Pro-HALA folks paint San Francisco as our nightmare future if HALA doesn’t pass, where all housing near jobs costs millions of dollars. Anti-HALA folks paint Ballard as our future if HALA passes, where existing residents are driven out by a construction tsunami and we are left with luxury housing that is 95% tech bros (plus 5% reserved for a few token “poor” people that win the MHA lottery).
I sat down with some Wallingford HALA proponents, looking for win-win solutions to housing affordability in Seattle. Here are some ideas we came up with:
Collaborate with homeowners on affordable ADUs and DADUs: The city could work directly with residents on adding affordable housing to their homes. Many homeowners have space they would use to help provide housing to a lower income resident, but it is difficult for them to get over the hump of lining up the necessary permits, contractors, and financing. Seattle City Light successfully pioneered this approach when they rolled out rooftop solar by going neighborhood to neighborhood with information sessions and vetted contractors. Rooftop solar was achieved on more than one home per city block, all without any changes to existing solar incentives. Imagine if the city brought neighbors together to be part of a solution, instead of telling people they’re NIMBYs that need to leave and make way for developers.
Rezone To Multifamily If Adjacent Neighbors Agree: A key issue is allowing for greater density in single family neighborhoods without imposing blanket rezones. One mechanism would be to allow one or more adjacent single family lots to be rezoned to multifamily if the two neighbors most impacted by the rezone agree to the zoning change. For instance, two adjacent neighbors could agree to place a new home between their existing structures, either as an adjoining unit or through a lot split, all without impacting setbacks for their other neighbors. Another way would be for a developer to request permission from adjacent lots to rezone the lots they own in order to place rowhouses or townhouses there. The adjacent homeowners could agree to the rezone for a number of reasons- perhaps the zoning change will allow an existing structure to be maintained, perhaps they will be given a say in the zoning envelope for the new structure (e.g. increased setbacks), or perhaps they will simply be paid off. Regardless, the advantage is that new multifamily homes would come into a neighborhood without it coming at the expense of upsetting the people that would be most impacted by the change.
Expand MHA Upzone Areas In Exchange For Limits On The Rate Of Change: A key fear with HALA MHA upzones is that they will result in a neighborhood “flipping” like Ballard did, with all existing residents pushed out by redevelopment. Another key problem with HALA is that it is artificially limited to urban village boundaries that were defined in the 1990s, before light rail was started on, and often not making any sense in terms of access to light rail and amenities like schools. One way to address both issues would be to expand upzone amounts in appropriate locations in exchange for a cap on the rate of demolition in an upzoned area in a given year. To control the rate of change, demolition and permits would be auctioned off in the upzoned area. The proceeds from the auctions could be used to provide amenities for the upzoned neighborhoods.
Block Single Family McMansions In MHA Zones: One thing nobody but developers likes is McMansions- they’re bad for nearby residents, bad for affordable housing, and bad for the environment. Demolitions and additions that create lot maximizing single family homes create adverse impacts, meaning they can be legally controlled for in urban villages as part of MHA and possibly city-wide. Portland limits square footage to 2000 square feet for single family homes on small lots for instance. By downsizing what can be done with single family homes, it will incentivize the creation of more multi family homes and cut down the demolition of existing housing.
Adjust The RPZ Program So Parking Requirements For New Construction Can Be Eliminated: While parking requirements for new construction should be eliminated to reduce dependence on cars and lower the cost of housing, we don’t want new residents of multifamily dwellings to simply flood neighborhoods with their cars. A change could be made to eliminate parking requirements for new construction in exchange for having the RPZ program limit applications to 1 per licensed driver up to a maximum of 4 per lot. In this way, residents of new “car-free” housing that are in areas where there is not enough street parking would actually need to get by with fewer cars. Meanwhile, the requirement that new structures have parking would be eliminated, potentially lowering rents and simplifying ADU / DADU conversions.
Convert Golf Courses and Country Clubs Into Urban Villages And Parks: Broadmoor and Sand Point are private, invitation-only country clubs that cover 180 acres of prime real estate with spectacular views, yet they have a combined taxable value of only 7.8 million dollars and provide no housing at all. HALA asks absolutely nothing of these places. For comparison, the Wallingford urban village is smaller at 158 acres and has 2817 homes, meaning by acre the country clubs are paying about 1/300th of Wallingford’s tax rate. HALA also ignores our public golf courses. We are currently paying nearly a billion dollars a mile to put light rail alongside the Jackson Park and Jefferson Park golf courses (ST3 is 54 billion dollars for 62 miles of rail). To legally allow these public golf courses to be developed as new urban villages would require a land swap which maintains the public space, a land swap that could be achieved by opening up our city’s private country clubs to the public. Imagine a Seattle where half of each golf course was rezoned as an urban village while the remainder became a public park, resulting in 4 new urban villages. The mechanism to catalyze the change would be to rezone country clubs to increase their taxes to urban village levels, then also impose very high MHA and developer impact fees on them (the developer impact fee authority granted by the state is designed for new development in areas like this). The result would be a very high tax bill but an affordable sale value, either generating lots of new revenue for affordable housing or forcing an affordable sale to the city. If a club was sold to the city, the city could offer to buy the country club, convert it to a public park with some urban village zoning, then as a land swap, develop parts of Jackson and Jefferson park golf courses into new urban villages directly on light rail. Nobody would be displaced, new walkable neighborhoods on light rail would be created, and developer impact fees plus MHA would pay for schools, parks, transit, and affordable units.
What are your ideas that you think both sides could agree on?