Lisa Herbold

Seattle Transit Blog editor Martin H. Duke misrepresented my position when he wrote on Saturday:

Council Candidate Lisa Herbold argues that flexibility in single­-family zones will threaten displacement from affordable single-family homes.

Click through to the article in the link above, and you will see that my position relates not to opposing “flexibility,” but to rezoning existing single­-family zones without including a companion housing preservation strategy. When we talk about “flexibility” within single-­family zones, we are not referring to rezones; rather we are referring to expansion of the current DADU program and allowing backyard cottages in existing single-­family zones, which I support. “Flexibility in single-­family” zones presupposes the retention, not the elimination, of the single­-family zone.

So now that we’ve got the definitions straight, on to the rest of the article, which says:

But current law doesn’t prevent a landlord from renovating or rebuilding a single­family home to be more valuable and displacing the tenant. When this redevelopment occurs, the only difference between the law allowing a triplex and demanding a single home is that it forces two additional households out of Seattle.

It’s true that current law doesn’t prevent rebuilding or renovating a single­-family structure that displaces the tenant when a new single family structure is built. But it is not a good comparison because it ignores how upzones create incentives for redevelopment. Hopefully it is understood that the frequency of tenants being displaced after a renovation or rebuilding of a single-family home in single-family zones is less than the frequency of displacement from redevelopment that occurs when the value of property is increased after an upzone. It is that frequency of displacement that makes this a pressing issue when contemplating the upzone of approximately 138,000 single family homes, about 36,000 of them home to renter households.

Finally, the mischaracterization of my position and argument against it ends with this sentence:

Whatever compassion we feel for displaced households should also extend to those who never get to live in our city in the first place, solely due to arbitrary regulations.

I have more compassion for a displaced low income family renting one of our scarce affordable family-­sized rentals who has to move their family out of the city, pull their children out of school, and suffer a long, emissions-­producing commute like this family who Janet Tu profiled in her excellent piece in the Times, than I do for the three higher­income families who otherwise would likely be buying the new homes that are built in the place of that one low­-income rental. Do you know why? That low income family has far fewer options, and the hardship they will experience will be much, much greater than the 3 higher-­income families will experience not being able to buy one of those 3 pricey new homes.

The issue of compassion aside, I do want Seattle to be a place where people can afford to work and raise a family, no matter what their income. The pitting of existing people who live here now against new ones who might live here in the future is unproductive. We can pursue policies that help both. That is why I support a housing preservation policy to replace existing affordable rental housing in the case that future upzones result in demolition of existing affordable housing.

I also believe that with new development, we desperately need to implement new funding tools to ensure that developers pay for the transportation impacts associated with growth. We need to protect existing affordable housing and build new affordable housing, both with good access to frequent, reliable transit, to make Seattle a truly inclusive city for everyone, whether they already live here or they want to live here.

The author is a candidate for Seattle City Council, District 1, this November.

66 Replies to “Correcting the Record on Single-Family Upzones”

  1. New funding tools? How about the good old fashioned one — Property Tax.

    You’re never going to get rational building anywhere in the State of Washington so long as you have artificially low property taxes pegged at 1992 prices.

    Same for zoning. So long as there’s no additional burden placed on Land Hogs, they are going to try and squeeze as many people as possible into the tiniest amount of space.

  2. That was a needlessly baroque explanation of a relatively straightforward position. I expect a lot of debate here will stem from how easy it is to misread the statement.

    Eg: “Hopefully it is understood that the frequency of tenants being displaced after a renovation or rebuilding of a single-family home in single-family zones is less than the frequency of displacement from redevelopment that occurs when the value of property is increased after an upzone. It is that frequency of displacement that makes this a pressing issue when contemplating the upzone of approximately 138,000 single family homes, about 36,000 of them home to renter households.”

    So what you’re saying is just that if I remodel a home I own, I might boot out a low-income tenant as a result, because I’ll have a snazzier home. But if the city upzones an area, the whole neighborhood moves upscale, and more low-income tenants are booted out. Am I right?

    1. She has a good point there. Large scale displacement is something to be avoided. Look at all the vacant and surplus property in North Rainier Urban Village. Time to finish the Town Center and create density where it counts, without displacement.

      1. Prices are high because supply is constrained and demand is high. This dislocation issue is one solved by dislocation assistance not by constraining the supply even more.

      2. I was a happy recipient of monetary relocation assistance the one time I was forced to leave an apartment being condoized. It was what I needed at the time, and helped me move a couple blocks down. I had no interest whatsoever in the property owner offering me a space somewhere else around town (which most small property owners can’t do anyway), or in being relocated temporarily elsewhere on site. But that’s just my experience.

        What we have on the books is a good aid for those being displaced, and hopefully won’t get “displaced” by other anti-displacement measures.

      3. There’s a Town Center plan for North Rainier? Is it more than just a sketch of the maximum building sizes? I.e., does it show a good variety of amenities and services in the village so that people don’t have to leave it all the time?

      4. Yeah, I think it’s an interesting position, for sure, though not necessarily one I agree with. My point is that it took me, at least, two reads to actually figure out what the argument was. For instance, in the part I quoted above, it is not clear if “that frequency” is the frequency of displacement by single family construction or by upzone, nor is it entirely clear what “this” pressing issue is, a few words later.

        What I’m trying to get at by being kind of obnoxiously sidetracked by language use, here, is that the post read, to me, as somewhat opaque. I think if we are going to have productive conversations about zoning, we need to use clear and precise language, so that we really understand each other and don’t fall back on “pro- or anti- development is bad, person dumb, be angry”

  3. From a displacement standpoint, there are several ways that it is happening right now in single family zoned areas:

    1) The house is sold and the new owner wants to live in it.
    2) The owner raises the rent.
    3) The owner decides to do a remodel.

    Now you are saying that the third scenario is more likely, because the remodel will involve increasing density. Fair enough. But this makes the second scenario (a very common one) less likely. Increasing density puts downward pressure on rents. Meanwhile, there are other renters out there, renting apartments. This puts downward pressure on their rents as well. Given the fact that relatively few houses are actually rented, the number of people displaced by converting a house to a duplex (or triplex) is small compared to the number who will have lower rents (all other things being equal). I think it is quite reasonable to assume that such a policy would reduce displacement, not increase it.

    Besides, the second type of displacement (caused by rising rents) is much more onerous. While I am sympathetic to those forced to move, it isn’t that bad if you at least can afford to live in a place nearby. Policies restricting development make that less likely. The family you mentioned in that Seattle Times profile is in that boat. They can’t afford to live in Seattle. In other words, the problem was not due to them being kicked out when someone remodeled, the problem was that not enough places are being built. The demand simply can’t keep up with the artificially restrained supply. If you sincerely have compassion about families like those, you should encourage more density, not less.

    1. I still don’t quite understand the logic of resticting supply magically keeping prices lower.

      If a neighborhood is essentially frozen, rents can stay low, but only if the demand is channeled somewhere else.

      If we expanded the LR zoning around transit nodes and upzoned the mixed use parcels that were not yet developed near these same areas, it might take some of the pressure off of the single family zoning further away from transit, but I haven’t yet seen preservationists arguing for a strategy like this.

      The current LR zoning can’t keep up with the demand. They can’t build enough townhomes and apartments to slow down price increases.

      I suspect we’re going to continue down this track until we either change zonIng to some extent or have another major economic slowdown.

      1. There may be something to her argument. Speaking as landlord for 2 single family homes, I would guess that most landlords renting single family homes have only a couple rentals and keep a 9-5 so are less sophisticated in following the market and increasing rent accordingly. Or they factor in personal relationships with tenants. Or intentionally keep rent low in order to reduce turnover, or for an agreement for the tenant to deal with minor property upkeep.
        The more units a landlord manages, the more tenants are objectified and rent increases are tied to the market.
        That said… I would love to turn my rentals into triplexes and quit my job… and hopefully not become a ruthless capitalist landlord?

      2. @says — Exactly, but those landlords aren’t going to do anything different if the land gets upzoned. All the same ideas apply (avoid turnover, ignore the market, etc.). If you are aren’t willing to increase rent, why would go through the hassle of selling a property (which includes evicting your tenants) so that you can covert it to triplex? That seems like a much bigger hassle.Besides, what you are suggesting is that there is someone out there living in a house that he has been renting for many years. This means that the owner of the house could just sell it, and make a mint. But now, because the owner can get a bit more by converting to a triplex, he will suddenly kick out the tenant? I don’t buy it. It could happen, but it would be very rare.

        The houses that get converted to triplexes will simply be the houses that are for sale anyway. That is why this her argument is so weak. There are very few people renting houses*. Many of those will continue to be rented, regardless of what happens in the market. But there are a lot of houses that gets sold by their former occupants every day. Usually the new owner moves in. Sometimes the new owner buys the house, tears it down and puts up a bigger house. With the change, there will be a lot more houses that are bought and converted to duplexes and triplexes. It will take time, of course, but that is the way these things work. If the single family zoned areas grew at around 1%, we would have a huge increase in units for the city. But that just means one house out of hundred each year. There would be very little displacement — I think it is a very weak argument meant to elicit sympathy.

        The Seattle Times article is the kicker, in that regard. It doesn’t even make sense. If she is worried about that guy (and his family) then she should be promoting as much new development as possible.

        * In general there are few houses that are rented, but one exception is property close to a school (like the UW). But property like that has huge turnover anyway. There just aren’t that many houses that are rented out for a very long time by the same person. That being said, I actually know someone who has been renting the same house for over twenty years, but the landlord has no interest in selling the property (despite the huge financial gain he would make from it). Changing the zoning would make absolutely no difference to him (although it would likely mean that if he ever leaves or gets kicked out he could better afford a new place).

  4. Lisa, thank you for coming to STB to explain your position. I am a West Seattle voter still deciding who to support.

    Do you have a “housing preservation policy to replace existing affordable rental housing”? What is your preferred policy? Without explaining how this better policy would allow the housing supply to expand, this article reads simply as opposition to any new flexibility in single-family zones.

    1. Considering the lack of any replies, I must assume that a “housing preservation policy to replace existing affordable rental housing” is a unicorn policy that doesn’t exist. Until the unicorn is found, housing growth in single-family zoned areas will be opposed by this candidate.

  5. Lisa, what “affordable single family homes”? Where are these mythical affordable single family homes, ESPECIALLY where one wouldn’t need to have a long “Emissions-producing” commute . They don’t exist, and it you become a city councilor, they won’t exist.

    You will fight tooth and nail against sane land use policy in the city. You will restrict building heights in neighborhoods where “emission-producing” commutes aren’t necessary. And you will ban the construction of micro-housing which allow for affordable shelters for people who want to buy small spaces.

    Don’t get sanctimonious over climate change, land use, and displacement, because the policies you yourself support make all three worse.

      1. It doesn’t really matter to be because her opponent isn’t any better. It seems that the body politic in west Seattle are terrible on land use policies, even to the detriment of the goals they claim they hold.

      2. I would be one of her constituents. I am happy she came here to restate her position, but I am not at all happy with her restated position.

        She has to represent me and others like me in her District. Deal with that!

    1. I’m apparently incapable of doing the mental gymnastics required to see any logical points in this article.

      Out of a hypothetical single-family-to-triplex-conversion-where-the-existing-family-is-displaced, did she really just argue that it’s more environmentally friendly to have three “long, emissions-­producing commute[s]” instead of one?

      The solution to the problem of having “scarce affordable family-­sized rentals” in the city is to maintain restrictions on them being built? To me it certainly seems like the “unproductive” practice of “the pitting of existing people who live here now against new ones who might live here in the future” is exactly what she’s doing.

      1. I think you need a super special decoder ring to figure out how the so-called “leftist” candidate bloc’s policies will fix the goals they claim to have.

      2. Who is the leftist candidate bloc? Kshama Sawant is the only one I’d consider leftist. Supporting west-coast liberal values is not the same thing as anti-capitalism.

      3. Why include Weatbrook (who clearly is not going to win), and not Maddux (who might win, supports Grant’s plan, and calls himself a “social justice urbanist”)? Weatbrook seems to have re-invented her campaign for purposes of her interview with Erica, but her own website shows her to just be all-in NIMBY. NIMBYism is not Leftism, by any stretch of the imagination.

        I wish Herbold’s platform resembled Weatbrook’s less and Maddux’s more.

  6. This looks to me like a classic case of supply-and-demand vs the observation that we’re in a building boom and yet rents are rising.

    The supply and demand argument goes: “yeah, of course they are – we’re building things because it’s profitable, because rents are rising. The problem is that we aren’t building enough to keep up with demand, because of all the zoning laws, and so we’re kicking everybody out”

    The other side goes “no, all of this building is of fancy new places that nobody can afford – and it doesn’t even matter if your place isn’t rebuilt, because the neighborhood becomes trendy and rents go through the roof!”

    (And some counter-arguments from both sides we’ll surely see in the comment thread)

    The real question is, how is demand effected by the changing supply?

    Is it Econ 102, where there is demand X, and they’re supply, the lower the prices?

    Or are there feedback loops unaccounted for in that assessment, so that if supply is increased with new trendy buildings, those now-cool neighborhoods increase demand for living in Seattle?

    Are we in a predominantly local market, where there are a relatively fixed number of Seattleites who need a place to live, and so an increase in supply can satiate an increase in demand?

    Or are we in a more global market, where Seattle isn’t big enough to absorb demand and set prices? In this scenario, demand is primarily a product of the kind of city you build, where if people like it, there are more of them than you can handle, and if people don’t, those people aren’t around.

    This is the question. What is the nature of the demand curve?

    (I would argue that it’s a hybrid. Lower-income demand is set by the number of people living here, because lower-income people have less mobility. In contrast, young high income people (Amazon employees) are highly mobile, and so that part of the market is set by “is Seattle cool” and is basically insatiable. (There’s an employment factor, obviously, but that has strong positive feedback loops, where amazon’s growth, to use the local scapegoat, makes Seattle more attractive to other tech companies, which benefits Amazon and other tech companies even more). The problem with this setup is that those who are displaced are least able to handle it, while those doing the displacing are as abundant as the city is successful)

    1. The solution, I think, is highly progressive tax-code, coupled with requirements for building affordable housing. With tax code, you can make the city an affordable place to live if you’re poor and an expensive place to live if you are not (and even use the funds from the latter to ensure the former!)

      That way, we can tamp down demand for luxury condos a bit, while using the funds to increase the supply of affordable apartments.

      1. I honestly don’t think this is the problem. It is easy to assume that “rich people” are driving up rents, but by and large, it is simple “people” that are driving up rents. Ordinary people. Consider that Apodments were ridiculously popular until the city banned them. This is crazy. Apodments are a weird loophole that allows developers to treat a high density building like a low density one. Same height, same FAR, same setback, just a different number of people. Yet I don’t see too many low density buildings being built. It is perfectly legal. You can build a six story building with one person per floor and have all the building advantages of an Apodment (no review, fewer parking spaces, etc.). Yet unlike New York City, no one is doing it. So while the city allows it — practically begs developers to build it — it just isn’t happening.

        Again, it is the opposite. What is driving up rents is not the rich people who tear down small houses and put up monster houses. Nor is it the people that move into high rises downtown. It is the people who tried to move into an Apodment, but found out they couldn’t (because there aren’t enough of them). So they rent a studio. The other guy who wanted the studio now pays a lot more. On and on it goes until someone is paying two grand a month for an apartment, and everyone is calling him rich. Yeah, maybe. Or maybe he is simply paying a lot more of his income on rent for just a decent place to live.

      2. “It is easy to assume that “rich people” are driving up rents, but by and large, it is simple “people” that are driving up rents. Ordinary people.”

        Not “rich people” but “higher-income people”. Part of it is just the raw number of people, but part of it is that the new jobs pay more than the existing median income, which means they tolerate higher asking rents more and are looking for more luxuries. The existing people with lower median income are competing for the same higher asking rents, which they can’t, so they end up going to lower-quality locations or the suburbs.

      3. But again, Mike — the idea that is it wealthier or “higher income people” driving the growth in rents is completely opposite of the type of growth that has occurred here. The zoning laws are doing everything they can to encourage the development of luxury apartments, yet people are screaming for cheaper, more affordable places! Again, I have to mention Apodments (now illegal). If it really was “higher income people” driving the growth, then there would be no market for Apodments. You would have very large places (as they do in New York) where wealthier — sorry — “higher income people” — move in. It just isn’t happening. People complain about the lack of two and three bedroom units. That is exactly the place where a higher income person would move to, if given the chance. But there aren’t that many of those places, because the market isn’t demanding it (despite the zoning laws which encourage it). In other words, a developer can build 20 units and charge 5 grand a month, or 50 units and charge 2 grand. If it was higher income people driving up the cost of rent, they would built the former. But they don’t, because it is simply middle class people driving the increase.

      4. What’s new is the ballooning number of tech jobs, which pay more on average than the existing jobs did. Rents are going up both because of the increasing number of people, and because these high-paid tech workers are willing and able to pay more than people previously did. So that’s two factors that both allow the rent increase, and allow it to go higher than it would if it were just the number of people. So the six-figure tekkie outcompetes the other tenant, and the landlord gets more money than they otherwise would. The third factor is tekkies’ preference for urban locations, which disproportionately squeeze certain neighborhoods.

      5. Re your other points. There are $1300 apodments believe it or not. And just because higher-income people are the dominant factor doesn’t mean everybody’s targeting them. Calhoun (creator of apodments) saw an unserved lower-level market niche and decided to fill it. Local owners and nonprofits are often less interested in chasing the top dollar than investor-funded buldings are. As for people screaming for cheaper, more affordable places, that will happen when the market for high-end units is saturated. When everyone who’s willing to pay $2200 or $1800 for an apartment already has one, then the developers will have to set their sites lower if they want to make any more money. But restrictive zoning is preventing the market from reaching saturation.

        (There are some cities with endless demand from international tycoons: New York, London, Vancouver. We have to hope that Seattle doesn’t fall into that. But right now the biggest demand seems to be middle-class people who have a job here or want to live here, and rich Chinese families wanting to get their kids into Eastside schools. We’ll know if it goes beyond that when those million-dollar condo ideas downtown start getting filled.)

      6. >> There are $1300 apodments

        Which proves my point! Apodments only make sense if demand is based on the number of people, not the amount of money in their wallet. If that wasn’t the case, then they wouldn’t build them. If you are wealthier than the average person, why in God’s name would you buy an apartment that is much smaller than the average apartment, and share a freakin’ bathroom? Dude, that makes no sense.

        You are fixated on the numbers. I get that. But the numbers have risen for everyone. Don’t worry about the numbers. Here, I’ll help. Think of this like an economics question. A developer can build 20 units and charge $5 a month, or 50 units and charge $2 a month. In what type of market does building the first make sense, and in what type of market does building the second?

        Answer: It makes sense to build the first if there are a disproportionate amount of very wealthy people (like in New York City). It makes sense to build the second if there is wide spread demand by a middle or working class.

        So, that begs the question — what are we building in Seattle? Way more like the first than the second. Apodments are just a ridiculous example of it. Apodments are popular and they manage to cram as many units as possible into a building. They do so (or did so) by leveraging a loophole. They were a clumsy attempt to deal with an unmet demand. Now imagine if there was no loophole. Imagine if it was simply legal to build as many small apartments as you wanted. It stands to reason that you would have way more.

        Meanwhile, it is perfectly legal (and encouraged) to build the opposite. Big apartments are legal. Build an apartment with a couple giant units on each floor and you have every construction advantage as you did with an apodments (no design review and less parking). This type of construction is still legal. It is also rare (in this city). So rare that people complain about the lack of big apartments in this town. Why are there so few three bedroom apartments? Is it because rich people are hoarding them? NO! It is because they aren’t being built. There just aren’t enough rich people that want to live in them. They would rather buy a house.

        So, to summarize: the market for small apartments is legally constrained, yet is booming. The market for big apartments is encouraged by the current zoning laws, yet remains very small. In other words, it is much easier (and cheaper) to build a few big (expensive) apartments than it is to build a lot of small (cheap) apartments. Yet we are building the opposite. Demand is being driven by the number of people who want to live in the city (like the guy in that Seattle Times article) not by the amount of money they have. Of course a wealthy guy outbids the other guy — but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that there aren’t enough places for everyone to live.

        Look, just tell me the last time you saw density decrease with a new apartment building. Seriously, I can walk down the street and look at dozens of examples of the opposite. Despite zoning laws that encourage less density (and thus more wealthy residents) developers are building the opposite.

      7. It’s both. It’s not just the number of people any more than it’s just the wealth. Apodments wouldn’t rent if there were plenty of cheap full-sized studios. But at the same time, rents wouldn’t be going up as fast if there weren’t these high-paid renters willing to pay them. If the price reaches the ceiling of what the pool of renters can afford, rent increases stop or you end up with empty units for several months. San Francisco wouldn’t be able to sustain those $3000 rents if there weren’t enough people able to pay that.

    2. The truth is in between, but the biggest factor is supply and demand. It’s also complicated because there are multiple real-estate markets at different price levels and type of building. But the only way to solve the problem is to decide that we must have an equalibrium vacancy rate of 5-10% and build enough housing in a variety of sizes and shapes to meet that. And we should target it at prices based on Seattle’s income distribution in 2010, or some reference point before the current squeeze pushed people out of the city. The displacement has been going on for longer, at least twenty years, and I’m not sure how much of that we should try to reverse. But stopping the increase spiral and getting back to the housing opportunity level in 2010 would be a good start.

    3. Yeah, there very easily could be a feedback loop. Seattle was less popular when there were fewer Thai restaurants. Now that there are enough people to justify all the Thai restaurants, more people want to move here.

      Yeah, maybe. But the simpler explanation is that jobs are moving here. Amazon is growing like crazy, as are the other software companies in the area. Besides, it isn’t like the old houses weren’t popular. That is why a lot of people want to hold on to the look of those neighborhoods. I get it. Walking through a typical single family neighborhood (especially in the “old city” or areas where they have sidewalks) is really nice. It is reasonable to think that global demand — or “I can live anywhere I want to” demand is really pushing up prices here. Maybe a bit, but I doubt it. It is still very gray compared to the Bay Area, or L. A.. It is still really podunk compared to New York, or D. C. It is still very cold compared to Miami. Hell, if you are a retiree, and want to just kick back and enjoy the natural splendor which we have (and have big time) then why Seattle? Why not Bellingham? Fewer Thai restaurants, but still a few (and more than a few breweries as well). It is a lot more affordable, and as a hiker, I will say a lot better from an outdoor perspective. Closer to B. C., which means that if you really want that urban fix — if you really want to wander around a great city and never feel like driving — then it isn’t that far away. Meanwhile, Bellingham punches way above its weight when it comes to culture (one of the benefits of being a college town). Yet Bellingham, despite having an obvious rise in housing prices, is nowhere near as expensive as Seattle. You can find houses in extremely nice neighborhoods (protected as historic) within a short walk of downtown for under $250,000.

      An apples an oranges perspective, perhaps. Maybe Seattle has that “big city” feel and just enough amenities to attract people, regardless of occupational status. I doubt it. The young people that like it here (or don’t like it here) are following the jobs. They can’t move to Bellingham because there aren’t the same jobs there. The older folks will just move to Sequim (better climate). I think if you look at most places around the country, that is what is driving the cost of living. There are exceptions (e. g. New York and San Fransisco) that are so damn nice that people want to move there when they can afford to live everywhere. But small towns in North Dakota suddenly became popular ten years ago not because they were “discovered”, but because oil companies discovered how to get more oil out of the ground (and were willing to pay good money to people to help them extract it).

      So, yeah, maybe there is a little feedback going on here, but mostly it is just about jobs. Lots and lots of jobs.

  7. Lisa, I’m confused by your reasoning regarding the family profiled in Janet Tu’s Seattle Times article (here, since the link provided above is bad:

    That article is about a family that lives in unincorporated King County, not Seattle, and so they weren’t displaced by new development and rising rents in the city. Rather, because things have gotten more expensive they are unable to afford a family-sized unit in Seattle, but there is nothing in your proposal that will make it more likely that a family like the Nakhales will be able to rent here. Rather, all else being equal the city will have a smaller supply of housing relative to the number of people who would like to live here, worsening the affordability crisis for both new and existing housing. In effect you’re making things no better for poor families who would like to move into the city, worse for middle- and higher-income people who would like to live here, and worse for everyone else–rich and poor–who already lives here and is facing increasing pressure as the lack of housing supply drives up rents.

    And the odds of Simon and his family finding an income-restricted affordable unit will be smaller as well, since less housing production means fewer dollars for subsidized housing and fewer affordable units produced through a density bonus type of system.

    Also, to echo a previous comment: Where are these magical market-rate affordable units that are large enough for families? By and large these don’t exist, so I’m not sure what you’re claiming to protect. And if a few exist now, if we don’t build enough housing to soak up the demand for living in Seattle, you can bet that they won’t be affordable for much longer.

  8. If there was legitimate concern about expanding housing choices for low-income people, we would be supporting expanding Link to High Point and White Center before Alaska Junction. if there was legitimate concern about expanding housing choices for low-income people, we would support rail transit to Burien before Federal Way, or Renton before Issaquah.

    If there was legitimate concern about expanding housing choices, we would revisit how we define a “single-family” home is in the first place (noting it should be called “single kitchen, single key access home” because it has little to do with “families”). Would the author be willing to consider an FAR-based residential zoning system, for example?

    The need for affordable housing is real. Everyone thinks it’s important in concept, just like good schools, accessible transit and clean water. So what?

    I can’t help but feel like this article reveals nothing than platitudes intended to make people happy but not propose much about how to address the problem.

    1. We would support major transit expansion to those places, whether or not Link. But even those places may not be as affordable by the time it opens. Middle- and high-income people are looking everywhere for housing, and as opportunities in “better” neighborhoods fill up, eventually prices will rise in High Point and Renton too, with or without transit expansions. Transit expansions affect more the kind of people who live there rather than how rich they are. Meaning, if Link or a good BRT line exists, it will tend to attract middle-income transit riders, and if it doesn’t exist, it attracts the same-income drivers. This is a weak effect, however, given the enormous popularity of driving and the transit-inaccessibility of their other destinations. In cities with comprehensive transit like New York, London, and Moscow, there’s a huge difference in rents between housing near subway stations and other housing. But in cities like Seattle where most people drive, they don’t care whether it’s near a station or not, they’re looking at other factors, so the percentage of people willing to pay more for station areas is smaller. Here the problem is more the absolute number of units in station areas because it’s extremely small, far smaller than the demand. That’s both due to the small number of lines and stations, and the underdevelopment in the station areas that exist.

  9. This is a great example of good intentions leading to bad results. “Preserving” single family homes will never lead to affordability, and to argue that is does is either a misunderstanding of fundamental math, a deflection of the problem to other areas (i.e. not in my back yard), or openly dishonest to appeal to SF voters and their interest in increasing their home values.

    Making up numbers, if we have 500k homes and 800k and climbing households wanting to live here, protecting those 500k homes will only lead to prices increasing. Affordability just can’t happen under this scenario, which is why you can buy a shack in places like Palo Alto that are years ahead of us in protecting SF homes. Who are the 500k households that end up in those 500k homes? The richest ones of course. That’s why your home value went up in double digits last year.

    This will not be solved by DADUs. Yes, it can partially be solved by strongly upzoning neighborhood cores and downtown, but I haven’t heard you even argue that.

      1. Yes, spot on. I’m thrilled we were lucky enough to buy our house before prices went crazy, but we’re one of those (many & rising) tech families with room to pay what we need to pay to get the house & neighborhood we want. When we bought a rundown $250k house would have been an attractive teardown relative to the price of a move in ready house. Now that figure is more like $500k given how much a move in ready house would cost.

        Home values rise, so property taxes rise, putting pressure on a landlord to raise rents, and the attractiveness of all those rundown house as SF teardowns rises. The only outlet for affordability is to allow more units per parcel of land. A triplex is at root an opportunity for 3 less than rich families to compete for a home at a spot only a rich family could afford as a SFH.

    1. Yep. So many comments saying basically the same thing. Sigh. I forget — who did the Seattle Transit Blog endorse in the 1st? Oh yeah, nobody. This is why.

      Don’t get me wrong. I can respect someone for a well thought out position, even if they don’t share my priorities or values. If you really aren’t too concerned about rising rents, then by all means, support less development. That is a reasonable trade-off. But don’t twist around your arguments and expect logically thinking people to just agree with you because you seem to be a very nice person (which I assume you are) and have everyone’s interest at heart. You also need to think through the ramifications of the policy, and what it means for everyone. The kicker was the case study (from The Seattle Times) and the fact that it ran counter to the argument. Wow.

      I took debate in high school (yes, Seattle Public Schools teaches debate — or at least they used to) and a presentation like this wouldn’t be acceptable. I don’t mean in a competition, I mean in class (which includes beginners). Ms. Herbold may have other redeeming qualities that make her well suited for public office (such as being responsive to her constituents) but if this is indication, she lacks the ability to make a straightforward, logical, well represented argument. That’s not good.

  10. You and other HALA opponents keep incorrectly using the term upzone for adding flexibility to Single Family Zones.

    Only those Single Family areas inside Urban Villages are actually being upzoned.

    All other areas are simply being allowed flexibility in terms of building design/usage. You can’t build any taller in those zones, or any ‘denser’ (FAR stays the same). All that changes is the uses allowed.

    1. Good point. Remember, HALA was a compromise. A tough compromise. A lot of housing advocates wanted upzones, but they compromised on something that would retain the same sorts of physical limits, but allow more people to live in the neighborhood.

    2. Seems to me when you change the zoning code to allow a one-story SF house to be demolished and replaced with a 3-story triplex, you really have to call that an upzone. The “bulk” of the new structure may be no greater than what’s permitted today in the existing SF zone, but it’s far more than the houses there already, the ones that get torn down..

      1. With no change to current zoning someone can tear down a single story house and replace it with a 3 story house. This isn’t an upzone any more than a parking lot in the downtown core getting replaced with a 20 story building is. Sure the new construction is much larger than what was there before, but the land use code has allowed a larger structure for a long time.

  11. Seattle has the same problem that Portland does.

    Pretty much all of the myths this young lady is spreading about housing costs and upzoning in Seattle are covered and debunked in the series of articles in the Willamette Week set of articles titled “Grow Up Portland: Why the apartment buildings you hate are good for the city.” There are three articles that are part of the set.

    This includes proper ridicule of the concept that building more housing causes prices to rise, or especially the case that not building more housing keeps housing affordable.

      1. I attempted to, but on the process of slipping back and forth between windows the text of my comment got deleted (twice) due to page reloading when I changed windows, so WorldPress must have decided it wants to limit window swapping or something.

        This is done from my phone, so no guarantee you won’t get the mobile site.

        Lets start with the 5 myths about Portland apartments:

      2. Interesting. So it looks like if I cut and paste the URL from the window from the browser on my phone into the comment, it all winds up redirecting to the same introduction page to the article series. I suppose they set it up that way on purpose.

  12. Another side of this is the homeowners on fixed incomes who aren’t able to stay in their home because of rising property values and taxes. It’s very difficult to build a DADU or ADU and they can’t do a duplex conversion (right?) so it’s impossible for them to get any income from the incredibly valuable home they own. They sell, and someone buys it knowing the best way to get value for a SF property is to build a mini-mansion.

    1. All the more reason to ease up on (but not eliminate) rules for ADUs and DADUs, and create ways to assist homeowners in actually building these units. Too bad such homeowners weren’t represented on the HALA.

  13. It’s utterly delusional to think that SF protectionism is going to keep the lower end of single family homes “affordable”. As they become more scarce, those people she thinks she’s protecting will simply be displaced by increased rents.

    A friend of mine retired early after his mother died and he inherited her home in Silicon Valley. A boring, unremarkable 50’s rambler with no updates, and in poor shape. 1.3 million. The quasi-affordable portion of the housing stock she thinks she’s protecting isn’t immune to being bid up because of scarcity.

    1. There is nothing preventing those affordable single family homes from being demolished and replaced with three floor behemoths selling for many times the price of the home that was originally there.

  14. You wrote:
    “Hopefully it is understood that the frequency of tenants being displaced after a renovation or rebuilding of a single-family home in single-family zones is less than the frequency of displacement from redevelopment that occurs when the value of property is increased after an upzone.”

    Please provide evidence for this broad, blanket, unsupported assertion.

    I say it’s false. Because here’s what I think you’ve overlooked:

    If you have a drasticlaly limited supply of places where multi-family housing is allowed at all, then that land becomes super-valuable — so increasing the number of multi-family zones by a tiny area will cause massive land price rise in that tiny area.

    If, on the other hand, the ENTIRE CITY was “upzoned” to allow duplexes citywide, I’m pretty sure the land values in 99% of the city would stay flat or maybe drop, and displacement rates would be about the same as they are when single-family houses are replaced with fancier single-family houses. Heck, if all zoning was “upzoned” to allow skyscrapers everywhere, I’m pretty sure the value of the land in most of the city would stay flat or drop.

    Now, from what you’ve written, I think you might support that. But your writing did not make it clear that you understood this point. Displacements happen when the land value has gone up. Normally, with a reasonable supply of all types of zones, land value stays the same or drops when you “upzone” a zone — but if multifamily housing zones are exceedingly rare, they end up being exceedingly valuable.

    1. Fun fact: Seattle has twice the land of San Francisco and slightly less population. (Roughly 200K less but we’ll probably catch up in 10-20 years.)

      HALA is a sensible citywide solution that can absorb a significant population increase. That would avoid another wave of drastic rent increases like we’ve seen 2011-present. But only if we act now. And only if the single-family areas and unrealized lowrise areas (those that still have single-family houses) do their part. It’s not just about the number of units, but the widest variety of shape/size/price, to accommodate families and those who prefer a low-density lot.

  15. I have to say that your concept of a “low-income rental” appears to not exist in the entire city of Seattle (with the exception of government-provided subsidized housing), which makes this entire essay a bit… fantasyland, perhaps, is the right word.

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