Several people in the North Seattle crowd pressed the candidates about development, density and proposed upzones around the city.
Hours after Seattle’s planning department released its first findings on how widespread upzones would impact more than two dozen neighborhoods, homeowners got a chance to grill some leading candidates for mayor on the plan.
The proposed changes — which would allow somewhat larger buildings in tandem with new affordable-housing requirements in and around the city’s urban villages and along transit corridors — were a hot topic among audience members at a Thursday night forum in Wedgwood hosted by the Northeast District Council.
Several people in the crowd of mostly older homeowners pressed the candidates with questions about development, density and the upzones that are the centerpiece of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).
“There’s a lot of sentiment raised about HALA,” one audience member told Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington backed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
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“Of the introductory speeches, you gave unqualified support for HALA. I’d like to know a little more about the question of corporate influence,” the questioner added, saying Murray’s plan would put hundreds of single-family homes in Wallingford at risk.
Joined on stage by opponents Jessyn Farrell, Bob Hasegawa, Harley Lever, Mike McGinn and Cary Moon, Durkan explained her position on plan, which Murray expects to generate thousands of income- and rent-restricted units over 10 years.
“We cannot unwind that core principle of HALA because we need affordable housing. We cannot bring on the number of units we need in Seattle just today … unless we have a solution that includes private developers. City government just can’t do it. There’s not enough money. We will never be able to pay enough taxes.”
Durkan doesn’t support allowing apartments in all single-family neighborhoods, a move Murray initially backed and then shelved in 2015, she quickly added.
Hasegawa, a state senator who represents Beacon Hill and areas south, took a different tack when an audience member said he doesn’t want his neighborhood to become “the next Ballard,” with apartments replacing small homes.
“Who up there is going to listen to us for once?” the attendee asked.
“Me,” Hasegawa said.
“Expecting developers to do the right thing and create enough affordable units” is the wrong strategy, he added, arguing that Seattle should set up a municipal bank to finance the construction of massive amounts of additional public housing.
“This is an innovative strategy that’s actually proven in other parts of the world and the country,” Hasegawa added.
Lesser known than some others on stage, Lever offered the harshest criticism of development.
The small-business consultant recounted talking with a tearful Ballard resident whose garden has been cast into shade by new buildings.
“We’re displacing a lot of small businesses and we’re also displacing a lot of affordable housing,” Lever said of “insane densification” in Ballard.
“We can have intelligent upzoning, but here’s the real honest answer. We need to be doing this regionally, because Seattle is not going to be able to endure this all by itself.”
Lever said the city should consider taxing empty houses being used as investments rather than homes, an idea Moon, an urban planner, has also been talking about.
Asked whether she’d support development-impact fees, which could raise money for public services such as schools and parks, Moon wouldn’t commit, saying they could make new housing more costly. She pivoted to her support for taxing the wealthy.
The event wasn’t set up for each candidate to answer each question, so some spoke more about development than others. McGinn, Seattle’s mayor from 2009 through 2013, staked out a position somewhere between Durkan and Hasegawa.
“We do have to figure out … how do you build market-rate, even expensive housing” — otherwise, wealthy people will bid up existing homes, he said.
“But we do need the public side too,” McGinn said, arguing the city should tax large and successful businesses to help pay for it.
McGinn said more cottages should be allowed in Seattle backyards, while Farrell — who recently gave up her statehouse seat to focus on her mayoral campaign — said mother-in-law apartments would be helpful in some neighborhoods.
Housing affordability wasn’t the only topic covered. McGinn promised to review the city’s budget for waste and said he would pause property- and sales-tax hikes.
The crowd warmed to Farrell when she said the Husky Stadium light-rail station should be made more accessible to riders coming by bus and car.
But she pushed back when an attendee suggested Seattle’s renter protections are too tough on mom-and-pop landlords. Farrell said she would monitor the situation, but defended new protections such as caps on move-in costs.
Lever was most comfortable talking about Seattle’s homeless and opioid-addiction problems. The founder of a Facebook group for concerned homeowners and business owners said the city should collect more data on people experiencing homelessness.
Nikkita Oliver, an educator, activist and attorney — who unlike the other leading candidates launched her campaign well before Murray left the race — was invited to the forum, organizer Nancy Bolin said.
Oliver instead took part Thursday night in a conversation hosted by The Evergrey, a local news and culture publication.