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    Affordable housing best practices? Seattle City Council procrastinates

    At a presentation of best practices yesterday, the council announced it will postpone the creation of new rules to address Seattle's affordable housing drought.
    The current Seattle City Council.

    The current Seattle City Council.

    The term “affordable housing crisis” has been batted around Seattle with increasing fervor recently — an indication of a city where many low-to-middle income residents are being priced out, and home ownership is increasingly out of reach to all but the wealthy.

    At a Seattle City Council meeting Wednesday though, where consultants delivered a long-awaited report meant to guide new housing legislation, the mindset was far more relaxed. The city's updated affordable housing plan was originally slated for passage by the end of summer. At the meeting, it was announced a plan will now be passed by the end of the year, and legislation won’t be passed until 2015.

    Intended to serve as a nationwide “best practices” primer, Wednesday’s presentation — delivered primarily by Kurt Creager of design and urban planning firm Otak — compared affordable housing in twelve other American cities, in an effort to weed out ideas that could work here.

    “We’re not the only city grappling with this,” said councilmember Sally Clark. “The good news is you [the consultants] are going to tell us we’re doing pretty well, but the bad news is we need a lot more [units].”

    As Clark predicted, Creager patted the council’s back many times, saying the city has “led the way for 30 years” in national affordable housing policy, and is “on the right track” because of the “council’s values.” Early on, he noted that while “rental and ownership housing is unaffordable for many lower and middle income households, Seattle ranks near the middle of the comparison jurisdictions in terms of housing rental rates and sale prices.”

    Not everyone was so laid-back about the issue, however. Freshman councilmember Kshama Sawant was stone-faced throughout the meeting. After perhaps one too many jokes between other councilmembers, exclaimed, “This needs to be infused with a sense of urgency! We’re in a crisis situation.”

    Sawant’s frustration certainly has legs. Nearly all of Creager’s praise revolved around Seattle’s housing levies. Those are an action by voters more than the council, with taxpayers shouldering the burden. City Hall’s main instruments to encourage affordable housing are incentive zoning (which we’ve covered in-depth previously) and multi-family tax exemptions (MFTEs) — neither were explored in-depth Wednesday. The city’s approach to the first has been called severely flawed by both developers and affordability activists, and Councilman Nick Licata says Seattle’s MFTE policies “suck.”

    As the city undergoes a housing construction boom, this announced delay — matched with only small changes in housing policy last year — could represent an inability to strike while the iron is hot. The real estate market doesn’t wait. The only question is how the city can best capitalize on its changes.

    Still, Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t meant to be a major policy pow-wow. Just a Powerpoint walkthrough of a longer report that councilmembers are still digesting. Less than 20 people attended, and only two used the public comment period to make relevant statements. One asked that Seattle’s new housing policies be “rooted in race and social justice.” The other stated that Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are “bloodthirsty killers” and that the city shouldn’t build any housing, for fear of becoming like China.

    Public engagement will likely start ramping up next month. The council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee will be holding a public feedback session on July 14, focused on how developers can be encouraged to create more affordable housing. Another meeting on preserving this housing will be held at the Ballard Community Center July 16. All this leads up to September, when the council now hopes to pass a resolution as a precursor to future legislation.

    In the interest of informing that future conversation, below are three of the “best practices” presented in the report.

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    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    "The City Council's delay on legislation might be a dragging of feet — but it also gives the public more opportunity to get on board and push for better solutions."

    Hope springs eternal. Push for better solutions? Such as...?
    Many many people don't see a problem at all. Their nest egg is going up in value. Why should they do much to stabilize much less try to lower prices? (Which latter idea of lowering prices is far-fetched).

    It's tough and I just wish that politicians would explain to the public that the things which _might_ make a difference -- widespread upzoning, massive investment in transit -- are politically impossible. Now.

    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    None of the Councilmembers are low-income. Some of them, notably Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, and Tom Rasmussen, are way above middle-income. They don't care. Sawant cares, but since she doesn't joke around during Council meetings but actually wants to do the business they've been elected to do, they ignore her. Disgusting.


    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sawant is far from a low-income persona either.

    She's disruptive, and in a way that alienates rather than "earns" the listener. She's like the bright first fire that flames loud, then smokes out and simply stops.

    Posted Sun, Jun 29, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    She won the election over Conlin, who seemed to have owned that seat for the rest of his life, so there wasn't quite the alienation that you portray. I haven't noticed that she's flamed out yet, although I guess you conservatives keep hoping for that. She pretty single-handedly raised the minimum wage in Seattle, and she donates $40,000 of her salary to the causes she cares about.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 5:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    Maybe she should play down her politics and play up her ethnicity. The council might become as fawning as Jorge Carasco helping Cherokees to copper.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Accurate and funny, a rare combination.


    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    2015? Perfect! That's the year they are going to "end homelessness", too!


    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 8:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    Plenty of affordable housing in Tukwila and Seatac, an easy train ride from downtown.


    Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    It seems to me that there are many areas in Seattle with very affordable land. Why isn't the city promoting these areas, and offering tax or some other incentives to builders who will build decent affordable housing?

    I checked out the rents in the apodments. Too expensive to be affordable housing, which means that once again, what is promoted to be 'affordable' is only meaningful to those who have more money than those who need true affordable housing.

    Crock of crap being strewn in this city for the last 30 years. Getting worse.

    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    The City Council needs to address affordable housing now. With a fifteen minimum wage coming down the pipe, people that are still considered low income by national tax standards are being pushed out of the city. This is already happening. If I did not live where I live in city, I would have to move to Tacoma. Persons who work in Seattle should be able to live in the city. Gentrification leads to loss of diversity and thriving neighborhoods, in my opinion. You cannot raise the minimum wage, and not address skyrocketing housing prices. Where is the social/economic justice in that?! The city also needs to address long standing societal prejudices against public housing. They say it will feed crime and lower property values. For a city that claims to be liberal, we are not helping the least in our society with prejudice and outright racism. Get a clue! Most low income persons are hard working immigrants doing jobs most Americans don't want to do. Shame on the City Council, except Sawant, who I actually agree with this time. Housing is a human right, not a privilege! This includes the homeless, disabled, mentally ill, and home bound.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    How should they address it?


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    How about a Study Commission to establish Goals and Policies?

    Posted Sat, Jun 28, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    Heaven help us--another study commission? The fact is that Council doesn't know how to make housing "affordable" in the sense that the term is used here. Part of the issue is that people don't have a right to live in any neighborhood they like. As another commenter pointed out, there's lots of affordable housing in Tukwila. the math just doesn't work for building new housing that will satisfy the guidelines of "affordability." The fact is that most of us have been paying far more than the "affordable" allowable % of income for housing for a long time.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    People DO have the right to live and work in the communities they want. I have lived in the same neighborhood (W-Sea) for over 30 years. I should not have to be pushed out of the area where I grew up because of rising rents, stagnant wages, and developer greed.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Council care about affordable housing? Please. We in Roosevelt/Ravenna have seen that "caring" in action and it's directed one way - towards developers.

    Housing prices will not go down even if there are more units.

    As well, most units will be single-sized, meaning almost no 3-4 bed units that would support families.

    I have very little faith in the Council on this point. Actions speak louder than words and, to me, the Council has already shown their hand.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Seattle Council proves over and over that they are totally disconnected from their constituents, as well as from any rational understanding of economics.

    However, we can only blame ourselves (the voters) because these city council members do not just materialize out of nowhere. They get appointed sometimes, but eventually, all have to get elected.

    The reality is, good candidates we could actually support seem to be non existent.

    What is that a sign of? Apathy? It isn't the pay of the city council, they are one of the highest paid city councils in the US.

    Posted Sat, Jun 28, 5:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    Three or four bedroom units that are "affordable"? Why?


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hard to know who wears the pants on our council.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    Well, first we start with some bribes from the developers. The city council scoops them up and passes some new spot-zoning variances. Then they stick an affordable housing levy on the ballot, to be paid for by jacking up property taxes, and rents. The voters approve the levy.

    That's how it's always been done in "progressive" Seattle, and that's how it'll keep being done.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    From 12:30 Friday version of the article: “We’re not the only city grappling with this,” said council president Sally Clark. "

    Uh... last time I checked, Tim Burgess was Council President.

    And “The good news is you [the consultants] are going to tell us we’re doing pretty well, but the bad news is we need a lot more [units].” How well has building more units worked as the sole solution so far?


    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    Is it out of the question that Crosscut hire a copy-editor? A proofreader? Why depend upon commentators to point out obvious, glaring errors that at the least slow the reading of Crosscut, and I M O make the publication seem amateurish and thus ignorable? I mean we're not dealing with a church bulletin here....


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Why does the city keep approving apodment style units in the most expensive geographic areas? How about some of them in the low cost areas near transit stations?

    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 3:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Is the City rejecting such apodment projects in low income areas near transit? That would be interesting to know.

    Btw, here is stunning stat: 60 THOUSAND dwelling units added from 1990 to 2010. Wow.
    Maybe City policy is doing as much as it can? i.e. grant building permits.

    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    The City only approves units that developers apply to build. They don't publish ads saying "Hey, anybody want to build some units? Apply here!" Many families have had to move out to those low-cost areas (farther out from the city core) and families don't fit into apodments.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    You didn't get the memo. Seattle's "progressives" don't want families here.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 10:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    The fact that you use that cliché shows how ancient your thinking is.


    Posted Fri, Jun 27, 7:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    Housing costs more in places where people want to live, like Seattle, Silicon Valley, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Who really believes local government can solve this problem?

    Posted Sat, Jun 28, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Housing is being added at the top of the market, not because that is where the need is greatest, but because it is where the highest returns can be made.

    Micro-housing developments are the only ones addressing the middle of the market, but at the cost of causing significant parking problems. Perhaps we need to establish a city-wide parking permit system for all areas where demand exceeds supply, with only one permit allotted to every four micro-housing units and every eight congregate beds.

    There are long waiting lists for subsidized disabled/family housing and the need for subsidized senior housing will only grow as the boomers continue to retire, with doubtful prospects for increased federal, state, or county support for these programs.

    Increasingly, the biggest disincentive for moving off welfare supports will not be the prospect of losing health care, but of losing subsidized housing, especially for the transit-dependent. If we want people to strive to climb the economic ladder, we need to try to ensure the next rung isn't out of reach.

    Posted Sat, Jun 28, 5:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    That doesn't respond to the comment. The city is desirable real estate. Living in the areas outside the city proper is cheaper and makes sense.


    Posted Sat, Jun 28, 5:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    That doesn't respond to the comment. The city is desirable real estate. Living in the areas outside the city proper is cheaper and makes sense.


    Posted Sun, Jun 29, 1:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    So avocats avocats, do YOU live where it is cheaper AND makes sense?

    I also wonder if you and Peterson are old enough to remember when the poor were to be contained in the inner city the better to keep them out of the fashionable suburbs. Now cities are fashionable and the suburbs still do not want the poor, which is most likely the main reason it was so easy to change our mandated multi-county plan from multiple centers to but a handful of metropolitan cities. Not too smart, even though urban containment itself is so fashionable.

    I highly recommend downloading Charles Correa's New Landscape and reading up on the second order way he recommends increasing the supply of urban land.



    Posted Sun, Jun 29, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    "The city is desirable real estate. Living in the areas outside the city proper is cheaper and makes sense."

    Not necessarily "cheaper" on the broader scale, when you figure in the transportation/transit costs required if most low- to mid-scale downtown service workers are pushed out to Lynnwood, Bothell, Federal Way, Renton, etc. One of the main drivers for people wanting to move back into the City are commute times and transportation costs.

    Let's see, you're also for slashing transit and light rail, right?

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    The three suggestions in the article are dead on target. But, council would rather 'grind it out' by hemming and hawing and doing nothing. the people without housing just get to suck it up I guess.

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