Op-Ed: Why is the Single-Family Unit Zoning Bad for BIPOC? A deeper look into why density is better
By Ruby Tuesday Romero
As we know, our state’s population increase is calling for more housing in King County. Until recently, I saw it as capitalists capitalizing and stuffing sardines into cans. So, how come the negative effects of ‘urban sprawl’ aren’t mentioned when density is opposed?
Originally, I wanted to say ‘urban sprawl’ worked when King County wasn’t rapidly expanding…And although this rings true, I was largely referring to the environmental impacts of expansion-not segregation written into zoning regulations.
During the Mayoral campaign, candidate Gonzalez kept mentioning ‘racist practices of exclusionary zoning’ …and after looking into it, I need to accept what’s staring me in the face. Rapid expansion reduces affordable housing for everyone, but most affected are low-income and BIPOC communities. The more money you have, the more likely you are to have a roof over your head.
Real estate agents are projecting a 3 million dollar sale by spring next year.
Back when banks began to offer home loans, a map was developed for all major cities. The 1920’s era guides were meant to provide insight to fellow financiers on which demographic areas are better to provide loans to, or who to charge higher interest rates to, by literally drawing a red line around the boundaries. It’s harder to buy a home without a loan and not worth it if interest rates are too high, preventing low-income, BIPOC families from doing so.
When city planning took place during the ‘50s, zoning ordinances largely followed the ‘red line’ map, meaning everything outside of those areas were zoned for one family per unit. I’m guessing any apartment you see had to request amendments since single family unit zoning accounts for almost 70% of Seattle.
I’m appalled with myself for thinking I lived in a progressive city. Our population just hadn’t strained our infrastructure and now, we are bursting at the seams. The stresses of affordable housing and a growing wealth gap uncovered what nearly 70 years had tried to hide.
Even here, in ‘progressive snowflake utopia’ some houses can’t be sold to ‘non-whites’ because of directives in the deed. Observing metro routes, the obvious boundaries show which ‘hoods can easily connect.
My love for the single family home zoned Seattle, quaint as it is, isn’t love. It’s sentiment and nostalgia for a city that no longer exists. We are used to a progressive and artistic Seattle which never had to stare the past’s exclusionary practices in the face…because no one cared to move here.
Lastly, urban sprawl harms the environment by accelerating energy use, generating pollution, and traffic congestion. Single family unit zoning requires more land to be developed in order to house the growing population, which creates competition within the market-causing prices to skyrocket. Also, it harms natural habitats, and limits natural spaces. Additionally, multi-family units allow for us to centralize and minimize car use.
However, I can’t scream “Affordability!!’ any louder. Density without displacement will maintain the culture of an area, like White Center and North Highline, which luckily hasn’t been gentrified…yet. It’s inevitable though, so, let’s focus on what we can influence- fighting for deeply affordable units, asking developers to offer varieties of housing in exchange for density allotments, and advocate against the displacement of the Duwamish people. So, instead of eliminating what makes us emerald, we need to change the single family unit zoning and realize the only way is up…just no one tell the grumpy old guy in that one movie.
The public comment period on the North Highline Sub-Area Plan has been extended to Dec 12th, 2021. Please read the plan (I did! It’s got a ton of great demographic info!), fill out the Community Needs survey, and submit a public comment via phone or email. Preferably asking for ‘deeply-affordable housing’, mixed-income development, and density allotments in exchange for those two-not in exchange for affordable housing (which constitutes as 60% Annual Median Income of an area-and we fall under King County with AMI of $102,000).