Following the vote on the U District rezone, a friend asked if it's difficult for me to be an observer while CM Johnson leads on this important issue. It was something I had never thought of prior to that, and I responded: Nope. I would love to have had the salary and be paid to think about these things, but at the end of the day, implementation of MIZ (or MHA as we call it), and a plan in place to address pending massive displacement in the U District is what mattered to me. And, frankly, were our positions reversed, I'm pretty sure PLUZ would not be where I would be. Parks, Finance, Human Services - those were more my bailiwick. But what I found to be of particular importance - the leadership and willingness to push back against a loud but vocal minority that we have seen, particularly over the last year, from my council member. I promise there is a point to this.
Our city - Seattle - continues to attract jobs and the people to fill those jobs. This is a good thing. While it may have seemed ideal at the time, the long-term ecological impacts of things like the Microsoft campus in Redmond are a real thing. Climate change is happening, and a major driving force that we as a society can have a meaningful impact on is where jobs and people go. Car-based planning means more CO2 emissions, with suburban and exurban sprawl leading to more deforestation and damaging wetlands, all while encouraging more car-centric lifestyles.
The economic reality for many, however, is worsening as a result of skyrocketing rents, with homeownership removed as an option for so many families. All while populations in SF zoned parts of the city decline. Rents are rising faster than wages for many moderate- and low-wage workers, and while we continue to fight for greater economic justice, not having adequate housing supply is causing greater displacement and gentrification as folks who can't afford to live in Fremont or Capitol Hill are moving further north and south.
As all three readers of this blog are acutely aware, I have read the entire HALA Report, as well as the Community Housing Caucus report. At the end of the day, what I can say is this: I am in full support of all 65 recommendations from the HALA committee. What is clear is that attempting to only adopt some pieces while rejecting others throws off much of the balance. While there are assertions made (often) that HALA is a developer driven product, those are just not well rooted in fact. Further, by rejecting community members as community members simply because they also work in design and development is a very troubling values call against people trying to come up with solutions that will work in our real-life economic and legal environment.
The 65 recommendations have so much interplay that the importance of them together cannot be understated. Developer-funded affordable housing doesn't work without the minor height and FAR changes. Mitigating parking construction cost through more lax off-street parking requirements doesn't work without stronger on-street parking policy. What is the point of leveraging Seattle's credit rating to maximize production and preservation of affordable housing if we are disallowing folks exiting incarceration the opportunity to rebuild their life outside of prison walls?
Conversely, much of the Community Housing Caucus recommendations actual necessitate the zoning changes proposed in HALA. It sounds great on paper to spend over $700,000,000 on rent-restricted and income-limited housing, but if we don't allow it to be built anywhere, or only in a small part of the city, the total units that could be produced will be dramatically decreased as the city competes with the private market. Rent stabilization is awesome, but without more housing options, will lead to a city bifurcated into the very rich and the very poor.
What much of this all comes down to: our city needs a zoning overhaul that, while minor on aesthetic impact and feel, can be major on providing more housing options for working-class families throughout Seattle.
In order to do so, however, political courage is required. At the risk of an angry phone call (who am I kidding - I'm not important enough for those), Ansel Herz was absolutely correct when he called out Mayor Ed Murray, stating that he "[lost his] spine" in July, 2015. One of the more equitable portions of HALA is the proposed change to ultimately allow for low-density attached single family housing in the SF zones in Seattle (a/k/a Duplexes and Triplexes). While the city is proposing zoning changes in many neighborhoods, these still amount to a tiny fraction of all residential land in Seattle. Why it is that Laurelhurst, most of West Seattle, and almost all of Magnolia don't have to participate in being a welcoming city through this change is beyond me.
Absent all of the city participating in methods to address affordability - whether for tenants or those seeking to enter homeownership - we will continue to see more gentrification and displacement, with particular risk in the Central District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, and the ID. In defense of Wallingford - it is not, in fact, fair to make all of the changes in just a few neighborhoods, while making no changes to neighborhoods that are within walking distance of the Husky Stadium Light Rail station. The city has a chance to rectify this lack of leadership and piss-poor communication of an idea, and I hope that we have more than just a couple leaders willing to explore this change further, and listen to the voters that overwhelmingly have rejected exclusionary detached-SF protectionism at the ballot box. This does not necessarily mean hostility toward those with a differing opinion, but it does require a willingness to, once all information is available, make a decision that might get you yelled at. I am proud that my council member is willing to do just that.
Throughout this all, however, there must also be continued outreach and expanding the ability for people in Seattle to have their voices heard. Without casting aside the Community Council system entirely, by adding on the Community Involvement Commission and Renters Commission, more people who might otherwise find barriers to participation in decisions in the city - other than voting - can have their voices heard. And hopefully this allows for more courage from our elected officials.
Is HALA a silver bullet and the be all and end all? Of course not. And supporting HALA does not necessarily mean opposing other attempts to address affordability in Seattle. From revenue reform to rent stabilization, broadband access to equitable transit investment, there is a lot more on the periphery that must be considered and tracked alongside HALA. Many, however, are long-term fights with the Legislature, or in the courts, that, if left solely to those ideas, will mean more people end up without stable shelter, or pushed further away from jobs, increasing CO2 emissions and toxic storm water runoff in our region, at a time when we should be leaders on protecting the environment for future generations.
This doesn't mean we as residents of Seattle should sit back and leave our elected officials without accountability. But by refusing to acknowledge that, in the present and near-future world we live in, there is a serious supply element to affordability, we condemn future generations for our own comfort. I am not convinced that my nostalgia should necessarily dictate whether my child has an opportunity to raise his family in our city if he so chooses. And that is why I say #HALAYes.