Five years ago this month city released the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations, a.k.a. the HALA report, aimed at making Seattle more affordable and, well, livable. Thanks to lots of work from the mayor(s) and council, many of the 65 recommendations have since become law, including marquee items like Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) and ADU reform. Alan Durning, a committee member, wrote an excellent summary of the whole effort back in February.
One big change that many housing advocates still see as a missed opportunity is the recommendation to end the ban on duplexes and triplexes that currently blocks affordable housing on 2/3 of the city’s land.
You may recall that the report included language alluding to the “racist” history of single-family zones. Someone on the commission leaked a draft to the Times, and when the commission didn’t have their story straight, it became a controversy and then-mayor Murray jettisoned the proposal to save the rest of the HALA work.
2015 was also the first year of district-based elections and many assumed that neighborhood groups would run the table (in fact the districts were drawn specifically to make that happen). Best not to poke the bear, some reasoned.
Since the report was released, much has changed in terms of both the local political landscape and national trends around zoning law.
For starters, Oregon and Minneapolis have since eliminated single-family zoning. What was then controversial is becoming common sense. At the same time, states like Oregon (again) and California are experimenting with newer, less restrictive rent control measures that can provide greater renter stability without inhibiting the construction of market-rate housing.
Meanwhile, the price of the median single family house in Seattle has increased 50% to $767,000. If “starter houses” – the idea that we needed to preserve tiny old bungalows for first-time homebuyers – were a joke in 2015, they’re an absolute farce in 2020. (Oh and in the intervening five years, many of those “starter” houses have been torn down anyway – often replaced with bigger, multi-million-dollar homes).
At the same time, the NIMBY candidates did quite poorly in those 2015 elections, and the current council is probably the most pro-density we’ve had in a while.
Finally, support for Black Lives Matter has grown significantly to 62% favorability nationally. Among Democrats (which is perhaps a better proxy for Seattle) favorability is now 84%, up 30 points since 2016. Would the HALA language about racism be so controversial today, where the median Seattle voter is much more attuned to structural racism concerns?
With budget deficits and police reform front and center (and rightly so), the council or the mayor may not be interested in wading back into this fight. Especially absent the HALA“grand bargain” framework and given that the more modest ADU reform was the subject of so many lawsuits and delays.
That’s a shame, because if we care about making Seattle a more affordable, diverse city; if we care about creating affordable housing near our most high-performing public schools and ending the de-facto segregation of the city, then land-use reform needs to be part of the conversation.