That this took eight parts to do shows that HALA is not an easy thing. Housing affordability is not an easy thing. There are so many different policies that come into play in order to do more than just place band-aids here and there. One thing that is pretty clear: HALA is not just zoning changes. It's financing, parking, tax policy, civil rights policy, and so much more.
But I'm not ready to summarize my impression. Instead, I'm starting on page 37, where More Innovation kicks off with:
Reform the Review Process
RP.1 - Reform the Design Review and Historic Review Process
This could be called the "get shit done" proposal. This recommends changes to the processes by allowing for improved 2-way dialogue during board meetings, adding people with more technical expertise to the respective boards, more meetings to review more projects (but fewer meetings for individual projects), more training of board members, and limiting the discussions during design review meetings to the topic at hand - not tangential things that people want to just wax poetic about. So keeping Design Review, but putting in place procedures to keep board meetings focused and on track to make decisions.
RP.2 - Reduce the number of housing projects subject to SEPA
Noting that the city adopted SEPA guidelines to address deficiencies in code requirements, this recommends eliminating an additional review beyond those the city already is doing in order to protect the environment for projects to a certain threshold. BUT, it recommends doing a thorough study to better map out how many projects at various thresholds actually have had to have additional conditions following SEPA before making any determination or changes to the SEPA process.
RP.3 - Improve Interdepartmental Coordination
Seattle can be a city of department silos. This recommendation urges the city to address this on the permitting side, and recommends staffing pre-permitting meetings with representatives from all departments that will be involved in the permitting process for a project, ensuring more clarity in what's what, and avoiding unnecessary delays that increase the cost and timeline of completing a project.
RP.4 - Increase the predictability of utility charges
Basically this calls on the city to make it clear what to expect for fees associated with connections done by City Light and SPU, and to have City Light and SPU implement timely deadlines to submit bills for these services.
RP.5 - Provide Staffing Contingencies
Lots of staff involved in permitting are paid for by permit fees. The problem: permit fees come in after permits are submitted. So when there is a surge, departments are understaffed, and can't hire staff until the fees come in, typically toward the end of a cycle. This recommendation calls for using the general fund or contingent budgeting to hire staff when they're needed, not when the money comes in from permit fees, to avoid unnecessary lag in permitting.
Well, that was an exciting section. Calls for a clearer and more transparent process, with adequate staffing. So if you don't like efficient, transparent processes, then HALA definitely is not for you.
The next "section" is under "Create Efficiencies in Construction," and includes one recommendation:
E.1 - Pre-fabricated and Modular Construction
This calls for allowing Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) construction, and modular construction, of multifamily housing. Both can be cheaper, just as safe, better for the environment, and quicker to construct.
But what I really was looking forward to today:
Explore Comprehensive Reform to On-street Parking Regulations
"On-street parking is often one of the most contentious topics when a new housing development is proposed in a neighborhood: residents do not want to compete for on-street spaces. Improving how on-street parking is managed could go a long way towards improving how new housing is welcomed."
OP.1 - Create a parking benefit district and "cap and trade" demonstration/pilot program
Two recommendations i one! A Parking Benefit District (PBD) creates paid parking in a heavily parked-in neighborhood, and returns the revenue from that parking to the neighborhood for improvements (sidewalks, etc.). A "cap and trade" system would work similar to an Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ), and allow the individuals who live in the neighborhood to "rent" their permit for extended use by visitors. Combined, these would discourage folks from leaving cars in public right-of-way for extended periods of tiem.
OP.2 - Explore revising the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) program.
This is one of my favorites. This recommendation suggests using various methods to more equitably use the RPZ program. Aside from OP.1 programs, this could include pricing the RPZ stickers to be more in line with off-street parking lot costs, and limitations on the total number of RPZ permits in a given area to align with total spaces in said area.
On this point, opining a bit, by limiting RPZ permits to one (1) per SF house, and using a calculation to determine how many would go to multifamily buildings, based on total off-street parking in the building, total off-street that is generally unused in the building, and total spaces available, the parking issues could be more readily solved. The question that regularly comes to my mind: is public right-of-way the best place for storage of personal property, particularly when there is available off-street options, and should the on-street options be priced so low as to discourage paying for off-street options? At the same time, would it ever be fair to continue to award nearly limitless permits to a single family house that does not have ample (or any) off-street parking, while seeking to limit or deny access to an RPZ program to Multifamily structures?
OP.3 - Explore improving Right of Way (ROW) management of curb space
The final recommendation suggests that SDOT do a comprehensive review of ROW usage across the city, and implement strategies to better utilize public ROW for transportation purposes, while ensuring adequate parking is maintained (whether for residents or business visitors).
And that is the end of the #HALA series wherein I review each piece line-by-line. It's complicated, it's long, it can be boring af. But overhauling the way we operate as a city to not only address the affordability crisis now, but in the future, while continuing to be a welcoming city, is complicated.
Next up I'll be reviewing the Community Housing Caucus report, and then a final summary chock full of opinions that are sure to annoy all sides of the debate around affordability in Seattle. Should be fun.