Seattle’s population since the end of the Great Recession has grown faster than new homes have been built. Also, there are not enough homes close to jobs, services, and frequent transit. This situation has created a gap between supply and demand that has driven housing prices rapidly upward. In addition, Seattle’s single-family zoning has over the decades had the unintended consequence of contributing to social stratification and segregation in housing.
Integrated community living in appropriate and affordable housing is a basic human need and right. It is fundamental to the well-being of individuals, families, and the community. Housing is a prerequisite for full participation in our civic culture and economy.
Seattle has consistently approved housing levies to build more affordable housing. Recently, the Washington State Legislature passed several pieces of legislation to create more affordable housing. King County’s Regional Affordable Housing Task Force has also just released a final report with recommendations.The private sector is stepping up: Microsoft recently pledged $500 million for affordable housing and homelessness services in Seattle and the Eastside. Yet the need for more affordable housing is still strong and acute. Seattle needs to take additional action now, in concert with the region, to create more affordable housing.
We can make it easier to build more affordable housing in Seattle by -
Building multi-family developments in single-family neighborhoods.
Permitting small-scale, more affordable multifamily units would create more inclusive neighborhoods, reduce housing costs, and lessen sprawl. We should allow more housing types, such as triplexes, rowhomes, townhomes, and accessory dwelling units, in single-family zoned areas. We should use the City’s Early Community Outreach for Design Review to aid with design and community inclusion.
Requiring builders in Seattle to include affordable housing units in their projects.
There are community-minded developers who want to help create inclusive communities. The City should require builders in Seattle to include a significantly higher percentage of affordable housing units in their projects than the current Mandatory Housing Affordability range of 5 to 11%; in New York, this range is 20 to 30%. Also, the opt-out payment option should be removed.
Increasing housing around existing and future frequent transit centers and stations.
Streamlining regulations around the construction of backyard cottages and in-law and basement apartments and creating pre-approved designs for backyard cottages.
We should remove financial barriers to and streamline permitting for the construction of backyard cottages and in-law and basement apartments. These can be built without demolishing a single existing home or spending any public dollars. They are a way to create affordable housing for older parents wishing to downsize or for grown children who wish to live in the city. They are also a way for housing providers to build backyard cottages in their properties to house extremely low-income people (e.g., Parkview Services and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities).
Making greater use of community land trusts as a way to take the value of land out of homebuyers’ costs.
Re-use existing housing stock.
Portland and Sacramento use old hotels to provide inexpensive housing. Atlanta’s PadSplit converts single-family homes into affordable housing/shared living spaces: boarding or rooming houses for working-class people.
Work with the state and King County to provide other sources of revenue for affordable housing.
Provide assistance for home-buyers who have experienced red-lining in Seattle.
This is a long overdue social equity measure that should be adopted.
These measures will more quickly help provide affordable housing in every neighborhood and create truly inclusive communities. They will enable our teachers, police officers, nurses, small business operators and owners, laborers, and service providers to call Seattle their home. They will allow the same for our children, grandchildren, and newcomers to Seattle, including immigrants and refugees.