On Monday, you have a chance to speak to Seattle city council members about one of the greatest challenges facing our society: building more houses for people. In Seattle, our housing shortage does not arise either from a lack of technology nor of capital, but primarily from laws that reserve more than half of the city’s land area for the most spatially-inefficient kind of urban housing ever to achieve mass adoption — the detached single-family house, with mandatory setbacks and car parking — and stringently regulate development on the tiny slice of land where multi-family housing is allowed.
Unlike other challenges we face, many of which require help from reluctant or recalcitrant higher levels of government, we in Seattle control* our own land use laws. We have nobody else to blame for the invisible wall of exclusionary zoning that we allow to stand around our city. The good news is that we have elected City Council members who, mostly, understand our housing problem and care about rectifying it. Last week’s Council vote, to stop forcing many people who live in transit-rich areas to have parking spaces they may not want, suggests our council members are willing to turn concern into legislation, even over the objections of a vocal, litigious, and extraordinarily privileged ($) minority.
The bad news is that privilege dies hard. To listen to much of the testimony at a zoning hearing is to fall into a netherworld where building more homes will not help our housing shortage; where open resentment of immigrants and newcomers is acceptable; where people who live in pre-war bungalows that would never meet today’s codes denounce modern apartments as Dickensian fire traps and health hazards; and imagined slights by the city bureaucracy invalidate years of open public process. To be a person who speaks at these hearings, for the radical proposition that roofs over people’s heads are both a public and private good, is definitely Type II fun.
But speak we must. Housing in the city, both subsidized and market rate, is an ethical and economic imperative, and if we fail to speak for it, we leave our elected leaders out on a limb. On Monday’s agenda is the citywide HALA rezone, a long-discussed, modest rezone of existing urban villages, coupled with a linkage fee. This rezone is worthy in its own right, and you should speak for it, but it must be thought of as a beginning, rather than an end; a down payment on a much more extensive and diverse housing stock that we have yet to legalize. As Minneapolis is considering, we must fundamentally reexamine single-family zoning throughout the whole city.
- What: Public Hearing: Mandatory Housing Affordability in Districts 3 & 7
- Where: Seattle Central College, Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway
- When: April 16, 2018 6:00 PM (be early! — speaking is first come, first served)
If you’d like to join up with an awesome, supportive group of people, consider Seattle 4 Everyone or Seattle Tech for Housing.
* Well, mostly. The playing field isn’t really level — upzones go through an exhaustive state environmental process that the status quo mostly never had to.