, and it makes small developments viable again. Small developments (4-8 unit apartments, duplexes/row houses) are less expensive than large developments, easier for mom and pop to do, and less obtrusive in the neighborhood. It also gives homeowners more choices what to do with their land rather than rigidly dictating a height/FAR limit.

    1. It also means a lot less disruption to a particular neighborhood. The neighborhoods that are changing really quickly are doing so because, by and large, they are the only ones that are allowed to change. If lots of small apartments or ADUs are squeezed into a lot wider area, then there is little need to tear down houses like this:
      Convert that beauty to an apartment; a few blocks away (in a SFH zone) do the same thing. You could do the former right now, but there is huge demand for housing because you can’t do the latter. That, and the current requirement for parking lead to tearing down houses like that, because it makes financial sense. Change the rules and houses like that stand a fighting chance.

      A widespread change like this will also allow areas to grow more slowly over time, which means that they will benefit from a wider variety of architectural styles. For most of what people claim they want (aesthetics, preservation, walkable communities) this is a huge win. Those that want more parking or those that oppose density on its face (they simply want fewer people in their neighborhood) are simply out of luck.

    2. It really steams me that Westneat and others get away with invoking the “capacity for 300,000 more people in Urban Villages under existing zoning” canard.

      Yeah, if you burned every existing inch of them to the ground and maxed out the zoning with identical prefabricated breadloaves!

      This is the great irony of those who oppose broader zoning revisions, yet complain about the loss of all they recognized and loved in Seattle. You want to wander down to Capitol Hill or Fremont one day and literally not recognize anything? Well pushing to keep doing what we’ve been doing is an excellent way to achieve that!

    3. Well, one thing it means is that there would be no change in upscale neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Windermere, Magnolia Bluff, Washington Park, etc. Maybe a few more accessory dwelling units, but no townhouses or cottage blocks. It would be the downscale single-family neighborhoods that would absorb the changes, and if this move succeeds, there would indeed be changes — there are precious few empty and developable single-family lots; existing houses would be torn down to be replaced by townhouses, tri-plexes, etc. And after 10-20 years, what percentage of our additional housing would come from formerly-single-family zones? Enough to warrant all the fuss? My guess is probably not.

      1. Roger, most of what you’ve said isn’t necessarily true. The changes could very well apply across the city – the HALA draft suggests a pilot project, but leaves open all alternatives including both immediate and eventual application in SF zones across the city.

        As for the “downscale” SF neighborhoods, I direct you to page 21 in the draft, which outlines many potential options for supporting vulnerable homeowners, including city acquisition of properties for sale, geographically targeted preservation strategies, and mortgage assistance.

      2. Erica, I think what he was trying to get at was that even if the zoning changes did apply throughout the city, actual redevelopment would be more likely to happen in “downscale” neighborhoods. There are very few vacant lots in any single-family neighborhoods, so most new development would come from removal and replacement of existing buildings. It makes much more financial sense to tear down a small, dilapidated house than a large, well-maintained one. Therefore that’s where most of the new duplexes would end up being built.

      3. Thanks, Eric, that’s was my point exactly. The rezones may be applied citywide, but the upscale neighborhoods will be immune from the effects, precisely because they are upscale.

      4. I don’t know about that. The closest thing we have to a test case might be neighborhoods that aren’t strictly SF-zoned but have lots of standalone houses. Parts of Ballard and Fremont fit the bill, and developers aren’t exactly avoiding duplexes and townhouses there because of high land costs — yes, it costs more to invest, but offers more profit opportunity!

      5. Sure, single-family homes have been demolished in Fremont’s multi-family zones in favor of townhomes. The same thing has happened to single-family homes in multi-family zones all over the city! There’s just not very much LR-zoned land, and demand for new housing is high enough that a developer can profit from purchasing pretty much any single-family home in one of those zones and replacing it with 3-4 townhomes.

        All other things being equal, location does matter, but the price and quality of the existing structure also play a role. Suppose a new duplex might sell for $1 million in Fremont but that exact same building would only go for $800,000 in Rainier Beach. If a developer has to choose between removing a $700,000 house in Fremont or a $400,000 house in Rainier Beach, which looks like the more attractive investment?

      6. Eric is exactly correct. This proposal insulates the wealthy from any change and will do nothing but increase their property values. Those in “urban village” areas will feel the full brunt of this. This whole proposal is a bit like those “traffic calming’ devices, meant to slow down traffic in local streets. All that does is make the traffic awful on the main arteries and screw the people whose house are on them.

    4. Zoning that allows one or two stories beyond the existing building will never be built, because the cost of replacing the building far exceeds what you’d get with one additional story (1-4 units). Broadway had little construction with 4-story zoning, and two supermarket lots remained vacant; then it was rezoned to 6 stories and immediately several buildings went up. The most unfortunate consequence was the building at the end of the block (Broadway & Roy) which was built just before the rule change so it will remain 4 stories for a long time (exactly the problem with those houses in lowrise zones), thus being a long-term loss of units and looking ridiculously short compared to the other buildings.

      1. The exception is if the original building was originally designed to accomodate the addition of extra stories. In the 19th century with masonry construction (and no zoning) this was actually pretty common. We’re benefitting from this in my home town.

        In the 20th century with wood-frame or steel construction, and zoning, nobody did this, because not only does the ‘overbuilding’ cost extra upfront, but if the zoning prohibits the extra stories, why plan for them in advance?

        Actually, this is another reason to get rid of height limits. With no height limit, a developer may build a one-story or two-story building, but speculatively add provisions to allow it to be made taller later if the market changes — as they did in the 19th century. With height limits, nobody would do that.

  7. These are good proposals but I think they would fare better if they were phrased not as getting rid of something but as policies that increase the freedom of property owners about how they improve their property. It’s not about “abolishing” parking restrictions. It’s about allowing the choice to forego a garage to add more living space.

    Also, I just have to mention that the single-family home uses to illustrate this post was my grandparents’ home for decades. It’s on Beach Drive in West Seattle.

    1. I agree. That is one the reasons I like to call it “liberalizing the zoning rules”. In a town like this, that sounds pretty good (everyone likes liberals, right?).

      Nice house.

    2. “Liberal” has at least three meanings. Internationally it means supporting democracy, free speech, trade, etc. In US politics it means supporting social programs and minorities. “Liberate” is closer to the word’s origin, freedom (opposite: bondage).

      Likewise, only in US politics is conservative the opposite of liberal. Conservative in US politics means opposing social programs and taxes and supporting WASP privilege. Internationally it means supporting incremental reforms (opposite: revolution).

      1. True, but at least in Australia the “Liberal” Party is anything but, at least as we would see it. Labor (yes, spelled the American way) is the “liberal” party there.

        IIRC the old British Liberal Party was somewhere between the Tories and Labour, but it’s been gone the better part of a century now.

  8. One interesting impact of the planned bus restructure for the opening U-link is that even if none of the rules change, a lot of neighborhoods in north Seattle will suddenly qualify for the “proximity to frequent transit” exemption to the parking requirements that don’t qualify today. Especially if the definition of “frequent transit” excludes route combinations like the 71/72/73 because the individual routes that comprise it aren’t frequent enough.

  9. Headline is now: “Rethink single-family zoning? Seattle officials open to some changes”

  10. I wish the committee considered/allowed to consider a heavy city tax on all rent increases above 20% (or other number) to be used for relocation assistance for those priced out of their own apartment., low income housiing, etc

    1. or just give them a monthly ORCA pass to make the move. Can you still move furniture on Link?

      1. my suggestion might deter some of the larger rent increases we hear about, causing folks to move out of their own homes.

      2. MDNative,

        If they’re paying rent, by definition they’re not living “in their own homes”.

    2. Then, they’ll just raise the rent by some huge amount right before the tax officially kicks in, while providing a temporary rebate to their renters so they don’t lose them. Then, each year, gradually reduce the rebate as the market goes up, until it’s all gone. That way, the landlord still gets to effectively raise the raise the rent each year, but doesn’t have to pay the tax until a long time.

      Anytime you try to propose rules about stuff like price increases, you will always end up with gamesmanship like this.

      1. This is similar to what happened when Europe tried to do cap and trade for carbon emissions. They set the cap based on each industry’s existing emissions, so what do the big companies do right before the cap goes into effect? You guessed it – go out of their way to increase their pollution so that they get more carbon credits initially, avoiding the need to spend money to actually reduce their pollution later.

        Whether it’s carbon or rent we want to reduce, people will game the system the same way.

      2. I was referring to current renters, who are having their rent doubled or increased 40%. New tenants, they could charge whatever they want.

      3. sounds like more failed rent control ideas, just pushes the burden on other renters who now have to pay more to support someone else’s ridiculous deal

      4. That’s the bad kind of rent control, where it only applies to a limited number of buildings or to people who moved in before a certain year. The result is that a few people get an extraordinary deal, and those younger than them or who moved more recently pay much more. But that’s not really transferring the cost to the other people because they’re not subsidizing the rent-controlled units. Since the rent-controlled units are an ever-shrinking fraction of the total units in that scenario, or the rent goes up to market rate whenever somebody moves, it doesn’t have much effect on the market rate (the price the others pay). The problem is that they don’t get the deal while others do.

        A better rent control scenario would be citywide, or even better regionwide. Allow rents to increase based on inflation or median wage change, and perhaps well-known things like property tax increases and a blanket “maintenance-encouragement” amount. Don’t allow the price to reset just because somebody moves out and in, because that hinders people from moving and encourages them to hold on to units they don’t need and sublease them, and screws people who have to move or just came to the area or just turned 18 so they don’t have an existing unit.

      5. or to people who moved in before a certain year. The result is that a few people get an extraordinary deal, and those younger than them or who moved more recently pay much more

        Like my old apartment in Boston, where I paid $1,350 but the retired professor across the hall from me paid $400 for the same size unit!

      6. Not sure how that happened, rent control in Boston having been eliminated by statewide referendum shenanigans in 1994.

      7. And to get around the state law, landlords could increase more than the fixed allowed %, but they will be taxed on it.

    3. What’s contained in the draft is what they came to consensus about. There are issues at the very bottom of the report on which no consensus was achieved. Those latter issues were a product of the mix of the committee: truly affordable housing (and low-income housing) advocates v. market-rate developers/housing funders.

  11. This is such a clearheaded and practical plan. I hope HALA’S final recommendations are this good.

  12. The density and parking proposals are really great. Increasing density through a variety of new housing would even alleviate NIMBY concerns about out-of-character structures in neighborhoods (of course they’ll find new things to complain about).

    However, the rest of the proposal is such a shameless giveaway to developers that it’s hard to take seriously. The group points out that Seattle tends to support housing levys, so they proposal increasing affordable housing revenue through property taxes for everyone except developers, who will get a property tax decrease (ironically under the section “MORE RESOURCES”). There’s no mention of linkage fees or requiring mandatory affordable units, both of which councilmembers have proposed. There are a number of tax exemptions for landlords and developers, including expanding a state tax exemption to apply to buildings with fewer affordable units.

    The tenant protections are pretty slim and mostly revolve around obtaining housing rather than keeping it. The section on protected classes is basically saying the city should commission a study, i.e., we don’t care. There’s also not even a mention of rent control, even to dismiss it, which is a pretty childish response to a serious concern. They also propose reducing the scope of the Rental Inspection agency for affordable units, I guess because inspections are a luxury that only market-rate apartments deserve.

    The extra affordable housing is assumed to private development subsidized by the city, which looks like a redistribution of public wealth and land to private entities. There’s nothing about the city building and maintaining its own properties. A cynical person might assume that’s because it wouldn’t benefit the developers who wrote this. Even the parking proposals suffer from this problem: one of their solutions for expanding parking capacity is to transfer public transit ROW to on-street parking.

    I’m really curious how much of this goes into the final HALA proposal and how much is just a developer wishlist.

    1. It’s a “giveaway” to developers to not require linkage fees or affordable units? If I consider a law requiring you to give your antique paintings to your neighbors, and ultimately decide not to, it’s not a “giveaway” to you, it’s just letting you keep what’s yours.

      I haven’t read the report so I can’t comment on some aspects, but there are two Times articles today that get into more detail. The board considered rent control but was 13-11 split on it, so it didn’t have enough consensus to make that recommendation. Likewise it was 16-9 split on linkage fees. And the street parking issue was just as STB reported it before: a house driveway takes up as many parking spaces as it provides, so it’s no net gain. Therefore if the house omits the driveway it’s no net loss, and the parking space is public rather than private.

      Beyond this report, the city is likely to implement linkage fees anyway, and the housing levy will buy some land outright and help nonprofits finance buying other land. The cost of providing financing is much less than the principal cost, so it’s not like buying a property and giving it free to a private group, and the group is nonprofit anyway.

      The tax exemptions I don’t know enough about to say definitively, but if the purpose is to encourage developers to build more housing than they can get a luxury-price return on, then it would further the city’s goal of making moderately-priced housing available to people. And if the supply goes up relative to demand — which we can see in the vacancy rate (currently 2%ish; equalibrium is 5-10%) and how long houses/condos remain on the market (currently <1 month; normal is 3 months; equalibrium is 6 months) — then there will be more vacancies and people won't have to worry as much about keeping their place. The reason landlords are getting rid of people now is they think they can get a higher-paying tenant immediately. But in a "normal" situation like we had before 2006 or 2011, no higher-income tenants are coming and the unit might sit vacant for a month or two or three, so they can't turn people out or raise rents that easily.

      1. “And the street parking issue was just as STB reported it before: a house driveway takes up as many parking spaces as it provides, so it’s no net gain. Therefore if the house omits the driveway it’s no net loss, and the parking space is public rather than private.”

        That’s only true if you park exactly one car in the driveway. If the household has two or more cars, there might be multiple cars taken off the street.

      2. Or in situations like mine, where there is no on-street parking allowed (narrow, 25′ curb-to-curb arterial), so off street parking is a net gain.

      3. Sure, plenty of exceptions exist (lots with alleys, houses built on streets with no parking allowed, etc.). They were saying that the *most common* situation is for an off-street garage to displace one street parking space, which seems like a fair statement to make.

      4. I would support lightening up on minimum parking requirements on all blocks where on-street parking spaces are usually available. But on blocks that are full up most of the day, it wouldn’t make sense.

      5. I think full blocks in single-family neighborhoods are exactly where removing parking requirements can make sense. Your curb cut for your required garage takes away one street parking space whether your car is using the garage or not! It’s much more efficient to leave that space in the public domain where neighbors or guests can use it when your car is not around.

      6. The draft HALA report speaks for developers when it recommends doubling the Housing Levy in 2016 as the main tool for funding affordable units. The double-or-nothing gamble will follow the gargantuan Move Seattle levy and the King County Children’s levy in November and be paired with a $15 billion Sound Transit levy.

        They are resisting either a linkage fee or inclusionary housing, two methods that tax developers and growth, rather than the rest of us. Of eight funding recommendations, five depend on actions by the legislature, which is resistant to anything Seattle wants. The report recommends expanding the Multi-family Tax Exemption (MFTE) (a tax break developers love) that takes changing state law. Other recommendations that mostly rely on the state legislature to act include expanding the State Housing Trust Fund (done), establishing a state/federal Medicaid supportive housing benefit (being done), increasing the size of the State Housing Trust Fund (done), adding to the size of the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET), creating a preservation tax exemption (a favor to developers) and a hotel tax on short-term rentals. Two other funding recommendations complete the HALA’s tax-anybody-but-us-developers toolkit: creating a Social Impact Investment Fund (asking for charity), and reinstating the City Growth Fund (another property tax, tied to new construction downtown and redirected from the General Fund).

        Recommendations that rely on the state legislature to act are not realistic. The legislature doesn’t like to give us authority to tax ourselves. Recommendations should be limited to actions that can be taken by the city. The two major tools are the linkage fee and inclusionary housing, which may or may not be included in the final draft on Monday. We also need the $500M general fund bonds that Kshama Sawant is backing to provide a land bank, bridge loans for nonprofit developers and low-interest maintenance loan fund for small building owners. In other words, the revenue part of the HALA report is whack.

    2. I don’t think “linkage fees” are an appropriate way to pay for subsidized housing. When you tax something, you get less of it, and the last thing we need is a slowdown in new market-rate housing construction. All this talk about developers just being greedy leeches wears thin as well. They do hard work, creating a very in-demand product that they sell to willing buyers. They deserve to profit from their work without ridicule, just like the rest of us doing our own jobs.

      If we, as a community, want to create more subsidized low-income housing, we should all pay for it through our taxes. This should not be a cost borne exclusively by newcomers purchasing new houses.

    3. As much as I believe a move away from the growth-quarantine strategy would benefit the city and all of its inhabitants functionally and aesthetically, AM is not wrong to identify an ideological bent in HALA’s thinking.

      I don’t think it’s as much about being pro-developer as it is about buying into the not-especially-accurate presumption that housing obeys the purest rules of the free market, a logical fallacy shared by a few on this blog. This leads to the conviction that any regulatory restriction or supplemental cost (like linkage fees) will inevitably inflate costs to the point where supply is depressed.

      Among megaprojects of the sort that might be subjected to linkage fees, this simply does not seem to be the case. Getting involved in such large-lot-amalgamation developments requires access to such profoundly complicated (i.e. high entry-barrier) financing that linkage fees, like other large-project bureaucratic engagements, add up to piddling write-offs. And it increasingly seems to be the complicated terms of financing themselves that set the target rent / sales price for units in these buildings above — sometimes well above — the going rate for equivalent units in less-elaborate neighbors. (I don’t believe that Kent imposed linkage fees on the new megaproject there that attempts to rent studios at the price of nearby houses).

      I think it is wise to be wary of any pronouncements in the HALA assessment that seem overly deferential to pure-market logic, even while accepting that increased supply — everywhere — is a desirable goal, for affordability as well as for dynamic housing variety.

      1. “And it increasingly seems to be the complicated terms of financing themselves that set the target rent / sales price for units in these buildings above — sometimes well above — the going rate for equivalent units in less-elaborate neighbors. (I don’t believe that Kent imposed linkage fees on the new megaproject there that attempts to rent studios at the price of nearby houses).”
        Fascinating. Maybe impose linkage fees on any large project where the rent will be, say, 25% above of the median rent.

        This has the nice characteristic of being a *progressive tax*, one which falls on the rich and benefits the poor, rather than a flat or regressive tax. Usually cities have trouble implementing progressive taxes because they can’t have income or estate taxes.

    4. that’s because rent control is one of the dumbest ideas every hatched, leave it to coocoo for cocoa puffs sawant to keep pushing it

    5. Thank you for pointing out the absence of tenants’ rights and exemptions for developers. Not that any of the neoliberal density-uber-alles folks care about either topic. They probably think of tenants’ rights as inefficiencies in the market, and already (as you can see here) defend developers’ rights to engage in land speculation as essential to increasing affordability rather than a cause of the affordability crisis.

      1. Wake up.

        Developers are not the land speculators.

        Building owners and landlords are. They benefit from restricting the supply of new units, ensuring that their investments will skyrocket in value. They are the slumlords that bankroll the city council members who will undoubtedly sink this reasonable proposal.

        Saying “NO” to building just means more pre-existing houses & apartments will get million-dollar price tags, and that new tech workers will commute from Lynnwood instead of Ballard. The speculators will continue to laugh all the way to the bank.

      2. Exactly. Developers tend to hold on to a piece of land exactly long enough to build something on it, then they sell it so they can reinvest the proceeds into another project.

      3. The worst speculators are the ones who buy up properties, demolish them for parking lots, and wait for decades until the land value goes up before selling to a developer. There should be policies designed to stop those guys…

  13. What I’d like to understand is how a broad re-zone of much of Seattle to allow duplex and triplex units in the current SFR areas without any requirement for parking would actually be a pro-transit move? I am fully in favor of lifting basically ALL caps on height development in the main urban village (Ballard, U-District, Junction, Cap Hill, probably Northgate too) that are or will hopefully under ST3 be served by rail. Those areas should go as high and dense as the market will bear with real linkage fees to cover the other ancillary services (schools, parks, sewer) that come with the added density. Happy to support the more modest extra story additions allowed in the other second-tier urban villages as well and those can then be served by targeted bus increases. But spreading density across the full city without any effort to target and focus it seems like a potential disaster in term of ever getting a critical mass of residents in any one area to support sufficient services.

    Those up-zone issues aren’t nearly as controversial though, nor would the linkage fees concept be such a lightening rod, so it makes full sense that they weren’t the headline or focus of the Times article. The HALA meeting in secret and basically calling half the city racist for wanting to preserve the character of our neighborhoods is the portion of the letter that is news. There are still plenty of underutilized parcels in the low-rise zoned areas and if we need more such parcels the boundaries of the urban villages can be spread out gradually over time to accommodate that. There wasn’t any need for the HALA to go out in this direction though. If you want to be mad about something it’s not the Times reporting, its that HALA went off on a “social justice” frolic that may now make it harder to pass the portions of the proposed changes that actually do make sense and would be supported by a larger share of residents.

    1. Allowing more housing in the SFH areas would probably do more to reduce rents than allowing higher buildings. It is very cheap to add ADUs, but it is very expensive to build an apartment building.

      As far as transit goes, having a city that is more densely populated makes transit more affordable and more effective. Simply put, transit scales. In many neighborhoods, bus service is very poor, because their aren’t enough people living there to justify good bus service. This could change that.

      1. ADUs are expensive though for the people who are building them. They aren’t REITs with billions in capital. They are ordinary people who probably aren’t especially talented at construction or property development. $50k-100k is a lot of money for them as a percentage of net worth.

        Compared to big-time developers building apartments, an SFH owner also has a lot more risk riding on an ADU. A construction loan may be secured by the primary residence. There is only 1 tenant, so your income can go to $0 instantly if they move out or just stop paying. Evictions can be extremely slow.

        I think some ADU owners would be tempted to rent their ADUs on airbnb instead of renting to actual residents. It appears that many already are. Not only is the profit potential higher, the financial risk is lower. No $0 months while the eviction process plays out or when you’re between tenants. And although it may be legally questionable, nobody seems to care.

      2. I think some ADU owners would be tempted to rent their ADUs on airbnb instead of renting to actual residents. It appears that many already are. Not only is the profit potential higher, the financial risk is lower. No $0 months while the eviction process plays out or when you’re between tenants. And although it may be legally questionable, nobody seems to care.

        I’d rather see these units as traditional rentals, but this isn’t really a bad outcome. Have you priced hotel rooms in Seattle lately? It’s pretty gruesome; in the summer it’s now by one metric* the most expensive city in the US for visitors. That means a lot of people who’d like to come here, spend money, and support local businesses and the local economy are unable to do so. Increasing the capacity for visitors to this city serves a public good, too.

        * (the methodology is full of dodgy assumptions, but hotel costs are just brutal.

      3. @Alex, just because they’re expensive and risky doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile for homeowners. I say this as a homeowner who wants to build both an ADU and a DADU. I’m on a 4000 sf lot with a large, flat backyard that’s currently grass (neighbors refer to my houes as the one with the big yard). I just planted some fruit trees, but there’s *so* much wasted space back there. Likewise, I just ripped out the mancave in the basement (70s wood paneling, brown rug, and a water-damaged bar). It has a separate entrance and everything, and would be perfect for an ADU. Cost is minimal – I need to make upgrades anyways, so it can either become an ADU, or it could be just more living space for the main area. But the house is 2300 sf, which is way too big for 4 people.

        So I spend $50 to $150k to do the upgrades, and not only do I gain monthly income, but I also increase the value of my property. Not to mention, I’m also paying extra for that unused 2000sf of land (both in yearly property taxes, and in opportunity costs for the extra $100k or so of purchase price). If/when I sell, the property will likely be worth more due to its increased appeal to small investors. And here’s the real point of all this – I get to live with friends. I’m used to shared housing situations, and the ability to have people I like living below me or in my back yard is incredibly appealing. My wife and I also have aging parents in other states, so having the flexibility to move them into the DADU is quite valuable.

        If these zoning changes were made, I would build this stuff out within months. I’m already working on the downstairs, this would remove any ambiguity about what I’ll actually do down there. However, with the current ADU/DADU requirements? There’s very little chance of me establishing proper units. At best, I’ll gain a housemate, or maybe an office.

        Don’t discount the number of folks like me who own a SFH but would like to do much more with it.

      4. Where is your lot? I might want to rent the (D)ADU someday or know somebody who would. :)

      5. NE 75th & 16th Ave NE. Like I said, it probably won’t happen unless the city loosens their restrictions..

      6. I almost included the 73 in my list of residential routes that would gain ridership with ADUs.

      7. Andres is right, lots of people would do it if they changed the rules. There are a couple key provisions that have pretty much destroyed the ADU world in Seattle:

        1) The ownership rule.
        2) The parking requirement.

        There are other rules that are similar to the parking requirement that just make it hard. The whole idea is to work with what you have and build cheaply. But rules that specify parking, or size, or setbacks, or other nonsense just make it impossible for many people to build.

        But the ownership rule is the crazy one. So, let’s assume that Andres does the construction, and is happy with it. He lives there five years and makes most of his money back. Now he wants to sell. That little bungalow is like a new addition to the house — it will surely add a lot to the value (not quite what he paid, but close), right? Wrong. It adds very little. The reason it adds very little is that you have to find someone that wants to live in one unit and rent out the other. It is as if he painted the house orange. Very nice, very good paint job, but no one is going to pay extra for an orange house. I’ve seen it my neighborhood. Not with an orange house, but with an ADU. Two houses, each of which would get a huge amount if separate, but sold together they sit forever.

        This would change if they allowed landlords to own and rent out both properties. It is really crazy, but they don’t. You can buy and rent out the original property, but not both (unless you live in one). This not only deflates the value of ADUs, but it makes it very difficult to get financing. I’m sure there are rental companies that scour the market, looking for houses they consider to be undervalued. Just rent them out. But again, those ADU houses are useless to them. This means that if they do buy a house, they can’t add an ADU, because they can’t do anything with it. These are organizations that have no trouble finding financing.

        That is the thing, the financing whammy hits people both ways. If I have a $400,000 house and want to construct an apartment for $50,000, I doubt I can get the bank to finance it, because it adds so little to the value of the house. Meanwhile, rental companies (with financing up the ying-yang) can’t take advantage of ADUs built by someone else, or build their own. It is no wonder that Vancouver BC built so many, and we (in the midst of a huge population explosion) have built so few. The rules just make it very, very tough.

      8. How about a *requirement* that every new SF house built in Seattle must contain a legal ADU? I’ve always been amazed at all the SF housing built on SHA property (Rainier Vista, New Holly, High Point, etc.) with no ADUs at all, and no room to add one later. What missed opportunities!

      9. How about a *requirement* that every new SF house built in Seattle must contain a legal ADU?

        That would, obviously, be a terrible idea. Why would you suggest that? Do you not understand the difference between increasing freedom and decreasing it?

    2. This is basically an expression of the whopping fallacy that if you just connect a bunch of “chosen places” with express-spaced trains, you can solve all our problems in perpetuity.

      Cities just don’t work that way. There will always be people and destinations in the in-betweens, there will always be need for good intermodal connections to frequent bus services, there will always be trips (a vast majority of them, in fact) that don’t both begin and end right in the epicenters of “urban villages”.

      What good cities with good transit need is a minimum consistent-density floor, generally exceeding what exists in our vast single-family swaths today. That’s what keeps the ebb and flow of humans and ideas, at various stages of life and ripeness, vibrant and dynamic. That’s what unifies an urban culture, exchanging and intermingling the distinct neighborhood characteristics rather than isolating and ossifying them.

      An all-city buy-in is also the only thing that supports genuine robust transit, achieving a virtuous cycle of demand+usefulness that glorified shuttles between chosen nodes simply cannot.

      Add to that the better architectural outcomes, a greater variety of housing forms, and better climates for upstart businesses from not encouraging slash-and-burn redevelopment (as pursuing only “urban village” capacity inevitably does), and it becomes clear that we needed to abandon the quarantine approach yesterday.

      1. For once I agree with dp.

        The City of Seattle historically has blanket bus service, so that >80% of people have a bus stop within a half-mile. Blanket bus service is essential to provide a robust/flexible lifestyle without owning a car. The alternative is segregating the city into “car zones” (or “car2go” zones)and “transit zones.”

        The downside of Seattle’s blanket bus service is that demand is low enough in many areas that 30 minute service is more than sufficient. In the relentless focus on efficiency in the past few years, some of these routes have been cut entirely.

        If new housing or shops is allowed in the lower density areas, it brings up the boardings on low-ridership routes, which could lead to frequent service leading to everyone in the city having greater freedom to move about the city.

        Another way to look at it: Routes like the 28 are packed between downtown and Fremont, but almost empty in the northern section. Metro performance guidelines are based on averages over the length of the route, so even if people are passed up at Harrison or Denny, the driver’s “alone time” at the other end of the route brings down the average such that more resources aren’t allocated.

      2. Routes like the 28 are packed between downtown and Fremont, but almost empty in the northern section.

        This is a lot less true than it used to be, since they killed the really unproductive tail (north of 105th). I ride from 90th into Fremont midday with often; the buses range from 8-10 riders to nearly all seats full, with the average probably being 50-60% of seats full.

      3. I agree, and once again will reference another of Alan Durning’s great series on affordable housing — Just the picture says a lot about the situation. It is easy to assume (after visiting there) that the reason that Vancouver transit works so well is because the city is made of very densely populated areas (either old, Gastown type apartments or new towers). But the picture shows otherwise. As he said, this would look just like much of Seattle, but the difference is that it holds a lot more people. I want to be clear that Vancouver did a much better job of building a light rail system than we will ever do, but wide spread density helped a lot. It meant that they weren’t dependent on those areas. It meant that buses could run on any major street and pick up a lot of people. It is the opposite of the “Magnolia problem”. Do you run a bus in western (or even central) Magnolia, and if so, how often? If you do, then it will ride mostly empty. If you don’t, then you force people to walk a very long ways to a bus stop. This is not on the outskirts of the city, but within five miles of downtown. With even moderate density, this problem goes away, and a community like that is tied together with the rest of the city with decent transit. No, you don’t have a light rail line out there, but you have frequent bus service, and that ties into light rail (which of course has more riders, because of the frequent bus service). It doesn’t require towers, it just requires a lot more of what this proposes.

    3. Look at the tails of the 26, 27, 28, 65 and others that go through single-family areas. If half the houses build ADUs or duplexes that’s a 50% population increase and can better support frequent transit. If a quarter of the houses build row houses or 4-8 unit apartments, then those blocks are like Boston or San Francisco or Vancouver (Broadway, not West End) and ridership goes through the roof.

      1. Yes, so true. I live in the single-family area that the 28 goes through. The route is quite well-used during peak commuting hours, and gets enough ridership during the rest of the day to merit 30-minute frequency. Adding some duplexes to the neighborhood won’t suddenly make a subway down 8th Avenue turn into a good idea, but it might be enough to get us 20-minute bus service someday, and that wouldn’t be bad at all!

        You don’t need to focus all new development in a few areas to make transit improvements worthwhile.

  14. Wow. Donate money on Wednesday and a week later we get an article like this. Hell Yes! I think I need to donate again. This is marvelous — well done.

    As to HALA — so much to like. But getting rid of minimum parking requirements everywhere is huge. This is so simple and so profound a change, I can’t help but get excited. If all we get out of this committee is this, then we I will be very happy. No zoning rule has done more to push up the cost of rent, and push down the quality of new housing than the parking requirement. It is time for it to go.

    1. Great if all your visitors come and go on bicycles or transit. Not so great if your inlaws from Salem are visiting and can’t find a place to park.

      1. That’s when you pay your visitors’ garage fees. It beats circling the block for half an hour looking for a space. If you’re in an urban village there’s probably a garage or pay lot within a few blocks. If you live in a single-family area away from a village it’s harder, but on the other hand there’s more likely to be street parking nearby because you’re competing with ten people on the block rather than hundreds of people.

      2. Hmmm. I thought pay parking was illegal in Urban Villages, so paying visitors’ garage fees may not be possible. Those single-family areas away from a village are probably fine now, but if the HALA advocates succeed in removing parking requirements for ADUs? Maybe not.

        I remember visiting an old family friend in the heart of San Francisco a decade ago. The entire city is apparently in residential parking zones, and it was hell keeping our rental minivan free of tickets. Yes, we were able to enjoy the city anyway, but ended up driving more in order to avoid parking tickets (over 2 hours without the RPZ sticker = citation).

        Time for reasonable people to sit down and hash some of this out, and unfortunately the HALA draft got that off to a poor start. Hopefully the final report will be less inflammatory.

      3. Capitol Hill has several pay lots. They’re not hard to find and often only a few blocks away. The thing is that people avoid them because street parking is cheaper and they’d rather circle the block until they find a street space. That’s so universal that people can see the pay lots repeatedly but they don’t consciously remember them, so they think there aren’t any in the neighborhood. But the flip side of people shunning the pay lots is that they have plenty of empty spaces for your guests.

        Rainier Valley has several empty lots near the Link stations that have become paid parking. The Save Our Valley types aren’t interested because they want free P&Rs, but the lots are there and available. The city has gone off and on about allowing them but as far as I know they’re still open.

      4. Where I live just off Broadway there are $1 (30-minute) spots in the Lyric and Joule buildings, and they’re almost always empty. And there’s always free validated parking at QFC if you so much as buy a bottle of water. There’s a ton of parking out there, period.

      5. The only place where parking is hard to find on Capitol Hill is where it’s free and mostly unregulated without RPZs…i.e. Summit Slope (Olive to Roy, Melrose to Harvard). Metered/RPZ parking (like First Hill) is long overdue there.

      6. The parking prohibition I was speaking of applies in Station Area Overlay Zones (around light rail stations). Prohibited are “principal use non-residential long term parking” lots or garages.

  15. How good are ADUs as pro-transit development? I have my concerns.

    1) Minimal density gain. By definition ADUs can only exist in SFH zones, which are already lower-density neighborhoods with inferior transit service. They are too small to be family housing in most cases. That means you’re adding 1-2 residents per ADU (probably closer to 1 on average given trends in marriage/household size). Each apartment project is adding vastly more density. Density attracts more amenities to the neighborhood, and more transit service. ADUs are too small to start that virtuous cycle.

    2) ADUs entrench SFH zones. It becomes that much more expensive for a developer to replace SFH with apartments if they have to buy out lots of ADU+SFH properties. ADU residents may also oppose any further zoning changes, fearing they would be forced to move to make room for higher-density housing.

    3) ADUs have free or low-cost parking. Unless Seattle starts charging $2000+ per year for street parking, which isn’t politically realistic, ADUs are much more desirable for car owners than a new apartment with costly unbundled parking.

    I just don’t think ADUs matter much in the overall density picture and they are more pro-car than we may think they are.

    1. SFH zones within Seattle are still way more transit-accessible than out in the suburbs, which is where you push people if we outlaw growth within Seattle.

      That said, I do agree that only a tiny percentage of single-family homes will ever actually build an ADU in practice (as long as the existing owner is happy and doesn’t need the rental income, there’s no reason to do so), so allowing it is more a matter of symbolism than meaningfully increasing the city’s density.

      1. Agree. I’d hate for people to get hung up on maybe a few hundred ADUs citywide and miss the forest through the trees. Most of the density (I’d say 90% or more) is going to come from building upwards with mid/high rise condos and apartments. However, lots of people want policies that will stifle that development (heavy linkage fees, rent control, etc.). Compared to the consequences of rent control, for example, ADU zoning rules are a sideshow.

        Considering the finances of an ordinary family, there are other uses of their money that might be more financially advantageous than building an ADU. Paying off credit cards, student loans, or mortgages. Saving for retirement or college. Investing in stocks. Building up emergency savings. If you don’t need to do any of those things, you might be so well off that there’s just no point in building an ADU to get a few more bucks.

      2. See my comment above – ADUs are about more than just income. They’re referred to as mother in law units for a reason. I would very much love to have my mother or mother in law on my property, helping to take care of my kid. An ADU is much more affordable and convenient than her having a separate apartment or house.

        It’s also incorrect to make blanket assumptions about finances of SFH owners. In many cases, it makes sense to keep a mortgage and invest savings than to pay it off. An ADU or DADU can be built using a loan at a low rate, rather than savings.

        And finally, one of the powerful things about ADU investments is that it’s cheaper than a separate property because you’re already paying part of the cost. For example, let’s say I build a prefab DADU for $100k that I can rent out for $1200/mo. That comes out to a 14% return on investment. The stock market’s not going to beat that unless you’re extremely lucky in your timing. The only reason that works is because I’ve already paid $100k for the land. If it was a separate $200k rental property (land+structure), the return would onlybe 7%- investing in the stock market would make more sense there. The numbers work out similarly for ADUs.

      3. Just to be clear, those numbers are rough estimates. There are many many factors affecting the return percentage. I didn’t include property taxes, for example, but I also didn’t include tax breaks from deprecation and other things. At least for me, running the numbers works out really well in my favor. YMMV , which is kind of my point; don’t let those blanket assumptions dictate zoning policy.

    2. By definition ADUs can only exist in SFH zones

      I don’t understand. If I have a single family home in a LR 1 zone (and there are plenty of people who do) and I build a rental cottage in my backyard, is it not an ADU by definition?

      1. Bad wording on my part. No reference to zoning was intended by the word “zone” – a better word would be “area” or “neighborhood.”

        I meant to say that ADUs are intended to be built alongside SFH, so they will predominantly be in the SFH-heavy parts of the city. Not in neighborhoods that are relatively dense right now, because land in those places is used for other things besides SFH (apartments, commercial, office, etc.).

      2. Gotcha. Although the point is an important one–there are single family homes in high density areas, and those owners might be particularly keen on this option as expected rent is likely to be higher.

        Basically, your worries add up to, at best, good reasons to not treat ADUs as some sort of silver bullet answer to housing capacity. But, really, there isn’t one, just a bunch of stuff we can do that make things better at the margins. This is one of them, and a fairly cheap and easy one at that.

      3. Mike Orr, I think it’s more likely that ADU’s will “solve” maybe only 1 or 2 percent of the housing problem. Add up all the ADUs and DADUs that have been built since legalization, and it’s a trifling compared to all the other housing built. And no, there are not thousands of frustrated homeowners who were turned away from the permit counter by lack of off street parking. That’s an urban myth.

      4. @RDPence, are you talking about Seattle’s “legalization”? If so, it’s not really feasible to build ADUs here. I’ve already gone into details, but let me spell this out another way:

        Imagine you had to get permission from the City of Seattle to travel for 6 months. That would suck, right? Downright draconian.

        Well, that’s the reality for people with (D)ADUs. You must live in the property for 6 months of the year, or else ask the city for permission, or remove the (D)ADU. I’m sure the city wouldn’t say no, but who wants to deal with that? Who is going to build a (D)ADU with that requirement? Who is going to buy a property with an existing one? And, from a cost standpoint – who is going to specialize in selling awesome prefab passivhaus DADUs in Seattle with such low demand? That means those who are willing to put up with the city’s onerous restrictions are going to be paying extra, because it’s going to be a custom deal or shipped from far away.

      5. Andres, even if I’m traveling for more than six months, it’s still my home and it’s still my legal residence. The only way that would not apply is if I rented out my home while I’m gone, and even then somebody would have to file a complaint.

        It’s not like the City has Housing Inspectors knocking on the doors of houses with ADUs and DADUs. How many enforcement actions have been taken against non-compliant owners since legalization?

      6. @RDPence, from :

        “The property owner must occupy either the home or the ADU as a permanent and main residence. The owner-occupant must have at least a 50 per- cent interest in the property, and must live in the structure for more than six months of each calen- dar year. ”

        That sounds to me like you have to physically stay on the property for at least 6 months of the year. I’m no lawyer, though.

        “Temporary owner absence—If we determine that the owner has violated owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, we will require the owner to: 1) reoccupy the structure, 2) remove the ADU, or 3) submit evidence showing good cause for a waiver of the owner-occu- pancy requirement.”

        I’m not sure who determines the “or” in that statement. However, non-compliance would probably result in fines, and seizure of the property is probably on the table.

        Is it enforced? Who knows. All it takes is one irate neighbor to file a complaint, though. I suspect if there are low enforcement rates, it’s related to a low rate of new ADU creation. It’s not something I’d want to gamble with on my primary residence.

        And this is why my wife and I backed away from the DADU idea, despite having researched multiple prefab options (and wondering why there were no local builders).

      7. Add up all the ADUs and DADUs that have been built since legalization, and it’s a trifling compared to all the other housing built.

        Of course, they’ve been “legalized” in a way that’s set them up to fail. The owner must live in one unit rule it stifling because it makes financing so much more difficult. The parking requirements place a squeeze on 4K lots. In general, they’ve been legal but aggressively discouraged for 5 years. Actually encouraging them–and removing pointless, regressive requirements like the parking requirements–can only help.

        But maybe you’re right. Maybe very few people want them and they won’t help much. That’s not a reason not to meaningfully legalize them. It costs the city nothing, and gives homeowners important options. Every ADU makes housing more affordable for two people–the homeowner and the renter. I have a friend in Portland who was able to take a more satisfying, less stressful (but lower paying) job because of ADU income. It’s an increase in freedom and options at no meaningful cost.

      8. So what if it’s 2%? There’s still a possibility it will be higher. Just eliminate the regulations and let them rise to their natural limit, and we’ll see what the limit is. But there are so many single-family lots that I don’t think anybody can notice all the ADUs when one sprouts here, another there, and another there, and soon 10% of the lots have ADUs but people who live on a particular street see only one or two so they think there aren’t that many. That’s “unobtrusive development”, and it can significantly increase the housing supply without disrupting the “neighborhood character” much.

    3. 1) Nonsense. Take look around you. Seattle is booming. Booming! How fast are we growing? One or two percent a year. So that is basically one or two new ADU units for every hundred houses. This is how other cities have grown, and grown very quickly (

      2) ADUs entrench SFH zones. It becomes that much more expensive for a developer to replace SFH with apartments if they have to buy out lots of ADU+SFH properties. ADU residents may also oppose any further zoning changes, fearing they would be forced to move to make room for higher-density housing.
      That is rather twisted logic, isn’t it? Don’t allow more density because then it makes it harder to add density. Uh, OK. No offense, but that is nuts. The main reason that areas like the Central Area are way more densely populated than areas like West Seattle (still) is not because they build brand new, big buildings, but because they have a mix. An old brick apartment building sets next to a house, which has three units. Those exist because they were legal then, and aren’t now. Let’s make them legal again.

      I mean, if your goal it see old houses like this ( get torn down, and new cookie cutter buildings replace it, then yes, you are probably right. But if the goal is to increase density in an affordable manner, where a house like that is converted to an apartment, and the dump down the street is torn down for a new building, then allow ADUs.

      3) Read the article again. The whole idea is to get rid of the parking requirement everywhere (including ADUs). This means that the owner won’t have to build a new parking lot. This is huge, and is one reason why it would lead to a lot more affordable units. A lot of people have space for an ADU, but they don’t have space parking.

      1. Hold on a sec. I’m not sure we’re not really disagreeing here.

        1) 1-2 ADUs per 100 new housing units would be a trivial amount of new housing. Your link says Vancouver had 350/year after further liberalizing ADUs. That’s equivalent to maybe 3 mid-rise apartment buildings per year. Most of the growth will have to be accommodated in other housing forms.

        2) This blog has mentioned on countless occasions that there simply isn’t enough MF zoned land in Seattle to satisfy the projected housing demand. Additional land has to come from somewhere, and that most likely means SFH areas. You cite the Central Area’s housing stock including both ADUs and small scale apartment buildings. Those apartment buildings, of course, are much more dense than SFH+ADUs alone. That’s exactly my point. ADUs can only increase density so much, but then if you want to increase it much further, building up is the only option. A small apartment building is probably 2-4x more dense than SFH+ADUs.

        3) The parking requirements can/should go away, but it doesn’t change the fact that street parking is free or very cheap in SFH areas. ADU residents will still have access to that free or very cheap parking, which makes car ownership more attractive. Meanwhile, apartment dwellers have expensive and limited parking which incentivizes them to use other forms of transportation.

      2. First let’s get rid of the terms ADU and DADU, if we want to have a conversaton the public can understand. I built my mother-in-law apartment for $35,000 in today’s dollars, including the cost of cutting into the foundation to make a bedroom egress window ($5,000). My cost was low because I have a typical midcentury split-entry ranch with a half-finished daylight basement “rec room.” So I added a closet, shower and a kitchen. The off-street parking requirement is what prevents mine from being legal. I believe there is enough support on the City Council to move forward with lifting restrictions, and it would have happened last fall but was put on hold for the HALA. Once legalized, units will be registered and subject to health inspections, which is better for everyone.

        MILs rent for the low side of market rates, probably at the “moderate” 80% of area median, (because it is more important to the owner to keep a trustworthy tenant than to maximize rent) so would count towards the Mayor’s goal of 20,000 affordable units. There are probably more than 1,000 out there already that would be “grandmothered.” I project that 2,000 moderate-rent units could be created/preserved this way, 200 a year or 10% of the goal. This is the only way the market will produce affordable units. All the rest of the affordable units can only be build with subsidies.

      3. +1 on a name change. Eyes glaze over when I say “ADU” or “DADU”. When I say “mother-in-law unit”, more people understand. Everyone understands when I say “basement apartment” or “basement unit”.

  16. I am all for upzoning as well IF it is linked to building some walking infrastructure.

  17. I was raised in a Southern town where there was a legacy of allowing two-units anywhere in town — even in the lowest density areas. It was apparently related to the days when servants quarters and extended family quarters were commonplace. The result: two-unit dwellings are built all over town. Retired couples buy a unit in the nicest neighborhoods so that they keep an eye on their homes when one is out of town. Relatives live next to each other so that the kids aren’t coming home from school alone. It has minimized code enforcement problems of illegal units — because a second unit is legal it is built to code and properly inspected (illegal second units are a big problem in most cities). Removing single-family zoning is a great idea and all communities should do this; not just Seattle. All cities in the region should consider removing single-family housing restrictions.

    1. Great example from your childhood.

      I agree with you entirely. The “single family zoning” idea makes no sense at all. Dual units should *always* be allowed.

  18. Now the headline is: “Get rid of single-family zoning? These conversations shouldn’t be secret”

    Can’t keep track of ANYTHING in this digital age.

  19. Speaking of Cross Laminated Timber:

    “Currently, US and Canadian building codes do not explicitly recognize mass timber systems, but this does not prohibit their use under alternative method provisions. In the 2015 IBC, recently approved changes will streamline the acceptance of CLT buildings. The 2015 IBC will recognize CLT products when they are manufactured according to the standard. In addition, CLT walls and floors may be permitted in all types of combustible construction, including Type IV buildings.”


  20. The stated reasons aren’t what this is about. This has radical far left wing political philosophy stank all over it.

  21. I’m all for more density, but at least let’s be smart/strategic about it. A “f**k property rights!” attitude is not the way to go. It simply makes you sound bigoted…

    (Not calling anyone specifically out, just saying).

    1. Can you explain? Liberalized zoning regulations actually increase property rights for homeowners. Where now you don’t have the right to convert your single-family zoned house into a duplex and rent it out, you might regain this right if the proposal passes. It decreases your right to tell your neighbor what to do with her property, but that is not generally how people use the term “property rights.”

      1. My thought process was more along the lines of if a sizable group of neighbors, in a specific and distinct neighborhood band together and enact perticular laws protecting the identity of said neighborhood; than I wouldn’t believe it is inherently right to “steam roll” their rights/laws based upon my own perceived notion of how a city should look, feel and operate.

        Before the zoning trolls come out, keep in mind I want more density, but I want to do it in an intelligent manner while respecting others. No one likes a bigot…

  22. Ugh. I moved away from a high density area on the East Coast because I was tired of everyone “living on top of each other”. There is a downside to this much density. You never have any real peace and quiet, often increases in crime come with increased density, it’s generally more stressful living around so many people, and if you have kids, it’s waaaay more difficult to figure out who your “safe” neighbors are. I like my single family neighborhood. It’s a quiet refuge from my noisy job on Capitol Hill. You need that option in city. Also, if we get rid of parking, what are people shopping in our neighborhood stores supposed to do? Before you say “take the bus”, keep in mind it can literally take hours to get to some neighborhoods via Metno. Shopping is supposed to be convenient. We don’t own a car, however, we see the importance of having parking for “destination businesses” here to thrive. Perhaps our city planners should visit some other cities that have tackled these problems while maintaining the delicate balance of being pro-density and pro-business.

    1. I’d love to hear more about this “peace and quiet” you speak of. The downside of everyone having a patch of grass is that it only takes one annoying neighbor (or their landscaping company), out there with their lawn mower and weed-wacker to ruin your morning.

      1. I work nights. When we first moved here from the Hill, that happened a lot. I put a fan in my bedroom window to generate “white noise”, and presto! Works like a charm. I sleep through all lawnmowers, weedwhackers, kids playing, 520 construction, football games at Husky Stadium…you get the gist.

      1. I’m speaking from the actual experience of living through crimewaves in two areas on the East Coast with very high density, but hey, I could be wrong about here. Let’s stack as many people on top of each other as we can and see what happens! It’ll be an adventure!

      2. Jacksonville has had some pretty amazing crimewaves in its time.

        As DJW says above, crime has a direct relationship to socioeconomic status, as well as to any number of local cultural and policy factors.

        I have never felt safer in my life than in most parts of New York City in 2015. I’d rather take a stroll down a Bed-Stuy back alley at 3am than hang out in the vicinity of the Ballard Commons Park Aggressive Junkie Brigade at noon.

        Density is about the only thing that has no traceable correlation to crime.

      3. Street crime is correlated with lead paint and leaded gasoline exposure, mostly.

  23. Has anyone here actually read the draft? It’s a document written for and by developers disguised as a politically correct, equality promoting document. Here are a few factoids for your perusal:

    – A majority of the HALA council will receive financial benefits if these changes occur. Check out the cast of characters on the council: developers, real estate lawyers, landlord advocates, architects, construction firms, and well compensated non-profit execs who will reap financial rewards from these changes.

    – Lots of proposals to raise money for low income housing, including a real estate excise tax and an increase in the housing levy. But, of course, nothing about any increase in developer fees. Why? Because the document was written by developers.

    – Lots of choice provisions that are favorable to developers. The best one:

    Seek to Remove Barriers to Condo Development
    Condominium developers are subject to an implied warranty for construction under the State’s
    Condominium Act. Courts in Washington have interpreted the statutory language broadly, resulting in a
    plethora of law suits against condo developers, a chilling of condo development in the state, and often adverse consequences for the condo owners, despite significant improvements in condo construction practices.

    Have you noticed a shortage of condos in, say, Ballard? Neither have I. The translation of this is: we built a crappy condo and you’re suing us, so now we’re going to change the law so you can’t sue us anymore. And how exactly does this improve the social welfare of Seattle?

    – Also missing: mitigation of the noise/disturbance effects on, say, senior citizens who live in the new construction war zones. Or any change in the construction of McMansions on single familiy lots that does nothing to increase density, but does increase the profits of many developers. And no requirements for a fraction of new, large scale developments to be set aside for low income housing.

    Really, folks, you’re being conned.

      1. Whenever someone proposes restrictions on suing or removal of warranties, I say they’re up to something, so yeah, THAT is a bad element of this proposal.

        So fight that. This doesn’t chagne the value of the rest of the proposal.

    1. It doesn’t matter how much or how little the developers profit. What matters is the availability and cost of housing for residents; that’s what the city should be concerned about. You have said nothing about whether it’s good or bad according to these criteria.

      There was a lot of condo construction in the mid 2000s and then it stopped completely in 2008. Why? Because banks were shoveling out mortgages and people were buying second and third condos to flip in six months. Then market demand switched to apartments, and the condo industry is only now getting started again, but it hasn’t started much yet. Ballard may have plenty of condos but how do you know? You can’t tell from looking at a building whether it’s condos or apartments, so you’d have to remember which one was which or count them in the title records. Have you done that? And verified how many vacancies are condos vs apartments? And what’s your definition of “enough condos” vs “too many condos”?

      1. Since nonprofits cannot afford to build in low-rise zones because it is uneconomical, it means that no affordable workforce housing can be built in low-rise (or upzoned SF) zones.

      2. As if land speculation and profiteering have nothing to do with housing affordability.

    2. The real greedy are the NIMBYs complaining who bought houses 40 years ago for $20,000, did absolutely nothing to their house and now have a $900,000 house. At least developers are a big part of the solution in actually creating something that helps solve the problem of lack of affordable housing.

      1. This proposal does nothing to solve the affordable housing problem in the short term and even acknowledges as much. And, not quite sure how it’s greedier to stay in a house for 40 years, rather than flipping shoddily built hi-rises for a quick buck. But, hey, you can continue to believe that the mayor’s friendly committee members will help build the perfect eco city, affordable for all, free of zoning restrictions, parks, and single family homes . And, very soon, the head of the committee will be moving from her 4000 square foot, $2M Laurelhurst house into a nice cozy 1000 square foot 2 bedroom condo right next door to you, just to show her solidarity. Everyone has to have a dream.

      2. What about just housing period, even if it isn’t more affordable. That would give people more choices where to live, and what kind of place to live in. The problem now is that the vacancy rate is very low because people are moving here and growing up faster than we’re building housing. If we do nothing, the vacancy rate will continue to go lower, there will be longer lines at each unit, and people will bid the price higher to outbid each other. (Or even if they don’t bid the price higher, the landlord will take the person with the highest income because they’re least likely to default.) If we build more housing than the population increases, the vacancy rate will go up and return to a normal/equilibrium level. That will stop rent increases, but even if it doesn’t, it will still give people more choices where to live. More housing means more units near frequent transit, which is important to anyone who doesn’t want a car.

      3. Amen. Both developers and homeowners are generally inclined to act in their own self-interest. The question is whether their self-interest aligns with the public good. In an environment like this one, where homeowners benefit from preserving harmful artificial scarcity, it’s pretty clear that they have no moral high ground. They’re every bit as “greedy” and self-interested as developers.

        Demonizing developers as a substitute for actually making arguments is tired, sophomoric, and pathetic. I don’t understand how anyone can take it seriously anymore.

      4. I’m sorry but building above-market housing for people who make over 100% median doesn’t increase affordability.

      5. No, it does. If the people who make above-median-income really want to live here, and there isn’t more above-market housing built for them, they’ll bid up prices on the market-rate or below-market housing. Building more housing for them will free up more units for everyone else.

      6. Yeah, I make 75% median and I don’t want 100+% median earners competing for my classic brick apartment with no parking. Let them fill new buildings.

      7. I’m sorry but building above-market housing for people who make over 100% median doesn’t increase affordability.

        Like it or not, rich people are coming. Limiting the construction of rich person storage units won’t deter them, they’ll simply outbid a non-rich person for a less fancy place to live. Have you seen some of the crap apartments that cost 4K a month in San Francisco.

      8. Sure, but the wholesale replacement of Zach’s housing stock with the aritificially-above-market monstrosities Trevor describes has been a huge and incontrovertible strand of Seattle’s development story thus far.

        (Some) on this blog may understand that the growth-quarantine strategy is partially responsible for the phenomenon, but it is clear from the “don’t destroy our neighborhoods like you destroyed Capitol Hill” bomb-throwing that this is not obvious to all.

        We gloss over the realities of stock replacement and artificial price inflation at our own peril.

      9. What really concerns me is Seattle may repeat the same mistake San Francisco has been making until very recently. Which is to so limit and otherwise make new construction such a pain in the ass that little new development took place.

        There are those already publicly calling for a moratorium on all new building permits.

      10. Are there any examples of other rapidly growing cities with densely populated urban cores that have managed, through zoning changes, to make housing affordable for someone, say, at the median income level? I can’t think of any, which is one reason I’m opposed to unleashing developers in an attempt to solve the affordable housing problem — I just don’t think it will work.

      11. Fred: To state the obvious, the affordability outcomes of prohibiting housing growth during times of substantial population and wealth growth will be much, much worse than “unleashing developers.” It also produces dreadful environmental outcomes, as a larger portion of the population is forced out into the sprawl, wasting all manner of time and carbon emissions they’d rather not be wasting to get to work.

        Keeping housing affordable at and below median income levels in a rapidly growing city is a wicked problem. Simply unleashing developers will almost certainly not be sufficient to produce that outcome (and, of course, this report isn’t claiming otherwise). But there’s absolutely no politically viable path to that outcome for which allowing substantial private development isn’t necessary.

      12. DJW: That doesn’t really answer my question. If development is all that’s needed to make urban cores affordable , then surely there must be at least one city on the planet that has a strong central core where housing is affordable. And if increased development doesn’t really result in increased affordability, then there will still be the problem of sprawl as those you can’t afford the high urban costs (especially families) move out.

        Development advocates reflexively assume that prices will become affordable if there’s more building, but, counter intuitive as it seems, I’m not convinced that factors other than pure supply and demand aren’t in play. For example, it may be that the cost of land, construction materials and labor in a boom economy coupled with the desire of developers to maximize profit by building high end accommodations makes it difficult to price new construction at an affordable price.

      13. “According to the study, by Keyser Marston Associates, every time the city allows 100 new high-end housing units, it needs to build between 20 and 43 new affordable units – just to keep the housing balance the way it is now. Put the affordable units in the main complex and the impact is lower (because fewer millionaires move in). Built them, as is common, somewhere else and the impact is greater.”

      14. Fred, you’re not making a whole lot of sense, but DC is a good example of a place where recent aggresive efforts to add lots of supply has stabilized and slightly lowered rents.

        I’m aware that anti-housing activists like Tim Redmond in San Francisco have spent the last decade convincing themselves that supply and demand have nothing to do with the cost of housing, but it’s utter nonsense. The last decade obviously proves otherwise, as demand–people moving to the city–has grown much faster than supply and that’s led to an affordability crisis of epic proportions. That this or that new development does nothing for the overall picture is because there’s so little of it, relative to demand. Supply-demand denialists are as specious and evidence free as global warming denialists. Their BS has been debunked sufficiently that anyone still buying it just isn’t interested in making an evidence-based argument. Again, adding supply is not enough, but no plan that doesn’t include lots of new supply has a chance in hell.

      15. DJW: I love your insult filled, but fact free responses. Very entertaining. When someone says think like “obviously”,”specious”, and “evidence free” without any evidence, it’s, well, obvious, specious, and evidence free.

        If you had actually read the article on DC, you would have seen that rents in the DC *area* dropped by 3% but rents in the DC *core* rose by 0.8%. If you’re not familiar with DC, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland (where the rents declined) are the equivalent of Lynnwood and Federal Way. In fact, the article states: “In DC proper, rents actually rose by 0.8 percent despite the large number of new apartments delivering, thanks to a continued high level of demand,” which confirms what I’m saying. Am I making sense?

      16. @Fred Rogers – you’re making too much sense, what with your “facts” and “data”. From now on, we shall call you…


      17. Trevor, that study you cite seems dubious. It relies on the idea that each new rich resident brings demand for some fraction of a service worker who will then need to live somewhere (makes sense), and that each new market rate housing unit causes a new rich person to move into town. This second part needs more proof. If a rich person wants to live in San Francisco, they’ll move to San Francisco. Period. Full stop. Whatever the nicest house available happens to be, they’ll find a way to buy or rent it. If a better one gets built, they’ll move in there, leaving their current unit to some slightly-less-rich person. I am quite skeptical that new housing construction causes rich people to relocate to a city. The opposite seems much more likely.

        Given that rich people will live where they want no matter what you do, the problem then is how to find enough room for everyone else. Part of the solution can be letting the rich build more fancy houses to live in so that more of the smaller, less fancy houses can be occupied by middle-class folks. Subsidized housing can also be part of the solution at the bottom of the market. Regardless, preventing new development can only make things worse. The rich people (who, again, will bid whatever it takes to live where they want) will move in and simply displace everyone else. The increased demand for service workers will still be there, but these folks will need to commute long distances from less desirable areas to get to their jobs.

      18. Fred Rogers, imagine if new apartments hadn’t been built in central DC. I doubt that rent increases would have been only 0.8%, they probably would have been much higher. I don’t know if that increase even keeps up with inflation! Meanwhile rents in surrounding areas went down 3% as more people decided to leave their suburban units for the city proper.

        More building may not cause prices to go down in desirable areas, but it does help keep the increases under control. The way for prices to go down is for an area to become so much less desirable that the number of available units becomes higher than the number of people who want to live in the area, like in Detroit.

      19. Eric: Aren’t you making my argument for me? After all, if the goal of the HALA is to make housing affordable in Seattle for median wage households, and since prices are already significantly higher than that, then there would have to be a significant drop in prices to achieve that goal. And if that can only be realized by making Seattle neighborhoods as undesirable as, say, inner city Detroit neighborhoods … well, not sure that’s a desirable goal.

      20. What is your argument, exactly? Do you have an alternative idea for how housing could become cheaper without adding more of it? Liberalizing zoning regulations to spur additional market-rate development may not be the whole solution, but it’s hard for me to imagine a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve a whole lot of real estate developers constructing a whole lot of new buildings and selling them to willing buyers who want to live in them.

      21. My argument is that this proposal will not make housing affordable in Seattle. I’m a firm believer that, especially given the repeated failures of urban planning in the past, there should be at least some evidence that a proposed solution will work before approving it. Where’s is that evidence? What other cities have managed to restore affordable core housing in the middle of a growth boom? And, as I’ve repeatedly stated, I think that this proposal is just a cynical attempt by developers to relax zoning regulations so they can build quickly, make a quick buck, and capitalize on the current boom before it busts. So the end result will be the degradation of more Seattle neighborhoods and wealthier developers.

        What’s an alternative idea that will work? I have no idea. I keep asking here if anyone has an example of what does working for restoration of affordable housing, and I don’t get one. Perhaps there isn’t one. But that isn’t a very good argument for adopting a program that has apparently never worked anywhere.

      22. Refusing to allow development causes rents to skyrocket.

        Let me give an example. I live in a small town. Ithaca, NY. We had a total clampdown on development, with basically no new housing built in the city limits from 1950 until a year or two ago.

        ROOMS cost $300/month to rent. That’s not an apartment. That’s a ROOM, as in an old-fashioned boarding house.

        The cheapest apartment within the city limits will run you $900/month.

        Basement apartments in unwalkable areas outside the city will run you $700/month.

        What works for reducing rent is building A LOT MORE HOUSING.

        It’s the program which has worked everywhere.

      23. Oh, and in Ithaca, the poorer part of the working class is commuting from Cortland. And Binghamton.

        If you don’t have enough housing, there is no way to lower rents without building more housing.

    3. I agree completely. See my comment above on developer-oriented funding recommendations. five of eight are things the satate has to do. Good luck with that! All the Innivations sections are gifts to developers that streamline the process by cutting out community input, basically implying that communities have no right to control our destinies, and we should leave it up to the developers (who make a buck and leave) when we are the ones who have to live with their developments for 50+ years. Gee, thanks!

      As to your point about what works, we know that linkage fees work, because they will produce a substantial amount of subsidized housing tied to growth. We know that inclusionary zoning will work for the same reason–it’s affordable units built in to the project. Since developers do not build affordable units on their own, the other suggestions are to help nonprofit developers have access to low-cost land, public land, land banks and more agility to compete including right of firdt refusal, bridge loans, the State Housing Trust Fund, County Workforce Housing funds and the city Housing Levy. This is how affordable housing at <60% of area median gets built.

  24. All you have to do is start charging appropriate property taxes based on the true value of the land.

  25. Fight this to death, and we’ll get the mass and the character change and everything people say they hate in SFH neighborhoods. We just won’t get the regular people with it.

    My parents’ place in Wedgwood had another little single family home next to it. Maybe 1100 square feet. Classic Seattle. After their neighborhood stopped being affordable for people in the Middle Class, someone bought it, tore it down, and because the neighborhood has been so “successful” in fighting density, they put up a new single family home. ~4000 square feet of it, that covers most of the lot, killed trees, paved over much of the yard, and blots out the sun all winter long. The family that moved in owns 3 cars, so parking got worse too.

    Explain to me how this is better.

    1. It’s not better at all. And it also isn’t prohibited or even addressed by the committee draft, even though it should. Why? Because developers profit greatly from this type of construction, which demonstrates, once again, that the proposal is an extreme pro-developer proposal masquerading as an affordable housing initiative.

      1. Proposing any kind of building is “pro-developer”, so that phrase means absolutely nothing.

        Obviously an affordable housing committee is going to recommend building housing. What did you expect?

      2. Building 4000 square foot single family homes where there used to be 1100 square foot single family homes in single family residential zones doesn’t exactly promote higher density, does it? Yet there’s no suggestion at all in this document (which you should probably read) that there be any restrictions on this kind of development. In fact, there are no restrictions at all on developers. If the authors were truly interested in promoting higher density, then they would have penalized building the McMansions (perhaps through tax disincentives) while promoting multi-family developments. Yet that’s not there because … the developers want to keep building the very profitable McMansions.

      3. The developers build the McMansions in single family zones because it’s the only thing they’re allowed to build there! Single-family houses of this type are allowed to be built in the multi-family zones, but developers go with townhomes instead because there’s more money in three or four small houses than one huge one. Allow developers to build a nice duplex the same size as a McMansion and I bet you would see quite a few developers take you up on that option.

      4. Building 4000 square foot single family homes where there used to be 1100 square foot single family homes in single family residential zones doesn’t exactly promote higher density, does it? Yet there’s no suggestion at all in this document (which you should probably read) that there be any restrictions on this kind of development.

        One way to reduce this is to ban it. Another is to offer alternatives (for which there currently aren’t any for someone looking to make money on a SF lot). The leaked document provides the latter, which is a very good thing. Those, like you and me, who don’t like that kind of anti-density, and-affordability change should welcome the legalization of alternatives.

    2. And if this SF neighborhood had been rezoned per HALA recommendations, that little house would’ve been bulldozed and replaced by row houses or a triplex even larger than 4000SF and more intrusive in the neighborhood.

  26. We all need an environment that is pleasing to the eye…I paid for mine in an area that I do not want to see upzoning. My view is of trees. Why are not more people concerned about the environment and the better mental health state of people who can enjoy nature outside of their window? These structures tight together that the city allows already, leave no room for trees.

    1. Single family house zoning does not guarantee that this will stay that way. In fact, it pretty much guarantee the opposite. As the land develops they will cram more houses around you as more people move in.

      On the other hand, if small scale apartments were legal (take a look at the building at Barrett and 22nd in Magnolia as an example), the neighborhood looks pretty much the same as if a house wee there, but with perhaps four times the number of people per lot than had a single family house of the same size been built there. Maybe, in that case, as growth happens, a few of those trees around you get saved.

      Indeed, it is the very care of preserving quality of life that it is better to allow flexibility in what gets built.

    2. d.p. : Those townhouses and trees have to be at least 50-100 years old, so they have a lot of character. The chances of any of developers in this town creating anything that remotely resembles that are pretty close to zero. And that’s hardly a neighborhood with affordable housing, unless you consider $500K-$1M flats to be affordable.

      1. While that neighborhood isn’t affordable, surrounding neighborhoods are. I lived in Somerville quite cheaply, because Boston had built dense housing. People who had lots of money and wanted to be in Boston proper had their million dollar brownstones, while I was able to live with housemates in a duplex in Somerville for $500/mo. The solid public transportation network allowed that to happen as well.

        Here’s where I lived:
        Lovely, right? Multi-family housing everywhere, lots of trees, heck, there’s even some off-street parking.

        Basically, you’re arguing with a bunch of people who’ve experienced living in places where multi-family homes are allowed (as HALA is proposing), and telling us that it won’t work or will be a disaster. I loved living in Somerville, I would’ve stayed if the weather wasn’t so awful. I own a SFH now, and I’m surrounded by other SFHs, and it makes me sad that visiting friends always requires a long trip. In Somerville, I’d meet people in school or at work and discover that they lived right down the street. It made hanging out that much easier.

      2. I too have lived or stayed in a number of places where multi family housing is allowed, including San Francisco. And the only neighborhoods that have an ounce of charm are the older neighborhoods, like the one in Boston or the Somerville neighborhood you linked to. If you know of any newly constructed neighborhoods around here (or anywhere for that matter) that are remotely close to those, please let me know where they are because I’d be willing to move there in a heartbeat. Also, not sure how long ago you lived there but it looks like it’s $300-400K for an apartment there now — not exactly affordable for a $65K median income.

      3. Yup, lots of trees in Somerville. Plenty of trees in Malden. Trees everywhere in J.P.

        And it isn’t just the fancy places. Dorchester’s green as hell.

        I picked one of the densest places in the city for a reason: because the notion that density = concrete jungle is just plain wrong, and takes all of 5 seconds to disprove.

        Proposing more broadly distributed growth is precisely about confronting Tamra’s fear that any loosening of density restrictions will bulldoze her neighborhood and replace every tree with a fenced-in fourpack or a Capitol Hill breadbox.

        Those forms have been the direct result of our terrible design regs, our misguided growth quarantine and, ironically, the endless clamoring for mathematical “open space” rather than for smartly compact building forms with life happening organically in their midst.

      4. How are you on the McMansions that have begun to devour single-family Seattle, Fred? Not much charm to those either — usually not many trees, either — and yet they meet your single presumptive criterion for acceptance by being built in places that don’t allow multi-family structures.

        If your argument is that nothing should change ever anywhere, then that is a losing argument, because that is already not happening today. How about working to ensure that good design doesn’t stay legislated out of existence, so that some more charming and close-knit and affordable neighborhoods can begin to happen again today?

      5. Well, d.p., if you had bothered to read some of the earlier comments I made, you would have noticed that I, like you, am not exactly a big fan of the Seattle McMansion boom either. In fact, I’d love to see some restrictions on their development. But, again, as I said earlier, you aren’t going to find that in the HALA proposal because it was written by and for developers. Considering all of the sacrifices it’s asking of single family zone dwellers, such as suffering through years of construction noise and disruption, why would any sane person living in a SF zone agree to this kind of one-sided deal?

        I’d love to hear how the changes that you presumably would like to occur (neighborhoods with livable multi-familiy housing, like those in Boston) are going to happen with this proposal. Do you really think that developers are going to create “smartly compact building forms with life happening organically in their midst” (whatever that means; can life happen inorganically?) on their own? No, d.p., because this document says absolutely nothing about design at all, other than to mention that the only recommendation that mentioned any kind of architectural standards at all was rejected. Just take a look at new construction in Capitol Hill and Ballard if you want any idea of what’s coming if this is approved.

      6. “In case you’re curious, these unremarkable yet unobtrusive duplexes are found in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.

        Why is that relevant? Because Squirrel Hill was Fred Rogers’ neighborhood.”

        That’s pretty funny. Spent a fair amount of time in Mt. Lebanon myself.

      7. If you had read my prior comments — ;-) — you’d know that I too am wary of the committee’s apparent faith in the “pure market” to provide quality outcomes. That seems to be driving its regulation-phobic bent more than any allegiance to development forces.

        But you must also understand that the Ballard breadloaves are the explicit result of existing regulations, which demand “facade variation” rather than useful permeability, “open space” rather than streetscape engagement, and such arcane FAR and setback calculations that no project is viable unless it swallows a city block whole.

        Furthermore, the rapidity with which entire areas of have seen old supplanted by new is the explicit result of limiting 100% of growth to less than 12% of the city.

        Presently single-family areas are not being recommended to swallow large or tall projects, so small lots and well-scaled facades would be easier to enforce. I would also be happily in favor of preventing developers from consolidating many lots in order to build cookie-cutter iterations of the same design in these zones.

        Breed variety by requiring well-considered, site-specific projects that just happen to come in the form of duplexes or apartment buildings of 4-6 units. That’s how cities grew in the past. That’s organic.

      8. Calling this sort of zoning changes “sacrifices” is complete lunacy, by the way. Your neighbors can have construction going on constantly *right now*; the city can rip up the roads for months on end; none of this will change with a zoning code change.

    3. We should demand a stronger tree ordinance as part of the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Without one, developers will continue to take down large trees and substitute saplings that will stay small. Our urban canopy is most at risk in midrise zones and urban villages.

      1. Mature trees take a long time to grow; they should be protected. Same with fruit trees.

    4. If you really really want real low-density, there’s a way to do it.

      Buy up all of your neighbors’ lots and become their landlords. Heck, you can even tear their houses down to create even less density.

      I’ve seen very rich people do this around their mansions.

      If you can’t afford to do this… well, maybe you can’t afford to be so selfish. It turns out that super-low-density is a very selfish thing to want.

      Requiring your neighbors to keep their lots empty for your benefit is a pretty odd way to get your desires for empty surroundings. One might even say that you’re getting something for nothing.

    5. Density leaves plenty of room for trees … outside the urban growth boundary. The more we push people out of Seattle, the more the growth boundary gets pushed out, and the more trees get cut down for suburban sprawl. We also lose farmland that way. Most urbanists are serious environmentalists, who know the impact of sprawl.

      1. The urban growth boundary is fixed and isn’t getting pushed out. We desperately need trees in Seattle. DPD is considering lowering our tree canopy goal from 40% to 30%. This would be a step in the wrong direction. Instead, we need a stronger urban tree ordinance.

    1. Just wait until they get to the “Sharia-compliant financing section” of the draft.

  27. I feel discriminated as a car owner. The thought that people are going to be getting rid of their cars is ridiculous. Just try having a family with 2.5 kids and two full time jobs while taking the kids to school, going to work and getting said kids to afterschool activities without a car. I am sorry but I don’t have the extra 2-3 hours of daylight that taking public transportation requires.

    This city has constantly gone against what voters have approved (like light rail from West Seattle to Ballard). Now they want to take away my parking spot at home with no real good solution for getting me and the family around the city. I am tired of being force fed bus transportation that isn’t efficient and being told that I am acting entitled because I need my car.

    1. I think you’re confusing universalism with existentialism. There exist people in Seattle, a lot of them, who don’t own a car. Many of them still drive a car on occasion (rental, Car2Go, Flexcar).

      Parking is generally provided free everywhere I’ve lived, and part of my rent, even though I don’t use a parking space. I’m not happy about subsidizing car owners in this way.

      HALA doesn’t actually take away any parking. It merely lets apartment builders decide, based on their knowledge of the market, how many parking stalls they want to build.

      Dynamic pricing doesn’t take away parking, either. It just makes it no longer “free” (ignoring the cost to taxpayers to maintain the parking spot, and in some cases, the cost to run buses stuck in general traffic lanes because a couple dozen parking spots were somehow deemed to be more important than thousands of bus riders and tens of thousands of other drivers), and charges enough to make sure there are always a reasonable enough number of spots open. It may save you some time.

      1. I have a kid. I don’t own a car. I have lots of friends with multiple kids who own 1 or 0 cars. Some are family bikers, some just live in dense areas of Seattle (like the CD) and rely on transit. We feel discriminated against, as we pay lots of money into the road system (local, state, AND federal), and recieve very little benefit in return. Instead, we walk or ride on roads that are dangerous, and designed to move as many cars as possible at the expense of everyone’s safety.

        Likewise, I am forced to have a garage in my house. I don’t use it. I’m also forced to have a driveway, to access that garage. I don’t use that. That’s 2 vehicle spots that are unused, that I’m paying for in multiple ways (opportunity costs, property taxes, maintainence costs, etc).

        Guess what? People ARE getting rid of their cars, even those with kids. But people like you whining about parking spots makes it harder for us to do so. So how about you stop doing that already?

      2. Great, I am glad it works for you however to assume that we can all live in the city and take public transportation is one sided. In my household we work in opposite directions and chose to live in the middle. Just because you take away the parking, does not mean you take away the need for a car.

        I am confused about your complaints about having a garage…you could use it as additional housing space and with the new draft be able to rent that space out. I don’t see how this puts you out.

      3. You keep saying that someone is going to “take away” your parking. You have a choice in where you live, and that choice should include whether or not parking is available to you. So no one is going to “take away” your parking. Loosening parking requirements allows you to make the choice about whether your home comes with an off-street parking spot or not.

        Yes, with the new draft I can convert the garage into something else, and that is what I plan to do if the draft actually passes. I was mostly using that point to show how everyone feels discriminated against, and some actually have more valid claims than others. People with cars feeling like their discriminated against in the US is just downright ridiculous; the entire US housing and transportation policy is crafted around the automobile. If I want to live someplace where I can walk and bike everywhere (safely), I have at most a handful of choices in the US. If you want to live someplace where you can drive everywhere, the entire US is available to you (including in dense places like NYC, where poeople still own a ton of cars).

      4. I have chosen where I want to live, but new rules being proposed and new housing that is going in, restricts how I can and cannot live. This does impact me where I am currently living, so basically you are saying that it’s okay that things are rezoned and I can always move. Well that argument goes both ways. You are welcome to move where you can walk and bike to your hearts content. Seattle does not have that infrastructure at this time. It’s putting the cart before the horse, Put viable transportation in and then remove or not include parking. I continually have had my driving lanes removed for buses and main drags turned into bus only zones. If the light rail between West Seattle and Ballard had been put in as was voted on years ago, I would have less reservations about this.

      5. I am not talking about height allowances, I am talking strictly about parking requirements, since that is what you are complaining about. Rezoning to add height allowances, etc is a separate issue. If you want to talk about that, start a separate thread. But as far as parking? Your claims that people are someone going to remove your parking are flat out wrong. And you telling me that I cannot remove parking from MY property is, well, ridiculous. I’m not telling you that you should move, I’m saying that you should not try and tell other people that they need to pay for a parking spot that they don’t want or need.

      6. I am not sure where you got the height allowances part of my response from but I think you misunderstood what I was saying. Thanks for providing your alternative perspective, I’ve enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

      7. Whoops, that should have read, “Your claims that someone is going to remove your parking are flat out wrong.”

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