Leaders of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s panel on housing affordability rushed Tuesday to temper the group’s position after a draft report surfaced showing it is considering recommending doing away with single-family zoning in neighborhoods.
Leaders of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s panel on housing affordability rushed Tuesday to temper the group’s position after a draft report surfaced that included a recommendation for doing away with single-family zoning.
But some city officials say the idea of opening up Seattle’s traditional neighborhoods to more development is worth discussing.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, one of the council’s staunchest neighborhood allies, says the panel’s draft recommendation wasn’t far-fetched, and Councilmember Mike O’Brien says such changes wouldn’t need to be very dramatic.
“We’ve heard that some members of the committee have been advocating for that for a long time,” Rasmussen said. “I’m not at all surprised it was included.”
Murray and the council created the 28-member Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee in September, charging it with addressing “concerns about both the cost and availability of housing.” The panel includes a wide range of interests, from developers and low-income housing advocates to business and nonprofit representatives.
Murray initially gave the group until the end of May to issue its recommendations. The deadline was eventually extended to July 13.
In the recent draft of its recommendations, the committee argued for converting Seattle’s single-family zones into “low-density residential zones” allowing more types of housing, such as “small-lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, duplexes and triplexes.”
After The Seattle Times made public a copy of the draft recommendations Tuesday, HALA Committee co-chairs Faith Pettis and David Wertheimer described the document as “outdated and inaccurate” and insisted that the panel “has no intention of recommending the elimination of all single-family zones in the city.”
Seattle residents may have to wait until next week to find out what exactly the group wants.
The panel, according to the draft published by The Times, is grouping more than 60 recommendations into four categories: more housing, more resources, more support for tenants and homeowners, and innovation. The topics under discussion include eliminating some parking requirements, altering the hotel tax and seeking a larger housing levy.
Efforts to change the character of Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods have long met strong resistance.
But the committee’s recent draft included particularly forceful language about the need for change.
“Approximately 65 percent of Seattle’s land — not just its residential land, but all its land — is zoned single-family, severely constraining how much the city can increase housing supply,” the draft says.
The draft continues, “Seattle’s zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the city’s goals for equity and affordability. In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic level of single-family zoning is no longer either realistic or acceptable.”
Roger Valdez, who advocates for denser housing and lobbies for developers, hailed the draft recommendation Tuesday.
But he predicted that Seattle politicians won’t carry it out because they don’t want to anger homeowners.
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“None of them will stand up and agree that we need to make significant changes going forward,” Valdez said.
Rasmussen, however, said that opening up Seattle’s single-family zones to more development may be what the city needs.
“Flexibility and diversity of housing options in single-family neighborhoods can work and can be accepted by neighbors if the guidelines are clear and thoughtful,” he said.
O’Brien noted that the City Council months ago asked the HALA Committee to consider looser restrictions for backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in single-family neighborhoods. That may be the bulk of what the panel is envisioning, he said.
Irene Wall, co-chair of the City Neighborhood Council’s land-use committee, was sharply critical of the draft recommendation.
“I hope the whole idea goes away,” she said. “It’s a dumb idea that will shatter the golden goose that has fed Seattle’s tax system so long with rising property values, and it’s not going to get us social justice.”