Mayor Jenny Durkan should act boldly to allow more rental options in backyard cottages and in-law apartments, as well as update our antiquated residential zoning laws.
Seattle is in a housing crisis, and the recent Seattle Times editorial [“Don’t upzone Seattle neighborhoods,” Opinion, July 1] is out of touch. As civic leaders address our growing cost of housing, we should encourage more housing choices in our neighborhoods. The editorial undermines one of the most reasonable responses to our city’s rising rents and home prices.
A recent Puget Sound Regional Council poll of Seattle-area residents cited the cost of housing as the worst part of living in our region. This should not come as a surprise. Seattle has the nation’s fastest-rising housing prices. In two years, the median home price has grown to $830,000 — rising an astonishing $200,000.
Skyrocketing housing costs affect everyone, but to working-class Seattleites like cooks, firefighters, child-care providers and bus drivers, it has become a barrier that is pricing far too many out of the city they call home. This problem is not new, and there’s no single cause, but the solution is clear — we need more housing.
“City Hall is aggressively pushing legislation to allow nearly every single-family lot to become a multifamily apartment site.”
Read the editorial “Don’t upzone Seattle neighborhoods” at st.news/editorialupzone
I was born and raised in Seattle, and as a journeyman electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46, I was able to buy my home in the Seattle neighborhood I grew up in. Owning a home has allowed me to raise my family with stability and joy. But to far too many residents, this has become a pipe dream.
Rent from a backyard cottage or in-law apartment can help a new homeowner make the mortgage payment, an older couple on fixed income retire in Seattle, or a young family find a home near the school of their choice.
But the problem doesn’t stop with homeownership. Teachers, nurses and other working-class residents are increasingly finding rent unaffordable. Nearly half of all renters in Seattle are cost-burdened, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Others are forced to live an hour or more from where they work, clogging our freeways and contributing to climate change.
At the heart of this problem are land-use restrictions in residential areas that have failed to keep up with the tech boom that has transformed our region. Seattle is the fastest growing city in the U.S. — with more than 1,000 people moving to our region every week — yet local ordinances severely restrict housing growth in most of the city.
As the leader of MLK Labor, which represents more than 100,000 union workers in King County, it’s my mission to improve the lives of workers across our region — usually through higher wages and better working conditions. When someone sees their rent go up 10 or 20 percent, it’s like getting a pay cut. This means less money going into our local economy and retirement savings.
The Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan should act boldly to allow more rental options in backyard cottages and in-law apartments, as well as update our antiquated residential zoning laws. This can be done without sacrificing the unique character of our various neighborhoods or gentrifying industrial areas like Old Ballard and Sodo that are home to thousands of jobs in the maritime industry.
It’s also time we require all developers to contribute to affordable housing through the citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability proposal.
These changes alone will not solve our housing crisis, but it’s a common-sense place to start. That’s why labor has come together with business leaders and housing advocates to lobby for more housing choices everywhere in Seattle.
Seattle was founded as a city built for everyone. Our good jobs and affordable housing brought opportunity to generations of working families. Now it’s our duty to ensure this opportunity for our children.