All of Sound Transit’s LINK light-rail stations offer opportunities to create vibrant, walkable mixed-use communities with significant amounts of new housing and reduced dependence on automobiles.
We need a bold, regional approach to housing affordability.
As a recent Seattle Times editorial notes, Seattle alone cannot solve our housing affordability crisis. Instead, we need a bold and broad regional approach to providing more housing that leverages our $60 billion regional investment in transit.
The scale of our housing affordability crisis is daunting. Some 290,100 (or 1 in 3) households in King County spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, while 6,320 people had no shelter at all during this year’s Point in Time Count. We need to build roughly 156,000 units of housing in King County to address our current housing shortfall, according to the King County Housing Affordability Task Force. By 2040, the total number of units needed is expected to climb to 244,000. Debating how to provide hundreds or even thousands of additional housing units doesn’t adequately address the magnitude of this problem.
We are currently making the largest transit investment in our region’s history. By 2040 we will have light rail connecting Everett to Tacoma and Seattle to Redmond and Issaquah. All of the stations on these lines offer opportunities to leverage our investment to create vibrant, walkable mixed-use communities with significant amounts of new housing and reduced dependence on automobiles. Some station locations are particularly promising as modest development currently surrounds the station areas. One of these locations is Kent/Des Moines.
The Kent/Des Moines station is scheduled to open in 2024 between I-5 and state Route 99 at South 238th Street, within easy walking distance of Highline College. Last fall, an interdisciplinary design studio at the University of Washington College of Built Environments focused on the potential for creating a vibrant, mixed-use community around the station. Students in architecture, landscape architecture, planning and real estate worked together in six teams for 10 weeks in this effort.
While the team’s plans varied greatly, most proposed between 10,000 to 15,000 units of new market rate and affordable housing ranging from family-friendly townhomes to mid-rise apartments within the 150-200 acres (about half the land area of Seattle’s South Lake Union) surrounding the proposed light rail station. In all cases, the housing was carefully integrated with retail uses, public open space, schools, libraries and other amenities to create complete, walkable communities in which the need to drive would be minimized.
Kent/Des Moines is among a number of proposed station locations that offer the potential to envision new communities of this scale — the scale at which we need to be addressing our housing affordability crisis. However, simply building the stations will not ensure this outcome. In the months since the studio concluded, new auto-dependent businesses, including a drive-in restaurant, have been proposed within the station area.
A coordinated, regional effort that brings together local elected officials, government agencies, housing developers and the community at large is needed to capitalize on this remarkable opportunity. Last winter, an informal group of housing experts developed a proposal for a potential public agency that would foster the regional and local coordination needed to leverage this opportunity. The agency would acquire land in station areas to facilitate the development of both affordable and market rate housing while advocating for efficient land use patterns and complete, walkable neighborhoods that foster a sense of community. The agency would be publicly funded to acquire land and assist local governments in meeting the infrastructure and service demands of these new transit communities.
Our growing regional light rail system is the key to providing both affordable and market rate housing at the scale our housing crisis demands. While its completion lies ahead, the vision and planning needed to leverage the opportunities it offers must happen today.