Seattle’s next mayor needs a much more inclusive plan for growth that doesn’t destroy stocks of single-family homes.
Former Mayor Ed Murray’s Grand Bargain was a political masterstroke that got longtime antagonists — developers, environmentalists and urbanists — to support his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).
It also created a hot mess for his successor.
Because the Murray coalition needed an enemy around which to rally, it chose single-family homeowners like me. Whatever our support for density, transit and economic diversity — whatever our contributions to neighborhood vitality — we’re the symbolic barrier between Seattle and affordable housing.
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My home will not be upzoned, even under the most aggressive HALA maps. Nevertheless, I’ve spent a year working to understand the plan, explain it to my neighbors and lobby the city for a better plan that doesn’t destroy stocks of single-family homes. From that experience, I offer some advice to the incoming mayor.
• Pick a genuine outreach process
The next mayor’s first HALA speech should include this line: “I do not believe our only choices are to cut neighborhood voices out of the planning process or let them hijack it.” This one sentence would signal the city is committed to real, but not endless, neighborhood input.
The mayor could then seek the best ideas from each urban village. And communities are waiting to be heard. People in my neighborhood, for example, talk enthusiastically about taller buildings that can serve as job centers; dedicated affordable housing to feed the light-rail lines; and the preservation of single-family homes that provide a small-town feel and family-sized rentals.
The mayor would also have the time to address two major HALA shortcomings.
• Decide gentrification or not?
Two summers ago, city officials came to Alki Beach with ice cream cones, asking if people supported affordable housing. Who wouldn’t want a double helping?
But the details don’t match the promises. Upzoning would target more than 20 blocks of single-family homes in my West Seattle urban village. Yet we’ll get only 36 new affordable units under the most aggressive rezoning; the rest will be at market rate. Worse, a parcel-by-parcel analysis by my neighborhood organization shows upzoning will target 61 non-owner occupied homes with two or more bedrooms — perfect sized rental homes for families. In other words, it will destroy rental houses perfect for families.
If HALA’s goal is to gentrify some areas for the sake of others, the new mayor needs to say so. Otherwise, affordability needs to be a street-level reality for all neighborhoods.
• Revise shallow Impact Analysis
The new mayor will soon receive a final HALA environmental-impact statement. If its analysis is as shallow as the draft version released this summer, I recommend a Costco-size bottle of Advil.
Take the section on traffic. The draft EIS states it takes eight-and-a-half minutes to travel by car from West Seattle to Interstate 5 — and that its most aggressive upzoning will increase that time to only nine minutes by 2035.
Those numbers are not typos.
Getting out of West Seattle is a 25- to 45-minute grind every morning. So how did the city get it wrong? Instead of a formal traffic study, they checked Google Maps four times. In the evening.
It’s easy to cherry pick one bad data point. But the draft EIS is so flawed in so many areas — bus ridership, tree-canopy removal, sewer-line impact and more — it drew a 121-page analytical critique from my neighborhood group.
It’s not that the city can’t get the analysis right. But its rushed, one-size-fits-all approach can’t actually describe what post-HALA neighborhoods will look like. It’s failing Urban Planning 101.
At the end of the day, HALA’s current implementation will gentrify my neighborhood. I’d rather share it with more, and more diverse, people. For that to happen, the new mayor must stop pitting renters and homeowners against each other, embrace a workable input process for HALA, and help the city decide what it wants to be now that it’s grown up.