Tomorrow at CCAB: Making Some Choices on Smaller Spaces

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Tomorrow at the latest meeting of the Construction Code Advisory Board (CCAB) we are closing in on making some decisions about whether to loosen some of the restrictions on small apartments. I’ve already gone over the details of the issues in a previous post. But what it comes down to is that as unit sizes get down toward the minimum 220SF mandated by the City, it gets more difficult to program those units AND meet the building code requirement of having a 150SF “living room.” I’m proposing to the CCAB that we abolish all but the age old 70SF requirement for a room which has long been in code. That would mean that only 70SF in a unit would have to be what I’m starting to call “open space,” that is unprogrammed  space with nothing in it or on it (i.e. refrigerator, closet, stove etc). This would be the best outcome.

As expected, David Neiman has been a star, producing good visuals to help the Committee get down to the basic issue: we leave things the same, create some percentage based allocation from non “living room” space to the required 150SF of living space, or get rid of the 150SF requirement all together. Here are six different options Neiman put together with the hatched areas being the areas that don’t count toward the 150SF requirement.

Here’s the text of my recommendation and my attempt at a amendment to the rule. From e-mail.

—————————————

Hello Jenifer,

I’m still trying to get some technical support and review but in the interest of keeping things moving see the attached. I’m not sure this is the write place or way to do it, but what I am after is the simplest requirement we discussed: a 220sf unit with a minimum of 70sf in “living room.” That would get rid of the 120sf and the 150sf all together and allow flexibility to meet all other programming requirements.
Roger–

SECTION 1208

INTERIOR SPACE DIMENSIONS

***

1208.2 Minimum ceiling heights. Occupiable spaces, habitable spaces and corridors shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet 6 inches (2286 mm). Bathrooms, toilet rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and laundry rooms shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 mm).

   Exceptions:

  1. In one- and two-family dwellings, beams or girders spaced not less than 4 feet (1219 mm) on center shall be permitted to project not more than 6 inches (152 mm) below the required ceiling height.
  2. If any room in a building has a sloped ceiling, the prescribed ceiling height for the room is required in one-half the area thereof. Any portion of the room measuring less than 5 feet (1524 mm) from the finished floor to the ceiling shall not be included in any computation of the minimum area thereof.
  3. The height of mezzanines and spaces below mezzanines shall be in accordance with Section 505((.1)).
  4. Corridors contained within a dwelling unit or sleeping unit in Group R occupancy shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 mm).
  5. Ceiling height in the means of egress shall comply with Section 1003.2.

Notwithstanding the exceptions to Section 1208.2, protruding objects in circulation routes in spaces required to be accessible shall comply with Chapter 11 and ANSI A117.1 Section 307.

1208.2.1 Furred ceiling. Any room with a furred ceiling shall be required to have the minimum ceiling height in two-thirds of the area thereof, but in no case shall the height of the furred ceiling be less than 7 feet (2134 mm).

1208.3 Room area. Every dwelling unit shall have no fewer than one room that shall have not less than 120 square feet (13.9 m2) of net floor area. Other habitable rooms shall have living space a net floor area of not less than 70 square feet (6.5 m2).

Exception: Kitchens are not required to be of a minimum floor area.

1208.4 Efficiency dwelling units. An efficiency ((living)) dwelling unit shall conform to the requirements of the code except as modified herein:

  1. The unit shall have a living room of not less than 220 square feet (20.4 m2) of floor area. An additional 100 square feet (9.3 m2) of floor area shall be provided for each occupant of such unit in excess of two.

Interpretation I1208.4: The required square footage shall not include built-in equipment that extends from floor to ceiling such as wardrobes, cabinets, kitchen units or fixtures.

  1. The unit shall be provided with a separate closet.
  2. The unit shall be provided with a kitchen sink, cooking appliance and refrigeration facilities, each having a clear working space of not less than 30 inches (762 mm) in front. Light and ventilation conforming to this code shall be provided.
  3. The unit shall be provided with a separate bathroom containing a water closet, lavatory and bathtub or shower.

How’s That Gonna Work?: More Questions for the City About MIZ

The City of Seattle is stomping ahead with it’s ill advised Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) scheme. Now the Council is being battered around by angry neighbors in the north end of the city over the U District uponzones. The fact that the City Council is deaf to our concerns — that MIZ makes many housing projects infeasible, that when they do work it’s because MIZ is inflationary and will push up housing coasts broadly to pay for the scheme, and that the whole thing is an illegal and unauthorized tax — is frustrating. But imagine being the staff that has to put it together. As Councilmembers make more and more unreasonable requests from an already poorly conceived idea, it must feel like being a stunt person or someone taking a dare. “See if you can figure out how to write code that will repeal upzones in case they are ruled illegal.” OMG. I sent this and if I don’t get an answer in about ten days, I’ll do a public disclosure request on all internal e-mails related to the request. I’m just being Mr. Curious
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Hello Ketil (and Lish and Aly),I hope you all had a great holiday. Now it’s back to work, right? And what a job you’ve got. Here’s what Councilmember Mike O’Brien says he wants to do with the upcoming legislation for the U District (from George Howland’s recent post): 

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, PLUZ’s vice chair, is determined to link all upzones to the affordable-housing requirements. “Those two things should be tied together so if one is removed, the other is removed,” he says.

 
How would you do that in the code? 
 
My understanding is that the framework is already codified and completed the SEPA process. And the way this whole thing would work, is that the framework sits in the code, inert, until upzones happen. No upzones, no inclusion and fees. Furthermore, my understanding is that the upzones being considered in the U District and for MIZ implementation are legislative upzones; once those changes are made, those too are in the code for good and also would have cleared SEPA. 
 
So in order to change the framework, wouldn’t any significant change require a full SEPA review? Would a downzone (if the upzones were ‘undone’) require SEPA too? 
 
So how do you create legislation that does a downzone if the framework is somehow compromised? 
 
The short answer, I guess, is that it is done through legislation just like any other land use change. But wouldn’t that take a long time? And wouldn’t projects taking the additional height be entitled to it once they are vested to the changed MIZ code? How would Council ‘claw back’ the FAR? 
 
Also, I appreciate your memo bringing up feasibility, specifically, this paragraph: 

Increased development costs resulting from such changes may influence the feasibility of high-rise projects in the U District and may result in increased rents for market rate units. It is difficult to determine the extent this modification would have on future development given the range of factors that contribute to the feasibility of any given development project. 

 
Now we’ve been saying this for a long time. We’re glad to see Central Staff pointing it out. Geoff Wendtland said the same thing in public, but I’m not sure it’s been in writing anywhere. One of the Chairs of the HALA Committee, Faith Pettis, disputed Geoff’s comment, 
 

How would [paying fees] not increase the rate of the, increase the price of the market rate units on that development? And that’s a great question. And it is, um, a trade off and I think part of the policy and it may be the case that the market rate units have to, to some extent subsidize the inclusion of the affordable units and that it is a valid way to view the program. But uh, the proposal and the fees that are being proposed and set are such that we feel pretty confident that development will still be feasible and we would work with the development community that we wouldn’t be over impacting feasibility (the full exchange is in this video starting at about 49:45)

 
Here’s her comment, and to be fair, I’ll include her whole comment without editing. 
 
Roger,
We want to set the record straight.  Your statement, taken from your below email:

We have already expressed substantive disagreement: Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) is an inflationary policy that will only make housing prices worse for consumers by adding additional costs and slowing production with inclusion mandates and fees. The City and the Chairs of the HALA Committee have publicly agreed that this “a valid way to view the program.”

is flat out wrong.  Neither of us made the statement you are attributing to us and furthermore neither of us agrees with your larger misconstruction of a supposed point.  We request that you not misquote us or twist our statements to appear to serve your interests.
Faith Pettis and David Wertheimer
HALA Co-Chairs
Lish, Aly, and Ketil do you agree with Geoff that rents are likely to go up to accommodate the fees and inclusion, especially if they are increased, even from 9 to 10 percent? Is this, as he suggests, “a valid way to view the program?” And if Council changes“the proposal and the fees that are being proposed and set,” won’t this negatively impact feasibility? I ask these questions because we’re genuinely concerned that this proposal won’t get better in terms of feasibility, only worse from our point of view, after the U District process unfolds. Any thoughts, even of a general and procedural nature, would be very interesting to hear. I really do appreciate the work you all do. Thank you!  

Deregulating the Arts in Seattle

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It’s a familiar pattern. An arts organization lands a great deal on space in Seattle. The new space is flexible, allows for artists to be noisy and make a lot of dust preparing and tearing down shows, and it’s super cheap. Somehow nobody noticed that big white sign out in front, the one with the “Death to Capitalists!” graffiti.

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It’s called a MUP (Master Use Permit) board, and it indicates the site is about to be redeveloped. When? Who knows? It’s part of the challenge all new building faces, unpredictable permitting. The board explains a lot about why the site is so cheap and why nobody really cares about how the space gets used.

Still our hypothetical arts groups is happy with the space — and it’s working! Attendance is up. Lots of people are hearing about the innovative things being incubated in the space. Artists are hitting a creative stride, audiences are having fun and being challenged, and enough money is coming in the door to just about off set the costs. Then one night the fire marshall shows up: the space has too many people in it. The arts group has a choice, bring the space up to code, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars, or limit attendance, or shut down. Soon the venue is shut down. The building gets redeveloped into housing. Everyone says, “All this development is killing the soul of Seattle.”

I shake my head and sigh. I’ve been here before.

More than 10 years ago I addressed this issue as an arts funder. When I was at the County we built a program called Art Patch that was part educational outreach to artists about health and business but also funding art too. This scenario became all too common as the city was growing before the last economic collapse in 2008. What’s the answer. I wrote a proposal in the Seattle Times about ideas to prevent this AND keep building housing. It’s a long story. But Seattle is facing the same issues again.

The Arts Commission wrote a letter with some great recommendations to the City Council and Mayor. Two dangers lie ahead. One is that this becomes about race and social justice. Already references to the tragic fire in Oakland have been made and implications also about the disproportionality of the experience I described — the suggestion is being made that more organizations of color are being impacted. We don’t need to do all that. I know, I know. We don’t.

And we don’t need to blame growth and greedy developers for knocking down sites that have been great venues. We need to work together for a change. The one group in town the struggles with the same regulatory gauntlet is housing producers, both market rate and non-profit.  The second danger is making this the same Seattle routine about economic and social repression and issuing fiats and mandates from downtown instead of figuring out ways to meet health and safety standards at lower costs. Please. Let’s do that. And let’s look at Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to help preserve low-rise buildings that could have a much longer life as arts and cultural venues if the unused FAR could be used somewhere else.

The tragedy in Oakland unfolded in minutes, killing human potential. Everyday a slower fire is killing off hope as well in the form of housing scarcity. Much of this slow motion tragedy, a story of talented artists giving up on trying to make a living and be creative in Seattle, is self imposed by our code. We can be safe, successful, creative, and build a better, more diverse city. But it won’t happen picking out villains and victims but combining forces to solve the problems (the featured image for this post is from a Seattle Weekly feature on arts and growth in Seattle).

For what it was worth, I offered my experience and of the development community to work to address this issue. There is a great program in Chicago that I learned about my last time around on this issues. Here’s what I sent the Commission and Council. We’ll see if we go the route of working together or of putting more of a squeeze on growth which is sure to make the problem worse.

Hello [Matthew and Councilmember Herbold],

While we are an organization that is working for more housing of all types, in all parts of the city, for people of all incomes, we also agree that arts and cultural venues are what make a great city.
We support the spirit of your recommendations which seek to meet basic health and safety requirements without necessarily fully complying with all code requirements. Your take on this is absolutely correct: compliance is along a spectrum, and goal is health and safety of patrons and the community, not simply complying for compliance sake.
We face many of the same issues in trying to deliver safe, affordable, and livable housing for people who need it. Often we’re confronted with the same issues, code requirements that push up the size and the price of units, for example, to meet arbitrary square footage requirements.
I also am trying to reconnect with Julie Burros who is now head of the arts and cultural office in Boston but who several years ago was working on the issue in Chicago. Chicago received a MacArthur Grant to address this issue (you can read about it here:  https://www.macfound.org/press/press-releases/new-macarthur-fund-to-help-small-chicago-arts-groups-obtain-city-licenses/).
In any event, if there is anyway we can be supportive of this kind of effort please let us know and I’ll share what I learn about what happened in Chicago
Roger

Summary of Conversation with Julie Burros on January 6, 2017

Background

Beginning in 2003 through 2007 the City of Chicago began an update of its electrical code that had an impact on many small and medium size theaters in older buildings. During the update the City’s arts office engaged with theater groups and the departments responsible for writing and implementing the changes to identify ways to help theaters through the transition. What emerged was some compromises on implementation and interpretation of code that aimed at achieving health and safety at minimal cost through the Performing Arts Venue (PAV) License Program. The PAV program included funding from the MacArthur Foundation to help theater groups comply with the minimums of various codes (e.g. electrical, fire, building) and a staff person to support organization with everything from paperwork to construction management. The resources incentivized organization to become licensed and compliant with basic requirement in the efficient and affordable way possible.

Why Has the PAV Program Been a Success?

Burros attributed the success of the program to three things:

  1. Engagement by arts organizations in the somewhat mundane world of code implementation – Arts organizations are busy doing what they do best, art, not tracking issues related to zoning, land use, and various codes that impact the use of buildings. But with the help of the City’s arts office, arts organizations were at the table and so were able to favorably influence how codes were written, updated, and implemented.
  2. Funding – the resources from the grant provided technical support but also money to make the fixes and updates to spaces to bring them into compliance. This was a big incentive for organizations to upgrade their space. It wasn’t that groups didn’t want to have safe venues, but worries about costs discouraged them from even trying.
  3. Staff support – the single point of staff contact meant that groups had an ally outside the City process who could help them through the various steps, advocate for favorable interpretation of the code, and provide technical support from the beginning to the end of the process

Leasing and Owning

At the time, Chicago did not have tremendous supply problems with space, so leases could be favorable and extended. Bringing the PAV license and improvements tended to improve lease terms for arts organizations since it the program would end up improving the asset without any capital investment from the owner.

 

 

Martin Luther King: “Somewhere I Read….”

Martin Luther King was a man of words and action. I’m ambivalent about the official holiday celebrating his life and work. Is he worthy of the honor? Of course. But I worry that the dominant culture may have used the holiday to tame and commodify a radical legacy. King was not as radical or extreme (a matter of perspective) as some of his colleagues, but his message was a profoundly challenging one. In my years in the housing world I’ve seen a dangerous and detestable appropriation by the dominant culture of the suffering and struggle of poor people of color. Here’s what I wrote to a colleague a while back about this:

The rules for engagement on race in this town need a rewrite, although I know they’re unwritten. Absolutely race is a real factor, and racism is something that does actual damage to real people physically, socially, psychologically, and economically. But I see a sort of secondary damage being done when the real harm of racism is appropriated by enfranchised, privileged white people as a basis to protect themselves.
I mean when the white homeowner in Columbia City says, “all this new growth is hurting people of color by gentrifying the neighborhood. And our city is segregated!”
A nonsensical grab bag argument to protect their own asset, oddly, at the expense of the realities of racism. It’s as if all that racism is being cashed in by the homeowners to make the argument that nothing should change. Why shouldn’t we build more housing in Columbia City? Racism? Oh. Ok. The dominant culture commits acts of racism, then uses the suffering of racism to protect itself. Nice work. And the final straw that breaks my camel’s back? When Rebecca Saldana is the one saying those things. The circle, as they’d say, is complete. Racism, then racism used by whites to protect themselves, then that protective use given an ethnic voice. Mean? Maybe. The truth. Unfortunately I think so.
So you, as a person of color, can make that distinction clear. Yes, there is racism. No, [fighting racism is] not about protecting [someone’s] million dollar home, it’s about doing what we can to undo the damage done and make sure we limit it in the future. Hard to do in a campaign context, but it’s what we should strive to do to keep us sane.

There is nothing more outrageous that seeing suffering turned into a talking point, and scarcity of an essential, like housing, twisted into the basis for an embargo. My favorite passage of King’s final speech I call, “somewhere I read.”

All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions.

Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.

But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly.

Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.

Somewhere I read of the freedom of press.

Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.

I can imagine an adaptation for Seattle.

All we say to Seattle is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in Oklahoma or even Alabama, or any place that was full of climate deniers and racists, maybe I could understand some of these drastic measures taken against housing production.

Maybe I could understand the redlining of the Rainier Valley and Central District, and calling it a “low opportunity area,” in the name of protecting the people who live there from “displacement”

But somewhere I read about the Growth Management Act.

Somewhere I read that we’d grow both housing and opportunity in our cities.

Somewhere I read that Seattle is a Sanctuary City.

Somewhere I read that Seattle is “a welcoming city.”

I often hear his voice when I see an angry mob of mostly white single-family homeowners railing against new housing.

I hear him saying, “Somewhere I read. Somewhere I read.” Then I remember his call to strength in the face of that mob.

And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.

He calls us not to let the rules and regulations and taxes and fees and slurs “turn us around.” I hope we’ll heed that encouragement as we work to build more housing of all kinds, in all parts of the city, for people of all levels of income.

Mayor and City Council Still Riding the MIZ Tiger. But for How Long?

A couple of more cracks appeared in Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) in the last couple weeks. First, Councilmembers are beginning to take the idea of a lawsuit seriously and they haven’t figured out what to do if it is successful. Second, growing pressure from angry neighbors about U District upzones is taking its toll on wavering Councilmembers, and they’re looking for a way out, trying to appease the mob by increasing performance requirements (higher fees, and higher percentages of inclusion). But Council’s own staff are smart enough to warn them that doing that has its downsides. Councilmembers and the Mayor have started closing in on themselves, trying to follow their typical script of appeasing neighbors, but realizing the more they do, the weaker their position is legally.

Let’s take a look at the Council’s worry about what to do if a lawsuit is successful. Now, I’m not a mind reader, but the fact that Councilmember Mike O’Brien and Herbold have both been quoted on the record talking about ‘what if’ scenarios in the case of successful lawsuit means they’re worried. Usually, O’Brien dismisses these things with a hand wave. Here’s Obrien and Herbold in a well reported story by George Howland who asked the question,

What will happen if the builders overturn the affordable-housing law in court? Will developers get to keep the upzones but not have to build any affordable housing in return? Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, a member if the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee (PLUZ), states, “My understanding is that there is nothing in the proposed [U District upzoning]…that will require that if the… affordable-housing obligations are struck down the zoning changes are also repealed.”

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, PLUZ’s vice chair, is determined to link all upzones to the affordable-housing requirements. “Those two things should be tied together so if one is removed, the other is removed,” he says.

This thread was picked up by Daniel Person from the Seattle Weekly. Howland and Person are catching up with a dearth of reporting on the real nature of the Grand Bargain and MIZ over the last two years. I pointed out the bind the Council is in:

“We’re not going to challenge the legislative upzone. We’ll challenge the (affordable housing) framework. And when the framework fails…(the city council) could go back and vote to repeal the upzone. But it’s not going to be automatic” and would not invalidate permits issued under the previous rules.

As I’ve said before, some of the smartest brains I know work on Council Central staff, and one I’m always in awe of is Ketil Freeman. If anyone can get the Council out of this straightjacket it’s him. But how? The way the Mayor structured the whole MIZ scheme depends on the framework. It’s in the code now, without numbers, awaiting legislative upzones. And here’s the thing, it’s already completed the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. It’s not like the Council can go back and do anything significant to the framework without essentially starting over again. And if upzones are passed, its a done deal. Council could simply go back and delete them I suppose, but they can’t take back built out square footage. There’s no way to make a builder knock down some percent of her building. And it’s likely that any win would mean the City would have to give the money back too. 

Thanks to Council Central staff, which is entirely independent of Mayor Murray’s legion of pliant bureaucrats writing the and pushing the tortured upzones and who put together the framework legislation, comes a startling realization embedded in a briefing  document that is part of the discussion of the U District upzones:

Increased development costs resulting from such changes may influence the feasibility of high-rise projects in the U District and may result in increased rents for market rate units. It is difficult to determine the extent this modification would have on future development given the range of factors that contribute to the feasibility of any given development project.

Now we already have one of the Mayor’s staff, Geoff Wendtland on video saying more or less the same thing. But I’m pretty sure that if asked to put it in writing as Council Central Staff did, he’d do what he’s been doing for more than a year now: ignore the request. But hunkering in the cubicle bunker isn’t going to save MIZ. What the above paragraph is referring to is a possible 1 percent increase in the inclusion requirement from, get this, 9 percent to 10 percent! Just 1 little ol’ percent. Does anyone believe that this increase will assuage angry neighbors? Watch the pressure to take that percentage higher and higher, and watch Councilmembers trying to be social justice and neighborhood champions do just that to slake the thirst of the mob. Every time they dial up the exaction, it makes our case incrementally stronger.

Smart folks at City Hall and in the Municipal Tower know that MIZ is a failed policy in the making. And its getting clearer and clearer everyday. There is yet another hearing on the U District upzones and I’m sure we’ll see lots of security and muscle holding crowds at bay and creating snaking lines of people wanting to register their opinion and rage about the upzones. The Council is afraid of the monster it has created. As the old saying goes though, those that try to ride the tiger, usually end up inside.