FOLKS! Folks. As many of you may know, next Monday, Seattle’s Office of Housing is hosting another public meeting regarding the Fort Lawton development. This follows the City’s release of a draft final design, in line with the EIS that was approved by the hearing examiner, following Elizabeth Campbell’s predatory delay tactics, this past November. If you’re not busy (and we don’t get shut down again by snow), and support more housing for low-income households and seniors exiting homelessness, please show up!
…and be prepared to show up some more in the coming months. Because if there is one thing advocates for affordable homes have learned over the past couple of years, affordable-housing opponents (disguising themselves as “environmentalists”) have stamina and time.
BUT, this public meeting is important for a few reasons -
Support The Current Proposal. Those who were around during the last public meeting may recall Councilmember Sawant distributing a sheet suggesting that thousands of units should be built on this site. This created a weird situation where anti-affordable housing advocates were speaking against the proposal as too much, and the Red Army was complaining about there not being enough.
Of course, the idea of adding thousands of units at this site is an idea that lives in a vacuum, and is terrible.
First, it falls outside of the scope of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS). While there is clearly a lot to complain about the MHA EIS (notably that it was far too conservative in how “big” it studied, leaving many communities without the ability to go higher than the current proposal, despite community support), this one is generally in line with what makes sense for this parcel. Sure, another hundred units may be good for the parcel, but when we look at affordable housing development, lumping that many units in one spot has, historically, gone very poorly. Not to mention the legal and constitutional implications of such a move.
Rather, looking at successful affordable housing investments across the country, putting everything in one site is a terrible idea, but having a lot of sites with multiple things tends to go pretty well. The “scatter-housing” approach, with an emphasis on getting more households (particularly family-size household) in areas with great schools and community assets, works well not only for the families served, but for breaking the cycle of poverty.
I would posit a more appropriate level of advocacy - build more projects like these throughout the city, necessarily changing zoning rooted in racism to create more opportunities for Office of Housing to replicate Fort Lawton elsewhere in the city. Potential opportunities that mix affordable homeownership with rentals and supportive housing (that are more realistic than Talaris - OH - that was a terrible comparison!) could include 8th and Roy and Halcyon. If we had a zoning change, and reformation of the existing Roosevelt Reservoir site, the current North Precinct location and the west half of the Reservoir site.
Support the Current Proposal NOW. What isn’t discussed often: there isn’t time to dither. The Fort Lawton proposal has been in the works since the early-mid 00’s. Time and again it has faced predatory delay, and it turns out the U.S. Army is over it. If plans aren’t in place, word on the street is they will change their mind, and turn to the private sector, creating a bunch of market-rate detached single-family dwellings. This is a horrible result.
“But we want it for expansion of the park!” cry some folks. Well, put want in one hand, and a bm in the other, and find out which fills faster. Let’s fact check whether Parks has the money to buy this parcel at market rate from the federal government and/or has the money long-term to maintain it. Survey says: NOPE. “But won’t Parks get the great deal Housing is?” I don’t see that happening. Our city, and this area, needs affordable housing. While our city needs parks and open spaces, this area doesn’t. Much like the rest of the parts of the city that are permeated with detached-single family homes that are out of reach to moderate and low-income households, this area is no different. Suffice to say, no park, despite what some folks may say.
There’s SO MUCH PARKING!! I hate surface street parking lots. A lot. And share the concern about how much surface street parking is at this site. But (and I hate to say this), while OH may want to look at the amount of parking and decreasing the same (based on cost), let’s not kill this project over a surface street parking lot. Save that energy for more-urban areas.
Speaking of Urban - What About Bus Service??? When I was younger, I would have KILLED for half-hour bus service. Hell, regular service on the hour would have been an improvement. Weekend service would have been an improvement. And I was still able to get around quite well via public transit. Here, we have two lines that serve the area, and have service on the half-hour. This is a good level of service, and depending on usage, may well be increased by King County. This is still an urban area, however, and we see more robust developments in suburbs with worse bus service all of the time.
But the COMMUNITY!!! As an initial matter, this concept that what happens in one neighborhood only affects that neighborhood is ridiculous. We are one city, one region, and while I love the unique nature of my neighborhood, we shouldn’t have veto power over proposals that impact the entire region. This project will have a region-wide impact.
For those, whoever, that still believe community councils should be given weight - the Magnolia Community Council has endorsed this plan.
In Sum - this is a good project. Could it be slightly better? Sure. But on the whole, this is a concept that can (and should) be replicated across the city. There is still work to do - after the decade+ of work from the Office of Housing, the proposal now has to go through Council (TWO committees), including yet another public meeting. So be sure to show up on Monday, and email your council members to let them know you support the proposal AS IS. Further delay can (and very well may) kill this project, and the anti-affordable housing activists are basically out of legal tools. Do not fall into their trap.
And then be ready to show up again, and keep supporting this project. And again after, to work to identify more opportunities to utilize the city’s new disposition policies, creative RFPs, and more ways to create mixed-income communities.