If Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan cares about long-term affordability and quality of life in Seattle, she should veto the City Council’s misguided decision to allow investors to build apartments throughout single-family neighborhoods.
One of Seattle’s greatest assets is its diversity of neighborhoods providing residents an opportunity to own houses near employment centers.
Even with high prices, they continue to provide working-class residents and immigrants opportunities to build equity and enter the middle class. They help companies recruit employees fleeing apartment-centric, less affordable cities like San Francisco and New York. They help schools and civic organizations by providing a critical mass of residents deeply invested in the community.
The current council, which has a penchant for killing golden geese, effectively torpedoed these neighborhoods on Monday. It voted 8-0 to allow clusters of apartments on most every single-family lot, even though there is already ample capacity for all projected growth.
This will have negligible effect on affordability, according to the city’s analysis. But it will make the rich richer, by helping developers and pushing Seattle toward a future as a city of forever renters. How progressive is that?
Yes, ownership is currently out of reach for many. But the council is making that American dream less attainable by pitting homebuyers against rental speculators. What a gift to Wall Street firms and other investors scooping up rentals in Seattle.
Durkan can fix this fiasco by vetoing the council’s accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) legislation. At least, she should restore owner-occupancy requirements so the beneficiaries are residents she represents and not investors from afar.
Remember, this started with a housing-industry wish list compiled by former Mayor Ed Murray, who made a “grand bargain” with a lawyer for developers. When neighborhoods objected and sought more inclusive planning, Murray killed Seattle’s longstanding neighborhood advisory program.
Durkan’s statement applauding Monday’s vote echoed the developer cabal’s Orwellian spin.
She said allowing investors to put multiple apartments on every single-family lot will “increase housing options.” Sort of. It also decreases options, by reducing the supply of houses for residents to own, and encouraging more homogeneous apartment development.
Durkan said this will “make room for neighbors” but that’s putting lipstick on a pig. By reducing setbacks and allowing yards and gardens to be filled with tall rentals, this takes room and space from neighborhoods — making them more crowded, less pleasant and less green. Mostly, it makes more room for investors to build.
At least the mayor didn’t repeat council members’ misleading justifications. No, this won’t advance their fantasy of a car-free Seattle — the city’s analysis said each rental will bring at least one additional car. So, by also eliminating on-site parking requirements, the council didn’t save the Earth; rather, it saved developers a bundle. It also made life worse for residents, most of whom will drive.
Even worse is pretending that this investor windfall brings social justice. Council members saying this must think constituents are ignorant suckers. It’s like President Donald Trump telling those Midwest factory workers he was saving their jobs.
Don’t take our word for it, or council members’ recycled rhetoric. Read the city’s factual analysis, which says this approach mostly helps the rich: ” … in all alternatives the overall cost of construction likely limits ADU development to relatively higher-income owners. Under all alternatives, housing affordability and displacement in the study area would continue to be a concern.”
So Mayor Durkan, are you for Seattle’s middle-class residents and neighborhoods, or for off-site investors cashing in on them? Show us with your veto pen.