Islands in Single-Family Land
Islands in Single-Family Land

When I read Erica Barnett’s piece yesterday about a small Phinney Ridge apartment project sent back to Design Review for a 4th time,  I thought of my religious upbringing and Jesus’ lament in Matthew 23:24 : “You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” Despite recent positive moves toward a more aggressively pro-housing stance, including defunding the change-averse neighborhood councils and passing the Housing Levy, etc, our instincts are still to miss the forest for the needles on each tree.

The project in question is a rare multifamily development in the heart of Craftsman land, and residents have objected loudly and often to things like the lack of A/C (the norm in Seattle) and the terrifying possibility of commerce. From Barnett’s piece:

One woman was concerned that the building’s two live-work spaces would create traffic and crowd nearby sidewalks. “If you’re maybe somebody who has clients coming and going [from the] live-work units, going in and out, and if you’re on Greenwood, they’re going to be crossing the sidewalk.

Others suggested an aesthetic test, with neighbors as judge and jury:

Give us a building that gives us joy to walk by. It’s like that saying, ‘I don’t know what art is but I know it when I see it.’ Well, I don’t know what good architecture is, but I know it when I see it.

There has been some noise lately that the ire directed at single family zones and neighborhood councils is misdirected, that it’s cynical to lay the blame upon them in the midst of an unprecedented building boom. And it’s true, we’re building roughly 13,000 new units per year, a record pace, and 9,000 planned for each of the next 3 years.

But it doesn’t really matter that we’re building. What matters is how much and where. Seattle is growing by 16,000 people per year, so 13,000 units is likely just enough to tread water, as recent slowing in the rate of rent growth shows. The more worrying sign is the 26,000 units planned for the next 3 years, and the 45,000 people likely to move here in the same period. That leaves a lot of (mostly well-paid) people, with nowhere to turn, bidding up the rent in our “naturally affordable” housing stock.

4 rounds of process doesn't exactly help affordability.
4 rounds of process doesn’t exactly help affordability.

Despite our best intentions, it seems that the momentum toward upzones in exchange for Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) will induce very few new units in our multifamily zones, and that most developers will either walk away or pay the fee. With 1). these new fees likely to be passed directly into market-rate rents, 2). single-family zones remaining mostly untouchable, 3). a clear shortage of planned units, and 4)  angry neighbors holding back production on account of laundry/unit ratios, it’s hard to be optimistic about our ability to keep up with growth.

We need to get to the place where housing at all levels is seen as a social good, and that the burden of process should be on those who wish to restrict it.

77 Replies to “The Building Boom is Smaller than the People Boom”

  1. I wish I could attend some of these meetings to be at least one neighborhood voice in support of these projects, but I have a job and a kid to take care of. This leaves precious few free weeknights to do things like this. The folks who have lived here long enough to retire and send their kids off to college are not as constrained with their time, which gives them plenty of time to spend on voicing their opposition to things that will make very minor changes in their quality of life.

    1. I’ve been to a few of these meetings and the vast majority of the people I see there are local residents – both owners and renters – that have jobs and kids and other things to do and take care of. Not a single one is a retired ’empty nester’ with time on their hands, as you imply. It’s simply sad that you need to disparage those who do engage to compensate for your or others unwillingness to do so.

      1. The photo of the crowd at this week’s meeting shows a rather large proportion of grey-haired people. The one other meeting I did make time to attend was more of the same. Perhaps many of these folks aren’t quite at the point of being retired empty nesters, but at the very least they have kids who are old enough to stay home alone while their parents go out to complain about new buildings ruining their notion of an ideal neighborhood.

    2. It could also be that, like ascribing the rise of one particular candidate to “white men in late middle age without a college education”, there’s some misunderstanding here of how the world looks to people who thought be living in the same surroundings their whole lives.

      Which at the time they bought them, on the wages they were able to earn and save before unions went away, weren’t considered ostentatious. Now add on to that, the very real fear of having their life savings disappear along with the formerly respectable bank they invested their money in.

      And serious question, was 2008 merely the bell at the end of Round One? Maybe it’s my own age, or just lifelong dislike of the dangerously unstable, but I really would like to know what my fellow readers think is causing this sudden massive explosion of people moving into Seattle.

      My first thought: What’s happened in the places they all came from to create more refugees than Hafez al Assad and his barrel bombs? A lot of those people, incidentally, aren’t poor either. Like every dictator, professional people are regular targets.

      Before I’m willing to complain about anybody else uneasy about sudden change, I need a good simple answer to that question. Markets don’t just happen. Somebody needs things killed and sold.

      Mark Dublin

      1. An good way to be more productive is to work among other productive people. And being productive means a good job. Hence if you are a young educated technology-minded person, Seattle looks like a very good choice. And as people attract jobs in turn, it is a self-reinforcing trend.

        Our starting point is embedded in agricultural economy where most of our ancestors lived of land, and land could not be concentrated in cities. So the historic population structure is far more spread out, and a lot of this spread-out population is slowly moving to the current growth centers. Nothing really happened in those places, just some cities are moving faster, attracting more interesting people, and getting ever more attractive in the process.

      2. The 2008 crash caused people to move away. The Summit area had “For Rent” signs on practically every building, and when I moved to my current place in 2010 everyone was offering a free month, 10% discount, free microwave or TV, etc.

        Amazon restarted its new SLU buildings around then, and rents started creeping up in 2011 and accelerated in 2012 and 2013. Several other companies joined Amazon in opening new offices, including Google, Facebook, and other tech companies. These jobs all came with six-digit salaries so they took the new units and outbid existing residents for the existing units. The number of new people overwhelmed the number of new units and sent the vacancy rate down to 3% and it kept falling. Rents follow the vacancy rate.

        In the home-ownership market, the inventory of available units fell from a six-month normal (the time a house/condo is on the market) to less than a month. I thought that was because of the negative equity and foreclosures and expected it to come back up in a few years, but it has stayed down even in the recovery. The high price of houses is because there are very few for sale. So not only is there the typical number of buyers, but new-resident buyers on top of that. Sellers are few some are still underwater, or they’re afraid they won’t be able to get a replacement house for the same price, or just that they’re satisfied with where they are and not ready to move yet. I thought the number of sellers would increase, but I think we’ve now reached the point where demand has surpassed the maximum number of sellers. The remaining owners don’t want to move, and a lot of people are demanding houses/condos.

  2. From the Financial Times this morning: “The city [Tokyo] had more housing starts in 2014 that the whole of England.”

  3. The aesthetics argument drives me bananas. Seattle is full to bursting with ugly-ass buildings. Phinney is too. It’s unfathomable that these buildings today, even with a concerted effort to turn out crap, could be as bad as the dozens of terrible buildings you drive by every day from the 70s and 80s. But you don’t see them anymore; they’ve become part of the background, as all buildings eventually do.

    The real problem with modern construction is that the spaces for commerce are crappy and never get rented, because they were DESIGNED to never be rented. Apartment developers hate retail. And they’re stupidly expensive. That’s why you get endless banks and Rite Aids and stuff instead of interesting shops. Interesting shops practically demand old buildings, because the rents are lower. So it’s true that in existing commercial districts, new construction almost always means driving out interesting retail. But these single-family crazies can shut the hell up about “architecture”.

    1. Looks sort of like the new Broadway or worse, doesn’t it? I don’t like, or believe, the idea that we the majority of the people, acting through our government, can’t do something about what’s happening with housing and building in general.

      Present building and housing events are seeing a year demolish two decades of land use planning and driving thousands of people out of lifetime homes into ones temporary by market definition. As with a most disasters in the name of it, term “Private Enterprise” doesn’t apply here.

      Can anybody tell us how much of the enormous amount of money involved here stems from real supply-and-demand, and how much from buy-flip-and-bet speculation? Because since the State licenses corporations (doesn’t it?) the legislature should be able to make corporate law read that only homeowners, landlords, and through rent, tenants can buy residential property?

      That is, after legislature changes hands. Because by all stats, though culprits here have more money, they’re outnumbered when it comes to votes. I think that like just about every similar conflict between people themselves, when game sum exceeds zero, solution gets easier.

      Mark

    2. There’s only a limited number of old mixed-use buildings. Most of the buildings from the 1960s and 70s are residential-only because of zoning. There are many parts of Seattle where the nearest businesses are a mile away, except maybe one convenience store that sells non-nutritious crap. Part of the process of rebuilding neighborhoods is restoring neighborhood business spots that were taken away.

    3. What bothers me the most is that many of the rules have lead to really ugly buildings. Generally speaking, if asked for an example of a very nice building, someone will point to an old one. In other words, one you can’t build anymore. Parking requirements are by far the worst offender. Try and build a duplex, but require parking, and it is no wonder you got the ugly mess we got in the 80s. It is just the logical way to do it (put up a bunch of concrete, put the parking in front, and then put the place behind it). I am amazed at how creative many of the builders have become in making things as nice as they are now. It isn’t easy, but it would be a lot easier — buildings would be a lot more interesting — if they simply got rid of the parking requirement.

      I can’t think of any simple, easy change that would do more to make housing affordable than simply getting rid of the parking. Get rid of it with apartments, ADUs, townhouses, all of it. Some will add it in, but a lot won’t, and we will all be better off without it.

      1. Great point. I remember walking by an architect’s office where they had some really good mock-up of the classical 4-unit town-home project, and it had illustrations explaining how the shape is a direct product of zoning rules … set-backs + lot coverage + parking requirements + other zoning stuff = same shape. They had some clever ideas (like “capping” the parking area to create a pedestrian common space on the 2nd floor) and were basically like “please change the zoning rules so we can do this”

      2. Gravity is a law, and so are workings and consequences of other completely natural forces. Mark of a good architect is the ability not just to work with them, but to make them work for him or her.

        Worst built and ugliest buildings owe more to architects’ clients or working for companies that are cheap and in a hurry. And people having unsightly and oversized houses built to speculate on, not (for God’s sake!) live in them.

        Notice how many mega-mansions look like trade show displays out of fashion magazines, right down to the fake paintings of somebody else’s ancestor on a race horse. For owners whose Irish ancestors had to share their huts with pork chops still temporarily on four legs, until the English landlords took them away as rent. For their own dinners or pork products.

        As well as the Employee Advisory Committee for DSTT operations, some other union members and I sat in on advisory committee meetings on the art and architecture. Major natural force was “Value Engineering.” Every work piece repeatedly examined for ways to cut its cost, while keeping its value.

        Very much like carving, stone-cutting, or polishing, every single piece came out better art because material had been removed. The improvement didn’t owe to extra time. There wasn’t any. Instead, important factor was repeated focused concentration by skilled and talented people.

        So I wonder if instead of trying to design either by regulation or to avoid it, the city and the developers jointly sponsor a value engineering group with same skills and method. No legal power to coerce. Just necessary respect to advise.

        Public and private participants alike might consider the benefits worth the cost. Both in money saved, and excellent advertising as well. Quality buildings often carry their owners’ and architects’ names years past their personal lifespans.

        Mark Dublin

  4. There’s a bubble forming in the high end of the apartment market. Do a Craigslist search for 1 month free. Almost every newer building in every neighborhood is offering 1 month free at this point. There is a limit as to how many people can afford or want to afford $2000-3000 a month apartments.

    Anecdotally, a friend who lives in a newer building that was completed in the last two years did not have his rent increase last year.

    1. Wait, are you saying that perhaps all of these new buildings are not causing rents to increase? I’m shocked!

      1. Obviously, but actually I’m saying the price points they are targeting is the problem, not the number of units. There’s plenty of people moving here and wanting to live in these buildings, just not at the price points they are renting them for.

      2. I’m sure some places have gotten so used to being able to increase rents at a certain rate every year that there will be a bit of a lag where some apartments sit vacant until they are priced more realistically. I’m sure a lot of the people moving here would be willing to pay those higher prices if that was actually a good deal compared to the other options on the market, but other landlords are apparently starting to charge a bit less for comparable units. Great!

        (in case it wasn’t clear, my previous comment was trying to make fun of the people who think that fancy new apartments are what causes rent increases throughout the city, when in fact it was the rent increases in existing buildings that led to new apartments seeming like a profitable business venture).

      3. Owners were making a profit in 2000. Rents since then have gone up faster than inflation or taxes or maintenance. Therefore, owners are making even more profit now and can afford to lower rents. Two things that have changed is the number of investment-owners (as opposed to local owners who remain involved with the property), and the expectation that apartments are a guaranteed cash cow. It’s ludicrous that they keep building $2000+ luxury units and ignoring 75% of the market, but they can find enough affluent renters to get away with it. At some point they won’t be able to, and that usually happens when the vacancy rate reaches 10% for several months. Some investors may lose their shirts for building something that couldn’t break even with less than $2500+ rents, but that’s their fault for chasing the top 10% of the market when everyone else was doing the same.

        Hint: exterior hallways are cheaper than interior ones. Dingbats with exposed carports aren’t that bad. Small buildings (<9 units) are cheaper than large ones. Push for zoning changes that allow small buildings and lower parking minimums. Not everybody wants granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and a view of the Space Needle. And those fake balconies with six inches of room or just a railing are a waste of money.

        And for aesthetics, please stick to a narrow vertical orientation (or fake it with vertical dividers) rather than large squares or horizontal rectangles, and use classic pre-WWII styles or something inspired by them. There's too much plain geometric shapes.

  5. “The more worrying sign is the 26,000 units planned for the next 3 years, and the 45,000 people likely to move here in the same period.” That’s actually good news – if these units actually materialize (traditionally the number of “planned” units far exceeds those actually built). The average household size in Seattle is around 2, so in theory we can meet all of the new demand with these units. The problems are:

    1. The 2 people per household number includes our very large number of SF homes (~50% of our housing stock). We aren’t building new SF homes, and likely the average number of people per household in apartments and condos is well under 2.

    2. These statistics are a bit chicken-and-egg. Did we grow by 16k people because there was demand for 16k people to live here, or because we built enough housing for 16k people to live here (and demand is far greater than that)? I think our rent levels show that we can add a huge amount of housing before we come close to traditional rents.

    3. I assume that’s PSRC data. Don’t get me started.

    4. We’re adding jobs at around 3x the rate of housing. This is the real number we should look at. Every new job requires around one new housing unit. We need to be growing much, much faster than we are to accommodate these workers and their families, or we risk displacing people that already live here.

    I believe we need to see a complete reworking of the way we zone for housing and approve new buildings if we’re going to catch up to demand. I’m afraid our current council has shown no interest in this scale of change, so be prepared for more years of high rents.

    1. RE: Chicken and Egg … the people growth is driven by job growth and commuting preferences, not housing. You build housing and don’t add jobs, vacancy goes up (or people who move in are simply relocating from other neighborhoods). You add jobs and don’t build housing, people will still move in and figure out where to squeeze into the existing housing stock – renting smaller places, adding roommates, etc.

      1. I think that if you don’t add housing people with lower-paying jobs get displaced out of the city. Yes, people get creative as well (roommates, etc.). But only to a point – especially when we outlaw smaller units.

      2. Fair – creativity only gets you so far. If someone told the PSRC “OK zero more housing units in Seattle” then I’m sure they adjust their models and come back with a much smaller number of people. So it’s an iterative process, but I think they look at projected job growth to get housing demand, and match that up against what they think cities will be able to build / have committed to building.

    2. “likely the average number of people per household in apartments and condos is well under 2.”

      … because the average number of bedrooms in apartments and condos is well under 2.

      “Did we grow by 16k people because there was demand for 16k people to live here, or because we built enough housing for 16k people to live here (and demand is far greater than that)?”

      That’s an interesting point. 16K is the ceiling of new residents, and adding roommates only marginally affects it. The others must be living in the suburbs, and it would take a regional calculation to account for those. But we can’t just take a simplistic regional calculation, because that doesn’t account for the fact that some places are more convenient than others or closer to the average job than others, or that the new residents sometimes displace lower-income residents.

      “I think our rent levels show that we can add a huge amount of housing before we come close to traditional rents.”

      Prices are sticky on the way down because nobody wants to take a loss. That’s why it’s critical to nip increases in the bud by saturating supply. We’re years behind on that, and the best we can hope for in the next twenty years is to stabilize rents, because it would take that much growth to actually reduce them.

    3. “The average household size in Seattle is around 2,”

      The average household size is not the same thing as the newcomers’ profile. Most newcomers are young singles, especially in the tech industry that accounts for most of the jobs. After they’ve been here a while they may get married and have children, but they’re less likely to move across the country if they’re two or especially three people.

      1. Some of the units are bought by investors and are more likely to be rented on airBnb or Expedia than to do a thing about the housing shortage.

      2. How many? And how do you know that doesn’t help the housing shortage? If ABnB eats enough of the hotels’ lunch, we’ll see a few of them convert to apartments.

        What we should care about is the total number of units in the city, and how to make that number more than the number needed. Whether they’re hotel rooms, apartments, MILs, ADUs, luxury condos, SF homes, etc. seems much less important.

    4. The jobs versus housing imbalance explains all of our housing shortage and rising prices.

      Per a recent Puget Sound Regional Council presentation since 2010 the 4-county Metro area has added:

      294,000 new people
      279,000 new jobs
      93,000 housing units

      One of these numbers is much lower than the other.

      The comparative lack of new housing results in more roommates and extended families sharing space, people living in their parent’s home longer into life, lower vacancy rates, and more homeless people. The math doesn’t add up any other way.

      I used to think that the increase in homelessness was about other social issues, not a physical lack of housing. But upfiltering of housing stock works all the way to the bottom. A landlord who used to rent to someone now homeless, found out they could raise the rent, require a deposit or do a credit check and find a “higher quality tenant” willing to move in.

      1. The top two reasons people become homeless are mental illness and drugs. It’s lazy to connect home prices to homelessness since the price point the homeless could actually afford is so far disconnected with market rents. Most probably couldn’t afford rent in flyover states.

      2. @Brando:

        Thank you for getting it right re: homelessness and mental illness/drug use. Society considers me to be mentally ill and I have been homeless 8 years of my life (not all at once and not recently – I have been “homeful” continuously since Cinco de Mayo 2006).

        The issue isn’t mental illness or drug use per se, but rather, the devastating effect either one (or worse, both together) have on one’s ability to earn or have an income sufficient to rent an apartment.

        I was born and raised in a “flyover state” (Minnesota), and first came to Seattle in 1989, a year and a half after I got out of a mental institution. I was attracted to the liberal, New Age culture, where I hoped to find more acceptance than in the socially conservative Midwest. Even back then, Seattle was unaffordable (for me) but since I was young and in good physical health, being homeless wasn’t so bad.

        Until about 2005, when my father died, causing a major increase in my income, I had a choice between misery (but having a place to live even if it was usually just one room) in conservative small Midwestern towns or freedom on the streets of Washington, California, etc. I was finally able to upgrade to a studio apartment in Minneapolis by 2007. However, many of the single room opportunities in the Midwest have dried up. On my pre-2005 income, I would probably *have* to be homeless no matter where I went unless I went for Section 8, which I avoided because I knew I couldn’t cope with some of the rules, particularly the cleanliness requirement.

        If you want to get more homeless off the street, what is needed is places at about a $300-400/mo. price point or lower if possible, with no more onerous rules or restrictions than in typical market rate housing, Just my 2 cents’ worth.

  6. I can never attend these meetings since they start at 7. I’ve been trying to add pro-density comments via email whenever possible. From the Phinneywood blog, it seems that people wind up complaining about parking, over which the DRB has no jurisdiction.

    1. More or less the same over at the West Seattle Blog for any project with less than one parking space/unit (especially if no off street parking is provided).

  7. The most significant figure is the relative rent change vs inflation. Rents have been wavering the past two years, sometimes slowing down for a few months in some places but then accelerating again. The Times article says increases slowed last September, but I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen reports of rents slowing and not slowing, and after that my own rent in May sometimes comes above and sometimes below a nominal $100 increase. But even if rent increases are slowing longer-term, they’re still way above inflation. Is your annual salary increase 5%? No, rent just gobbles up the increase and then some, so even if you can afford an apartment in Seattle now, it’s not clear that you’ll be able to in ten or twenty years. That’s the bigger issue, and why the latest rent slowdown is not enough.

  8. Calling BS on the population stats vs. housing in the pipeline: the 16,000 peeps coming this way are not all renters or potential buyers. That number includes multi-generational family members, whether offspring or extended family.

    1. This is a valid point. There are actually more demographic events that influence housing demand
      * family members leaving Seattle area (the opposite process to what you mention). They may or may not want a larger place.
      * households leaving the region
      * families splitting up (children leaving parents’ house, divorces).
      * “immigrants” from elsewhere joining the existing households.
      * separate households moving together (eg marriage). So two single tech workers who move here may after some time require only a single apartment.
      * there are more…

      I am not sure what this 16,000 exactly means, is it the net increase of residents? If yes, you need some sort of demographic model to actually say how it affects housing demand (well, it is up, obviously, but by how much and by which type of units?)

  9. Maybe a developer wouldn’t need to go through four rounds of process if they did their jobs right in the first place: stop trying to slip things through loopholes in the codes, proactively engaging with the local community early on,

    1. Just to be clear, in your view not putting A/C and Washer/Dryers in each unit is a “slipping things through loopholes”?

      This is a cynical effort to drive up rents in the building, and keep lower income people out. Trying to make the developers the villain here, rather than the class warriors of Phinney, is profoundly cynical.

      1. The loopholes that have been in the news are:
        – 4-pack townhouses in single-family areas (they could fit the single-family definition)
        – apodments in lowrise areas (the code ambiguously allowed them)
        – houses on half-lots (when a house with an extra-large yard is currently defined as one lot but was defined as 1 1/2 lots on old 1950s documents, so the owner builds a house on the half-lot and sells it separately)
        – something about the minimum number of sinks and kitchens (this gets back to apodments and extra-small units)

        It’s not about washer/dryer. “Luxury” units are usually defined as having a washer/dryer, dishwasher, and microwave, but that’s a marketing issue, not a code issue. The code just requires a sink, traditional stove, and refrigerator.

    2. I’m not sure what could excuse four separate rounds of process. People should be able to bring up their concerns at the first meeting, the board should take those into account while deciding what modifications will be required, and then that should be that. The second meeting should just be about ensuring that the developer went along with the guidance from the first meeting, not for bringing up another round of completely new objections from neighbors. That’s what the first meeting was for. There needs to be a cutoff for new complaints or nothing will ever get built.

  10. It really irritates me that the “grand bargain” has dominated the HALA discussion. Just to back up here, the HALA proposal was a compromise. Folks from all walks of life worked hard to balance the needs and desires of various groups. This included preservationists concerned about things like parking and aesthetics. So they struck a balance, and it involved a lot of zoning changes. It didn’t go as far as many people wanted (why not change every neighborhood to LR3?) but it still had a lot of very important ones. The change that would likely result in the biggest improvement to affordability would be the changes to the ADU laws. The big apartments will still be built, regardless of the laws. But with ADUs, the biggest hindrance is not the cost of the property, or the cost of construction, but the regulations themselves. It is dirt cheap to add an apartment to a rental house, but right now it is illegal in most parts of the city. Unless that changes, don’t expect cheap apartments any time soon.

    1. +1

      It’s hard to keep track of, but the “Grand Bargain” (mandatory rent-controlled units or fees added to new construction in exchange for increased heights and FAR) isn’t the same as the HALA recommendations, and have moved further from them with the recent amendments. It’s been sold as a way to actually get upzones passed, but I’m afraid it’s at a high enough cost that it may even slow down development (note: it’s too early to tell the costs, as they haven’t been included in the legislation!). In the end it might add some housing, if we’re lucky.

    2. As usual, I will point out that ADUs need not be limited to separate buildings. Those big craftsman and Victorians can make wonderful multi-unit conversions. I’ve seen at least one with nine mailboxes on the front door, and otherwise impossible to discern that the house was any different than it was when it was a true single family house.

      1. Yes, definitely. Whether detached or not, it is the cheapest way to add density, especially when you factor in the value of a house. Unlike typical apartment construction, conversions or additions retain the value of the existing structure. This makes them extremely cheap to build.

  11. Housing unit growth is on track for population growth considering the lag in construction and unexpected hiring from Amazon. This is what the trade journals say. Housing shortage from regulation is a myth. Rent increases are driven by demand. Supply responds to demand.

    Want cheaper housing? Pass a progressive income tax. Reform design review, by all means, but it pales in comparison to the benefits of a progressive income tax.

    1. Supply responds to demand if the zoning allows it. The market says build lots more units. The market says density and walkable neighborhoods and better transit, because those kind of units are rising in price the fastest. The market is saying it can absorb twice as many new units if they were priced lower. But 75% of the city is restricted to single-family, and you can’t build two units but you can build mansions. The 25% multifamily area is not enough or rents wouldn’t be rising.

      A progressive income tax is one factor but it’s not the only one. If you look at the difference between the 1970s and today, the country as a whole is much more wealthy but all the money has gone to the 1%. So therefore, if we had a progressive income tax, all that money would return to average citizens and they’d be able to afford the things more like a 1970s person could. If we didn’t just redistribute the tax but also raised it on the wealthy to pay for sensible social programs and infrastructure like Canada and Europe do, then average Americans would be better off. But, you can’t just make the income tax progressive. Even if you set the tax rate to zero for under $60K, forty years of falling purchasing power means many people can’t meet basic needs or college or a small condo they can’t be priced out of even if their income tax was zero. In the 1970s homelessness practically didn’t exist. In the early 1980s it was considered a “New York City problem”. Now it’s a critical problem in every city, and it goes back to the falling purchasing power and lack of social programs and lack of adequate housing construction. However, I think a wealth tax is ultimately more fair than an income tax, because money that just sits in a bank account for decades is not useful (it doesn’t make the economy go round), so it should be taxed more heavily than money people spend to give someone else income.

  12. The Greenwood is a great place to build density! There are frequent buses in all four directions from 85th and Greenwood, a pretty little neighborhood business district with good bones to fill up with entertainment and restaurant venues, and the ginormous Fred Meyer a short walk away. You can even walk to Green Lake, though it is a hike.

    When I lived at 77th and Dayton my wife our toddler daughter and I would walk over there. There weren’t so many interesting things then, but it was already a destination in the mid-70’s.

    1. As a nearby resident, +1. And we like our local businesses, and realize foot traffic helps them survive. Our fantastic local Ethiopian place might have survived if we’d added units with more speed.

      1. Are you talking about the Ethiopian place across from Fred Meyer? It closed? No! That place was awesome!

    2. +1 Greenwood is an arterial at that point, and but is sleepy. Cripes I would think its more an issue that an arterial has sleepy spots and non sleepy spots with 5 blocks of each other.

      I have to say that nearly anything has got to better than Ed’s Kort Haus. Although I will miss Stumbling Goat.

      1. Ed’s Kort Haus and Stumbling Goat will be in the new building if it ever gets built. Its one of the few times I’ve seen a design plan with the tenants already written in.

      2. I will eat my hat if the Kort Haus goes back in the new building. The Stumbling goat is closing in 2 weeks. I am sure the developer/owner gave the Kort haus owner “incentive” to say they were coming back.

  13. >>The more worrying sign is the 26,000 units planned for the next 3 years, and the 45,000 people likely to move here in the same period.<<

    That's only 1.73 people per unit. That sounds about right, when some of the units will be couples or even families. How will that leave lots of newcomers without housing?

    What should the ratio be?

      1. If by family friendly, you mean single family homes, where would you put them? There isn’t any vacant land really to put anything more of anything without removing something else.

      2. I’m guessing he means more bedrooms. A developer can make more profit off a 2 bedroom + a studio than a 3 bedroom, so that is what gets built. (This is why the Duplex/Triplex abandonment killed me…that’s exactly the kind of housing that could have gotten built.) Plus, a portion of the 2+ bedroom units are rented by roommates, which lowers the supply for people with kids. As of 2009, only 2% of market rate apartments had 3 or more units.

        Taken from this report: http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SeattlePlanningCommission/AffordableHousingAgenda/FamSizePC_dig_final1.pdf

      3. Exactly what Erin said. We’re building a lot of new housing for single young professionals but as soon as these people get married have kids they’ll have no choice but to move to the suburbs. No one is going to raise a family in a Studio/1br apartment.

        We need more 3+ bedroom units. Not only for families but because it can be cheaper to split an apartment with roommates. Seattle has some of the highest rates of people living alone. I think that’s because we often have no other choice.

      4. We aren’t building enough family-friendly housing in Seattle, but there are some interesting trends in the close-in suburbs like Renton and Kent that may be a sign of the future. The 1960s paradigm of 5 kids, 2 cars and a riding lawn mover seems to be dead. Even in the suburbs people are looking for better transit, smaller houses and having fewer kids. Look at the ridership numbers for some of the Renton and Kent/East Hill routes (105, 16x routes)–it’s surprisingly strong. The neighborhoods still aren’t walkable and pedestrian focused, but most suburbs have realized that the auto-centric model isn’t sustainable.

        Take an end-to-end trip on the 169–it’s an endless panorama of suburban hell. Strip malls, wide avenues and traffic congestion, but that area is also teeming with kids. Multi-generational families have given up on Seattle and moved to the suburbs. The fact that economic forces don’t happen in a vacuum means that whatever is happening in Seattle is felt in the suburbs. Seattle has to decide who will be able to live within its borders and how those families will be accommodated. I was driving by Hazen High School recently and noticed a burst of new construction within walking distance of the school. It’s not apartments or condos; it’s small family homes (2-3 bdrm.) with small lots and limited parking. Transit access is limited and there’s little commercial activity within walking distance, but the housing is very sensible and the kids can walk to school.

      5. Yes I realize there is family-sized housing being built in the suburbs but that’s kind of my point…

      6. Family-friendly means 2 bedrooms for a couple with a child, or 3 bedrooms if they have more children or want more space or a home office. It means reasonable rents: current 2 bedroom units are going for $2300, which is too much for many families. It means amenities like a school and daycare in Belltown/SLU/Uptown, and spaces for children to play in.

      7. Yes I realize there is family-sized housing being built in the suburbs but that’s kind of my point…

        I’m not so sure about that.

        Families with 5 or so kids seem quite common in Lacy based on the number of them that I see in Tolmie State Park and at the boat launch at Luhr Beach. The houses they are building in Lacy have postage stamp size yards (certainly not anything you would consider a space for children to play), are separated from schools by roads with no sidewalks, and are very far from parks or anything else.

        I’m not sure I would call that family friendly. More bedrooms and cheap but not exactly friendly. Less family hostile maybe.

        Developers build what they know makes the highest profit. People have to have a place to live, no matter if it meets their exact desires or not.

        Only solution to get what you want is to form your own homeowners association with like minded people and contract with a builder to get built what you need. Otherwise, you only get what is most profitable for the developer to build for a generic market.

      8. Lacey–particularly near the train station–is a complete horror story, but it isn’t what I would consider a close-in suburb of Seattle.

  14. I think design review can be a traveshamockery, especially in cases like these where the board is essentially peopled with cowards. Two points I would like to make:

    1) Your premise that we still aren’t building enough units depends on the assumption that ALL of that 45,000 in population growth is single people seeking individual units, which will overwhelm the 26,000 units we are going to build.

    Surely not all of those future 45,000 Seattle residents are up and moving here. Some of us are actually having kids, and lots of people move here with spouses and/or kids. What do the data show with regard to this?

    2) “We need to get to the place where housing at all levels is seen as a social good, and that the burden of process should be on those who wish to restrict it.”

    Agreed, but what are some proposed solutions? This just seems like another tirade absent meaningful thought on ways to solve our problems. How about you and Erica reach out to members of the Northwest Design Review Board and do some journalism (she should have interviewed them for her piece anyway)? Here are their names:
    http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/aboutus/whoweare/designreview/boards/default.htm
    Marc Angelillo
    Christopher Bell
    Emily McNichols
    Dale Kutzera
    Keith Walzak

    I too read Erica’s article, and between this piece and hers, they just seem like an expanded version of the Seattle Times’ Rant & Rave section. It’s easy to rip off a blog post highlighting yet another example of Seattelites’ unwillingness to embrace the new normal. But most of this readership gets all of that. What are some new ways to think about this problem and some recommended tactical actions?

  15. Is there any evidence at all that the design review process for this Phinney project is typical across Seattle? I attended a design review meeting for an apartment project on Beacon Hill some months ago, and it was very smooth. Citizens made some comments about parking and aesthetics, and that was about it. No drama. But then no drama means nothing for Erica to comment on.

  16. *SIGH*

    1) “Neighborhood councils” and District Councils are NOT the same thing — http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/neighborhood-districts

    2) Neighborhood councils and other local neighborhood groups do not receive City funding or support and are not directly affected at all by the Mayor’s recent announcement. District Councils don’t have any power over zoning or design issues, and don’t generally spend substantial time discussing housing concerns at all unless a City department specifically reaches out to them to get their opinion.

    3) In my experience, who attends neighborhood groups vs District Council meetings vs Design Review Board meetings don’t necessarily have much relationship at all. While a particular person or representative may attend all three of those meetings, that does not mean there is any relationship between the three completely separate bodies.

  17. It is sorta cool, most of my family agrees with funding ALL transit projects. And we vote for them. We always vote for the Seattle School levies.

    The only thing I get a kick out of is the Seattle Transit Blog’s all out war war on Single Family Neighborhoods.

    I laugh when I think that many of you young warriors will have to wait until all of us oldsters die off before you will get your way. The joke is: when we die off, then you inflexible youngsters will be old folks…

    ROFL

  18. Maybe I missed it, but a huge part of all of this that many seem to ignore or glance right over:
    We MUST build taller, bigger on key business strips. Example, the idiotic housing being built around the subway station on Capitol Hill -at 6-7 stories. This area has almost no single-family, sits in the heart of the Hill in one of the most thriving business districts, ON TOP OF a subway station!!! Why are we not building 10-20 stories there to alleviate pressure in the lovely single family neighborhoods to the East? Why? Idiocy, naiveté and mediocrity. That’s why. Even if you hate 18 story buildings, there’s no denying, one can fit THREE 6 story buildings worth of people in them, freeing up lots of other space. Our planners are fools and our politicians no absolutely nothing about the finer points of smart growth. This ship is being captained by Republican jerks who, all too often support policies like those of Donald Trump (literally, see the Seattle Times story) and couldn’t care less about aesthetics, practicality or neighborhoods. And, to those who complain that we should leave the architectural aesthetics alone, I answer, the bar should be higher and ugly, toxic particle board garbage sold as overpriced housing should be illegal. #WeCanDoBetter

    1. I used to think that but there are quantum levels of construction costs at 4, 7, 12, and 40 stories. When you pass each levels you have to use more expensive building techniques. Above 12 stories puts it in into the upper middle class or higher. At the same time, if you look at lowrise Paris or Boston or low-mid Chicago, you can fit a lot of people into a square mile. The problem in Seattle is not that 10-story apartments should be 30 stories, but that 75% of the land is very low density single-family, and there’s a lot of wasted space with setbacks and things. Chicago’s north side is a mixture of 3-10 story buildings with some single-family houses and row houses scattered here and there. If we had that over a 2×2 mile area, say in the 45th corridor and another in east Seattle, that would probably take care of all the demand. If it’s not enough, you can expand it incrementally.

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