New rezoning and affordability rules in District 1 — do you know what’s going on?
By Gwen Davis
It’s no secret. West Seattle is growing. Within the next 20 years, it’s projected that 70,000 more households will move to West Seattle. Many of those people will need affordable housing or they will not be able to live in the area. Therefore, the mayor and city has hustled in coming up with a plan to allow growth while including an adequate amount of affordable housing.
On Tuesday evening, city policy volunteers hosted a large open house of over 100 people to present the city’s new plans: the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program.
The open house was hosted at the Highland Park Improvement Club.
The first part of the meeting provided a presentation of the MHA. In the second half, attendees looked at maps, so they could see where the changes would occur in their neighborhood.
Deb Barker, a volunteer involved with city policy, opened the meeting.
“What we’re learning tonight can lead to lots of opinions and feelings,” Barker began. “Take time and take notes.”
Attendees were given packets so they could follow along the presentation.
“Please, please, please, don’t shoot the messenger,” Barker said. “We didn’t make this stuff up, we’re only here to help you know about it.”
Cindi Barker, another volunteer, emceed the presentation.
“The mayor created an agenda two years ago, that addressed housing in Seattle and how to make the city an affordable place to stay,” Cindi Barker said. The mayor did this through his HALA program (Housing Affordably and Livability Agenda).
“As HALA was winding down it’s work, the mayor struck with developers what he called the 'grand bargain',” she said.
The bargain gave incentives so that developers would include affordable housing in their residential buildings.
“A developer can get credit to develop affordable housing when the proposed zoning changes go in.”
The city has defined the term “affordability”, Barker stated: If a single person in Seattle is making less than $37,000, that person would qualify for affordable housing. The mayor wants to give people who make that type of salary — teachers, administrative assistants, etc. — the ability to live in Seattle.
The mayor desires 20,000 new affordable units to be added to the city by the end of the program. Within the next 10 years, he wants 6,000 new affordable homes to be built.
Core principles of MHA include encouraging a wide variety of housing sizes, including family-sized homes. Also, MHA wants consideration for locating housing near neighborhood infrastructures, such as parks, schools and frequent transit service.
Barker talked about the different types of zoning. For every zone, there are specific regulations and general characteristics.
People will not need to change their current houses.
“You don’t need to do anything to your own property,” Barker assured participants.
However, neighbors can now easily build up their properties, or sell their properties to developers so that more people will live on those lots. This will impact the people who live next door, as well as the general community.
Participants then asked questions.
“How does parking play into all that?” one person asked.
“Parking is not what we’re here about tonight,” she answered. “It’s what we care about, but tonight we’re not talking about parking.”
The city will need to to conduct environmental impact studies (EIS) when it comes to those types of issues.
“I’ve lived in the Morgan Junction for 27 years,” one participant said. “Where did ‘mandatory’ come from?... I don’t like what’s happening.”
“If you don't like what’s happening, cool, give comments,” Barker replied. “If you like what’s happening, cool, give comments.”
But the city won’t listen to people who have comments but don’t have a solid understanding of the MHA.
“Do I call my city council member if I want a change?” a participant asked.
All contact information will be put online, was the answer.
“In the next 20 years, 70,000 more households will be coming to West Seattle,” Barker said. “We know we need affordable housing, but what we don’t know is if the grand bargain is the ‘best bargain.’”
For instance, can the city get to the 6,000 new home goal without all the up zones? Is MHA asking too much of developers? Will developers decide to build, or will they say that the city's regulations are taxing?
One participant asked if her feedback will even be considered? Or has the city made up its mind that this project is happening, and there’s nothing residents can do to change it?
“Well, it’s kind of like when you need your kids to go to sleep at 8:30 p.m., so you say, ‘you can go to sleep at 8:30 or you can go to sleep at 8:00 and get a bedtime story,’” she answered.
One person asked: with the astonishing victory of Trump, will there even be money for the city to carry out its affordability plans?
She was answered that most likely yes, since funding is coming from a large variety of places.
But there will be five community meetings hosted by the city, where residents can ask more detailed questions. There will also be nine neighborhood urban design workshops.
“Show up,” said on participant. “Come to meetings, be heard and be seen.”
Participants then looked at maps detailing the changes in their neighborhood.
On December 7, the city will have an open house on the MHA.