SEATTLE leaders must work faster to address a citywide shortage of affordable housing for low- and moderate-wage workers. So far, attempts to spur development have been piecemeal, with no overall strategy to increase the housing supply.
Mayor Mike McGinn and City Councilmember Richard Conlin, chair of the council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Comittee, convened an advisory panel last March to study the effectiveness of the city’s multifamily tax exemption and zoning incentives.
Both are leaving office, but Mayor-elect Ed Murray and Seattle City Council members must ensure that panel’s work doesn’t fall by the wayside. They must show leadership on this hot-button issue, especially as the city amends its 20-year plan for growth.
Cranes and new construction citywide create the illusion of a building boom that benefits all. It’s still short of what Seattle needs to maintain a vibrant, economically diverse community. Without more supply, rents will continue to soar, making it harder for teachers, administrative assistants and baristas to live near their jobs.
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Voters have generously passed housing levies since 1981, but that revenue is limited. According to 2010 census figures, more than 27,000 households with incomes between $30,000 and $35,000 still spend more than half their wages on housing, well above the suggested 30 percent level.
The question is whether there’s enough will to find innovative solutions that help people keep more money in their pockets and put it back into the economy.
Politicians are hamstrung by complaints over a few badly run rooming houses, sometimes occupied by residents who can’t afford anything else. The rise of low-rent, micro-apartments in hot spots like Capitol Hill and Ballard has created animosity in neighborhoods accustomed to single-family houses.
Change is difficult, but the city cannot cling to the past.
A housing supply problem persists.
To fix this, Seattle’s next mayor and City Council must fearlessly champion high-density, mixed-use developments near transit routes, schools, parks and grocery stores. Revise incentives so developers actually use them. Balance regulations and enforcement so more homeowners can rent out existing accessory dwelling units and cottage housing.
Engage with neighborhoods along the way. Set a vision.
Remind Seattleites that if they want jobs and a healthy economy that keeps workers from living farther away and clogging up roads, they must be prepared to step outside of their comfort zones.