This KING 5 story pretty much says it all. Councilmember Mike O’Brien is trying to make these neighbors happy by mandating how microhousing projects are organized and built. What it amounts to is a mandate about how people should live and what they should be forced to pay for. Do you want people in Eastlake telling you how many sinks and how much space you should live in?
Update: here’s a statement from CHHIP’s Communications office.
It is incorrect to say that the Capitol Hill Housing board is no longer endorsing this policy. The board decided not to take a position on either side of incentive or inclusionary zoning policy.
Recently the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program (CHHIP) decided they are no longer endorsing incentive and inclusionary policy to create affordable housing. Is it possible that even non-profit housing agencies are seeing the light on these bad policies?
Over the course of the first half of this year we’ve spent a lot of time informing the press and public why Incentive Zoning (IZ) and inclusionary zoning are tools that won’t work and the problem they are intended to fix is one we don’t have.
Here’s a summary.
- Doesn’t create very much housing (about 600 units)
- Adds costs and risk that make it a disincentive
- The Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) Creates lots more housing (Over 3,000 in 2013 alone)
- Consultants have validated that IZ projects are usually infeasible over 85 feet
- Capitalization rates that used by consultants that suggest higher IZ fees are far too low and depend on future housing scarcity; cap rates are the wrong measure for planning housing policy
- There is no housing crisis for people earning 60 to 80 percent of Area Median Income
- The real problem is for people who are poor, earning 50 percent or less of Area Median income and families
- Functions as rent control and is therefore inflationary
- Seattle’s subsidized housing is not segregated by neighborhood
- And even if it were, inclusionary zoning wouldn’t solve that problem
The evidence against the continued use of Incentive Zoning is overwhelming; it is a policy that will neither lower prices nor help poor people. Instead it adds costs and risks to market rate housing that is currently meeting the demand for housing for people earning 60 to 80 percent Area Median Income.
It’s time to stop and come up with a better analysis of our housing challenge as we plan for coming growth. Smart Growth Seattle has gathered 250 signers for our petition calling for a comprehensive housing plan.
There are days when there are so many things going on that I simply don’t have the hours in the day to respond to everything popping up in the media. Recently embittered neighbors (you can read Leroy Laney’s poetry here) “won” a lawsuit against a project on Harvard (and it was the City that “lost” since the neighbors sued them for their interpretation of their own code). All they’ve done is delay the project (the image above this post is from the comments section at Capitol Hill Seattle Blog).
I will probably do a more comprehensive post on that decision later, but for now here’s my e-mail to Joe Copland at Crosscut. Joe is a great journalist and I worked with him for a long time at Crosscut. This isn’t a slam on Joe, but just the fact that we are still fighting an uphill battle to shift the narrative away from the default one which is all about developers breaking the law for fun and profit. So my note to Joe will have to serve as our response for now. I also comment on another item in the Daily Troll about family housing.
First, when I get a minute I will likely post a clarification of what’s going on with the micro decision.
This is an elected judge siding with the neighbors. Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s what you’d expect I’d say. But a closer look will show that the City’s code allows this interpretation. It’s nothing sneaky. Our system allows people to challenge the underlying assumptions of a law. The judge is essentially saying, “yes it’s code compliant, but the underlying code is bad.”
This is really, really important. The rhetoric is that somehow projects are “violating the law.” No, they are following a law you don’t like. There’s a big difference.
With regard to family housing, that’s the point we’ve been making again and again the adverse decisions made by Council lately that put a squeeze on single-family housing. Making it harder to build single-family housing isn’t going to make family housing easier. In fact, as I pointed out in a recent post, the rules we’ve erected around the single-family zone wall out families looking for affordable housing.
Trying to change the narrative about the greedy developers trying to skirt the law for profit and to squash the little guy isn’t your job; its mine. But when this stuff comes up give me a call for background and I’m glad to at least give the other side.
Sean Keeley at Curbed Seattle has a post called 6 Charts that Show Seattle Needs More Micro-Apartments. The post takes some existing charts and puts them together to illustrate the point that more and more people are living alone. That makes it impossible to share rent costs. That means that building new housing that accommodates that demand is going to be imperative to keep prices down. Based on one of his charts:
There’s a good 200K Seattleites who might be willing to trade space for lower cost of living. And clearly, given the never-ending list of new microhousing projects around town, we haven’t met demand yet.
But, as we’ve pointed out, angry neighbors get their way supply will go down and we’ll get fewer units. That just means higher prices.
Last week I responded to Chris Persons at the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program (CHHIP) who claimed that without inclusionary zoning, Seattle would end up a segregated city. I’ve offered Persons a chance to post a response here, without any editing, to keep the dialogue going (he hasn’t responded). And I have said to him and others, that everyone building housing in the city, for-profit and non-profit, have more in common than we might think.
Anyone building housing in Seattle faces the same regulatory challenges with permitting and other costs associated with building. In the follow up discussions from my post, I’ve been finding out that taking a pass on mandatory inclusionary zoning won’t lead to segregation by race and income, but, arguably, segregation of affordable housing doesn’t exist today. On the contrary, subsidized affordable housing exists in all quarters of the city.
Here are two maps created by the Office of Housing that illustrate the wide distribution of housing and where it is most concentrated.
(Click there to see the full map: Seattle Subsidized Housing by Housing Density)
(Click here to see the full map: Seattle_Block Group Map_Subsidized Housing Density)
Clearly , the city has a lot of buildings and units of subsidized affordable housing. There are areas (especially larger SHA operated housing areas like Holly Park and Rainier Vista) where there is still a much greater concentration than in other areas. But those areas are matched by many, many areas where there are lots of units and projects.
What about the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE), a program aimed at people who earn 60 to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) that has created thousands of units compared to the hundreds created by the underutilized Incentive Zoning program?
(Click here to read the full report: MFTE Annual Report)
Because the MFTE program is actually limited to urban villages and other areas of growth, when the program grows it creates more affordable housing in those places where Persons and supporters of inclusionary zoning say housing at 60 to 80 percent needed the most. The facts show that the MFTE program is creating housing priced at for 60 to 80 percent AMI all over the city at a rate much faster than Incentive Zoning, which produced, over a decade, only about 600 units. In 2013 alone, the program created over 3,000 units for people earning 60 to 80 of AMI.
What did the consultants hired by the City Council tell them about the distribution of housing in the city?
(Click here to see the full Power Point Presentation)
Cornerstone says that “Seattle’s affordable developments appear to be located in relatively high opportunity neighborhoods.” That includes neighborhoods like South Lake Union which has hundreds of MFTE units (see photos below) as well as larger buildings that are aimed at families, like the Denny Park Apartments. Here’s a description of that property from the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) website:
Denny Park Apartments (South Lake Union, Seattle)
50 units for families and individuals
26 studios, 11 one-bedrooms, 8 two-bedrooms,
5 three-bedrooms, 10 units are transitional
Here’s a map of LIHI’s properties which are all over the city, including in Queen Anne and Ballard:
Yet the hyperbole from the Housing Development Consortium continues unabated. Here’s a quote from a post by Emily Alvarado from in early in 2013:
For years, zoning has been a tool of exclusion designed to systematically segregate neighborhoods. But, Incentive Zoning can be a tool for equitable growth, helping build economically and racially integrated communities that enable modest wage workers benefit from urban reinvestment and connect to better schools and opportunity networks.
Then she posts this old map:
The implication is obvious. Do what we say and impose inclusionary zoning or you will be participating in a racist and segregationist policy. Of course Persons and Alvarado will gasp and clutch their pearls at such a suggestion, but the maps show clearly that they are wrong on the facts of what’s happening in the city and about incentive zoning’s value as a policy to reverse segregation, even if it existed. The only affordable housing program creating lots of units with limits on its location is the highly successful MFTE program.
What’s truly unjust is the gross misallocation of resources, rhetoric, and time that this city, the Council, and housing advocates of all kinds have wasted on a policy that so clearly does little to solve any problems, especially the one we don’t have, which is the supposed undersupply of workforce housing. The scarcity is at lower levels of income, and while waiting lists for that housing grow as does the suffering of poor people, Persons, the Housing Development Consortium, and some Councilmembers plow ahead, using the politics of race and class welfare to tax new housing to funnel subsidies to people that earn $50,000 to $60,000 claiming that it will integrate and better distribute subsidized housing. Where has all the affordable housing gone? It’s everywhere.
While I was writing this on Capitol Hill I ran down and across the freeway to get a quick picture of the Denny Park Apartments. But I realized I was disoriented. The Denny Park Apartments are further away than I thought. So I snapped pictures of these 6 affordable buildings in about 5 minutes. I haven’t calculated how many units of housing I was able to identify on foot, without a map, and just looking at the outsides of the buildings. I came back and confirmed the names, ownership, and addresses of the buildings. The next time someone says the South Lake Union has no poor people, or that people are being displaced to make way for luxury apartments consider these actual people living there today. Then tell me we’re segregating our city.