July 29, 2015

Seattle goes to HALA – Housing Affordability and Politics in an American City

HALAHave you heard the rumblings from south of the border?  Actually, it’s more of a political earthquake in the Emerald City – and I’m not talking about the latest New Yorker piece on “Surviving the Big One.”  This one was generated by something called HALA (the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee) established by Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray.

Their mandate was to address “concerns about both the cost and availability of housing” – which makes it immediately relevant for, oh, us.  And boy, for a city even more dominated by the culture of the single-family homeowner, did they ever – even provoking comment on the racist origins of such exclusionary zoning.

Here’s the report.

There’s been more comment than I can keep up with, but I’ve selected some of the analysis and comments, beginning with Jim Street, who served on Seattle Council in the 1980s and early ’90s:

Seattle’s political earthquake: A housing alternative to prevent seismic shift

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UNLESS the attitudes of Seattle citizens have changed radically since I chaired the City Council’s land-use committee 20 years ago, the recent Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee’s plan will generate some political earthquakes. Mayor Ed Murray’s plan will force all of us to consider how we balance our attachment to what we define as our “livable neighborhoods” with our progressive commitment to affordable housing for the people who work in our city.

Since I left office, gentrification has accelerated. It’s a moral issue with winners and losers. Those who can hold onto their homes and those who can afford the higher rents benefit from the upgrading of the neighborhood and nearby commercial services. Those who cannot afford the higher rents or higher property taxes move to South King County or beyond. Seattle becomes a city where a significant proportion of the people who work here cannot afford to live here.

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From The Stranger:

Finally, Momentum for Greater Density and More Affordable Housing in Seattle

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After 10 months of meetings, HALA finally released a 76-page report that was not (thank god!) middling and vague and merely Seattle nice. It tackles racism and classism head-on, makes sweeping calls for different kinds of zoning and new regulations on developers, and strengthens protections for tenants. The report calls for the creation of 50,000 new housing units over the next 10 years, including 20,000 that are affordable at 80 percent of the area’s median income level and below. (Eighty percent of area median income is $57,000 for a family of two; affordable rent at that income level is $1,434 a month for a one-bedroom.)

At the heart of the deal is what the mayor calls a “grand bargain” between grassroots housing activists and big developers, which, for the first time, forces developers to build affordable housing into certain kinds of new units—an agreement the parties reached at the very last minute.

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From Publicola:

HALA Committee Challenges Seattle Status Quo

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Mayor Ed Murray’s affordable housing committee is contemplating an actual challenge to Seattle’s status quo.  … Murray’s committee wants to rewrite longstanding Seattle law that protects real Seattle privilege: Your supposed Constitutional right to single family zoning.

It’s easy for Seattle liberals to support something like a developer fee because it doesn’t touch them. But simultaneously holding single-family zones harmless for the very problem that Seattle’s 1950s, suburban template has created—skyrocketing housing costs—is untenable (or as Murray’s committee says, “is no longer sustainable.”)

So, how will liberals feel about a policy that actually comes to their front doors? …

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  1. Vancouverites need to think seriously about Seattle’s HALA initiative. Both Seattle and Vancouver have pursued the accessory dwelling issue with lane housing and related initiatives. What further initiatives should Vancouver take. Perhaps Seattle’s mayor and the HALA committee were over-reaching, but what further can be done in Vancouver? I think we need to learn and think more deeply about further initiatives. It’s not entirely about rapacious developers. Policies are required to frame initiatives.

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