Councilmembers Gonzalez and Mosqueda level charges of racism against neighborhoods opposing their pro-density agenda; it’s polarizing and 180 degrees wrong

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Coming to your neighborhood soon.

Especially since those bearing brunt of recently approved MHA upzones are communities of color

Reprinted from our column in Pacific Publishing News – Carolee Colter and John V. Fox

Before voting in favor of the citywide upzones last month accompanying Seattle’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan, Seattle City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda both said upzoning predominantly single-family neighborhoods was necessary to remove a hundred-year-old legacy of racist zoning practices.  

Pointing fingers and by inference accusing nearly 310,000 Seattle residents who live in single-family homes of racist intent when they speak up for their communities–and doing so without evidence—may be as egregious and polarizing a statement as any made by a locally elected official in our decades of neighborhood and housing activism. Developers and their self-appointed “urbanist” surrogates seemingly will go to any length to marginalize those standing in the way of their pro-density agenda. But it’s especially disappointing that two city councilmembers would play that game.

There is a tragic irony here in that 28 percent of the city’s renter population lives in a single-family home. About 63 percent of households of color in Seattle rely on rental housing compared to about 47 percent of white households. Moreover, a disproportionate number of larger renter families of color are by city standards severely cost burdened, including extended immigrant families. It’s this group that especially relies on these larger single-family rentals to maintain a foothold in their communities.

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(David Ward with mapping expert plotted all sites that according to city data are likely to be redeveloped under MHA upzone plan – Beacon Hill and North Rainier are blanketed)

As we reported in a story three weeks ago, 60 percent of single family areas city-wide that were recently upzoned under the new MHA plan are located in the Central District and Southend, especially along corridors such as Rainier Avenue, Martin Luther King Way and 23rd Avenue. These are precisely the areas with the city’s highest concentrations of low-income and minority renters, particularly large families renting single-family homes. It’s these areas that will face perhaps the most drastic change resulting from MHA upzones setting in motion redevelopment and demolition driving many minority households out for smaller luxury townhomes and apartments.  

The MHA upzones also will set off more buying and selling and refinancing of properties. If an affordable rental property isn’t immediately demolished, speculators pass on refinancing costs to the renters in the form of $200, $300, or even larger rent increases. Over time upzoning also will lead to increased land values and higher taxes, which inevitably get passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents. Once again, it will be low-income renters, especially families of color, who will be most directly impacted,and gentrified out of their neighborhoods.   Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, racial justice, Upzoning

In parting shot at U-District residents and small businesses, Rob Johnson re-introduces legislation to upzone “The Ave”

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University Way: Historic buildings, storefronts, small businesses, affordable housing  all put at risk by City Council

Nearly a dozen other blocks in the University District also are proposed for upzones

“Essentially we’re back in hot water or soon will be, thanks to Mr. Johnson” said a member of the University District Small Business Association, responding to the former councilmember’s decision, only days before he left office, to re-submit upzones for University Way and nearly a dozen other blocks in the neighborhood. 

Johnson’s decision to do so, without any consultation with those whose homes and businesses are affected, epitomized Johnson’s three-and-a-half year tenure on the City Council. As one resident of the district said, “there were many ‘up yours’ moments that came from Johnson. He routinely and arrogantly favored developers and other special interests over his constituents.”

To bring folks up to speed, the Seattle Displacement Coalition proved to be correct when it stated in a letter to the City Council that they would be on very thin legal ice to include upzones for the Ave in the Mandatory Housing Affordability MHA plan.  That was because the zoning changes along the Ave were not originally included as part of the MHA plan – only added later – and as a result never were subject to study in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan.

While most councilmembers ignored our letter, the City’s Law Department did not.  While we were not privy to their specific legal opinion – it’s not disclose-able to the public –  we were told by several sources their opinion was in sync with ours – going forward with these upzones for the UDistrict was a “no-no” without first some level of environmental review preceding it. Only then, did Johnson and his Council colleagues remove the upzone for the Ave from the city-wide MHA plan.   

This begs the question why this zoning change was inserted at all into the MHA plan and without knowledge or notice to the neighborhood.  After all, as one small business advocate pointed out: “We were promised by Johnson and other councilmembers after the University District was hit over two years ago with MHA upzones, that the Ave would not be rezoned until the needs of small businesses could be identified and measures put in place to prevent small business displacement and preserve historic buildings. It was the whole reason why the Council didn’t upzone the Ave back then in the first place.”  These commitments to the neighborhood also were embodied in resolution form and passed unanimously by the Council at that time. 

As it turns out, Johnson sneaked into the MHA plan upzones for other parts of the University District as well – nearly 12 blocks – that also were not studied in the EIS and added only after it was completed.  And, again, upon advice from the City Attorney they were removed from the MHA plan.  This too left the community scratching its collective head. Why were they secretly added by Rob Johnson at all?  

But the community barely had time to breath a sigh of relief.  Less than a week before he left office and only a few days after the Council approved the MHA city-wide upzones, sans UDistrict upzones, Johnson turned right around and re-introduced separate legislation to upzone the Ave and these other areas of the University District.  This time however, these upzones will have to go back to the planners for some level of environmental review pre-requisite to bringing it back to the Council for a formal vote.

Johnson apparently couldn’t resist aiming one more shot at the community and just days before he left office.  What’s especially mystifying, there seems to be no particular local constituency actively lobbying for these zoning changes.  We only can see vocal opposition to them from the University District community and not just the small businesses. Yet Rob Johnson and other Councilmembers – especially Mosqueda and Gonzalez – seem hell bent on ramming them down the community’s throat.  And now that Johnson has left office, apparently these two other councilmembers will be carrying, at least as high as he did, the pro-upzone pro-developer banner.

Planners may bring back proposed U-District upzones to the Council for a vote as early as June

So how long will this environmental review take and when will these upzones for the U-District finally work their way back to the City Council for a vote? We spoke with the planner in charge of the environmental review w/in the Office of Policy and Community Development, Geoff Wendtland.  He told us that they hoped/expected to finish their review by the end of May or there-abouts and bring something back to the Council soon after that. He made sure to emphasize as well that there would be opportunities provided for public comment.

However, and this is where we may take issue with the their analysis, he said they’d likely be issuing only an addendum and did not foresee the need for issuance of a Continue reading

Posted in City Hall, Displacement, Gentrification, Neighborhoods, University District, Upzoning

Council discussion of CM Herbold’s anti-displacement bill originally scheduled for next week has been postponed

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Demolition begins in University District: Why aren’t developers held responsible for replacing low cost housing they destroy? Herbold’s bill addresses that shortcoming

Community leaders say “without passage of Herbold’s bill, our city can’t begin to manage, let alone overcome, homelessness;  our shortage of low cost housing can only grow”

Originally scheduled for next week’s City Council Land Use Committee Meeting, April 17th, a discussion among committee members with opportunities for comment on CM Herbold’s anti-displacement bill has been postponed.  A later date when it will be taken up has not yet been set. 

Councilmember Herbold’s bill would require developers to replace low income housing they demolish.  Specifically, it would substantially raise the mandatory housing requirement for developers who destroy existing low income rental housing.  The ordinance as currently written would apply only when developers demolish housing in particular areas of the city where there is a “high risk of displacement” as defined in a 2015 “Growth and Equity Report”, but advocates would like to see it apply to other areas of the city, if not all of Seattle.  As one advocate said recently, “someone displaced in Lake City or the University District or Ballard, or West Seattle is is just as displaced as those in the neighborhoods now covered by the ordinance.”

Advocates also are saying that the the developer’s replacement obligation must be increased in the bill to guarantee that at minimum, developers replace ‘1 for 1 and at comparable rent’, the units they destroy, not just a fraction. 

When the City Council finally does get around to considering and voting on CM Herbold’s proposal – and it won’t be too soon say advocates – it could very well determine the fate of a large chunk of what remains of the city’s existing stock of naturally occurring low cost rental housing.   It also will determine whether the city, for the first time in decades, is willing to pass a law establishing the principle that developers must share in the cost of replacing existing low income housing they destroy.

In just three years, 2016-2018, developers tore down 2699 units of housing; most of it affordable naturally occurring rentals and applications are pending for removal of another 900 units.  Recent upzoning has greatly accelerated these losses. It means, say advocates, that “for every unit of taxpayer subsidized low income housing that the city adds to its inventory (about 500 per year are added at a cost of about $50 million) – developers will destroy about twice that amount to demolition alone.  It’s one step forward and two steps backward.”

More low cost units are being lost to speculative buying and selling of existing unsubidized apartments.  The new owners pass on refinancing costs to the tenants pushing up rents and low income tenants out – a trend also made worse by recent upzoning.  Upzoning over time also drives up property values and taxes – costs of which are passed on to the tenants forcing more low income people from their homes.

Advocates also point to data showing that areas most likely now to be redeveloped given recent city-wide “MHA upzones”, will be sites containing the highest concentrations of the city’s remaining low income rental stock and disproportionately affecting communities of color.  

Councilmember Mosqueda, an ardent backer of upzoning, says development (and developers) don’t cause displacement

At a recent meeting of the city council, CM Mosqueda actually questioned the notion that developer induced displacement was even a problem, attributing gentrification to “other economic factors”.  Mosqueda then followed that up, sponsoring her own “lunch and learn” on displacement, carefully orchestrating it to preclude discussion of developer induced displacement.  How it’s possible to hold a hour-long discussion on displacement without delving into the role of zoning and development, the impact of higher rates of growth on housing demolitions and other developer actions that force people from their homes, is beyond me – but Mosqueda managed to accomplish it.  Herbold wasn’t even given time to describe her anti-displacement measure which she’d already introduced and also should have been front and center in the discussion.

Advocates say that passage of Herbold’s bill has become even more important now that the city has approved city-wide upzones affecting especially low income and minority communities. They are urging all their supporters to call and email all the councilmembers and then, when the hearing and committee meeting are set, “to attend, come early and sign-up to speak. Finally it’s our opportunity to lay out in general and very strong terms to the CM’s how displacement is affecting our communities because many CMs just don’t understand – to educate and strongly impress upon all how much demolition is ravaging our housing stock and that developers must pay their fair share.”

Here are numbers for all the councilmembers you are urged to call and/or email: 

Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, racial justice, Uncategorized, Upzoning

MHA upzones: 60 percent of lots the city identified as “likely to be redeveloped” are located in lower income areas of the Central District, Southeast Seattle, and other Southend neighborhoods

Map of the city’s list of vulnerable sites shows communities of color face potentially the greatest change due to MHA upzoning: 85 percent of the 1000 largest upzoned single-family lots are in Central District and South Seattle

There’s some startling information longtime housing and neighborhood advocate David Ward uncovered as a result of a public disclosure request he recently submitted to the City of Seattle  After seeing a very hard-to-read map contained on page 50 of the City’s 2016 Growth and Equity Report, he asked for the source data that was the basis for the map.

The map PSX_20190403_180643shows small clusters of teeny green specks scattered across Seattle indicating parcels “likely to be redeveloped” under current zoning; “underutilized” lots where small older brick apartments or single-family homes may now sit but where much higher density development could be built.

Ward asked for specific information about each of the identified parcels on the map including their addresses and amount and type of housing currently on those sites.  And since the information was dated, he also requested an updated list of every parcel likely to be redeveloped as a result of city-wide upzones accompanying the “preferred alternative” studied in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan.  These are the upzones recently approved with only minor changes a month ago by our City Council.  Ward knew there was such an updated list of parcels likely to be redeveloped because such a list was the basis for some of their analysis in the EIS for the MHA plan.

After some time and a lot of patience, Ward obtained the information he was seeking.  And with the help of a mapping expert put together his own set of updated maps.  And his maps are a revelation.  They are far more detailed and you can blow them up revealing in a very graphic way, every block and lot the city has identified as likely to be redeveloped under the new MHA upzone plan.  The maps also distinguish single family zoned sites (in blue) from other sites, commercial or existing multi-family apartment areas (in red) that the city identified as “likely to be redeveloped”.

PSX_20190403_181558And what especially leaps out; you can clearly see the disproportionate impact the MHA upzones will have on Southeast Seattle, South Park, Georgetown, Westwood Village-Highland Park, Beacon Hill, and Central District neighborhoods – specifically areas that just happen to contain the city’s highest concentrations of low income renter and homeowner households and households of color.

Working from the lists of addresses reflected on his maps, Ward found that about 6200 of the 10,400 or 60 percent of the lots the city identified as likely to be redeveloped city-wide under the new MHA upzones are located in these Central District and South Seattle neighborhoods.  He also pulled from this larger list 1000 of the largest formerly single-family zoned parcels and found that fully 85 percent of these are located in the same CD and South Seattle areas.  Of all sites the city identified as likely to be redeveloped these perhaps have been placed at greatest risk.  That’s because after upzoning, these larger sized sites that likely held a single-family home on it, they can now be redeveloped to much higher density.  These sites too are where low income renters and people of color now live – especially larger low income families that rely on these larger units to rent.

Other areas that have been upzoned with concentrations of sites now “likely to be redeveloped” include Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill, Lake City, and areas along Aurora Avenue North.  Census data indicate that most of these areas also contain high concentrations of lower income people and renters.  

So yes, with these maps, we can see rather clearly there are indeed racial and economic justice implications accompanying the new MHA plan.  And they are tied directly to the conscious decision by our elected leaders to upzone without regard to how it will affect low income people and communities of color – those most likely to be displaced and gentrified out of their communities.

To view a map of your neighborhood and other areas of the city, click on this link:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FYOEPpijQKGLCEXOHkRT4VPLySuuDnzv/view

Posted in City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Upzoning

Upzone for “the Ave” has been removed from the City Council’s city-wide MHA plan; city attorney’s opinion confirms Coalition’s claim that environmental analysis first is required

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2017 demolition of storefronts along University Way: “we’ll see more of this unless the Council addresses first loss of historic buildings”

Councilmember Johnson says he’ll reintroduce upzones later and continues to ignore a pledge he and other CM’s made over two years ago to first put in place measures that prevent displacement of existing small businesses and historic buildings

The full City Council will vote on the city-wide Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan on March 18th – a massive upzone affecting 27 neighborhoods.  But, as recently reported in the Seattle Times, an upzone for “the Ave” has been removed from that plan.

Apparently, the City Law Department has advised the City Council (as we did two weeks ago in a letter largely ignored by most councilmembers) that adding an upzone later for the “The Ave” (University Way NE) when it was not part of the city-wide MHA plan studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) would violate State Environmental Policy and Growth Management Act (SEPA and GMA) requirements.

The upzone for the Ave and a few other areas of the University District were quietly added four months after completion of the FEIS.  It should have been preceded by environmental review, a ‘threshold determination’, and public notice, with all pre-requisite opportunities for public comment.

While the full content of the City Attorney’s opinion is ‘privileged’ and reviewed only by Councilmembers, the Displacement Coalition said in its letter to Councilmembers that a supplemental EIS should have been required before inserting it into the MHA-plan. 

Now, since it has been pulled effectively from the MHA plan, they say a separate EIS should be required.  The upzone for the Ave covers about a dozen blocks and threatens over 100 small businesses, many historic buildings, and over 200 units of existing low income housing, plus other areas of the UDistrict will be upzoned.   The Coalition says together these changes clearly cross the legal threshold of more than a moderate impact on the environment and “demand a detailed EIS study and mitigation”.  And they say, “affected small businesses and tenants deserve due process which they’ve been denied so far by Councilmember Johnson.”

Ideally, however, the councilmembers wouldn’t proceed at all with an Ave upzone, and instead fulfill their pledge made two and half years ago in resolution form (passed then unanimously by Council), and proceed to seriously review and adopt measures that first would help preserve the historic character of the Ave, the low income housing there, and its rich ethnically diverse cultural small business character.  

But we are also told that CM Johnson may attempt to make this a quick turnaround, reintroducing upzones separately for the Ave and undertaking some level of cursory environmental review and attempting to ram it through quickly. The Coalition says such a move clearly would run afoul of GMA and SEPA requirements.

As one Ave small business leader has said, “Johnson seems oblivious to how these upzones would do so much harm to the lives so many people and longtime businesses. ” Nor apparently does he care about the Council’s formal promises made to the community to first address their needs and concerns, and he obviously cares little about the law.  

Small businesses at least now have a reprieve and more time to appeal to Johnson and other CM’s and to first fulfill their pledge.  They hope instead that the Council “will focus on adoption of measures to preserve legacy businesses, low income housing, and historic buildings there – making that the priority.  ” 

And there’s something else to consider here.  Rumors abound that since Johnson has said he will not run for re-election, he may step down before the end of his tenure, possibly soon after the full Council votes next week on the city-wide HALA-MHA plan. And if that happens, the person the Council appoints to replace him until voters elect someone in the fall; would she or he be as fervent about upzoning the Ave or call first for measures to preserve the character of the Ave?  Or would it be proper to wait until voters elected the new councilmember who’d their seat next year before returning to the question of whether to upzone the Ave? 

Also, regarding those areas in the University District, in addition to the Ave, where zoning changes also have been added to the MHA plan after completion of the FEIS, the Coalition says this may have happened to other elsewhere. They have urged other neighborhoods to be looking for such after-the-fact’ additions that also would clearly be outside scope and require further SEPA/GMA review.

Posted in Uncategorized

CM Herbold’s Anti-Displacement ordinance only topic for Wednesday PLUZ committee meeting 930AM March 6th Council Chambers

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Housing demolitions: not to worry. It’s the magic of trickle down at work

Please share with our supporters: CM Herbold’s Anti-Displacement Measure is the only topic for consideration, we’re told, this coming March 6th Wed, 930AM in Council Chambers at the Planning and Land Use Committee meeting.

If you care about the continued accelerated loss of our existing low income housing stock, destruction of historic buildings and displacement of small businesses to demolition in your neighborhoods and reining in developers and making them share in the cost of replacing low cost housing they remove, please plan on attending and getting up at beginning of meeting and testifying in support of CM Herbold’s measure. Without such a measure, look for many many more existing low cost units (in historic buildings also holding many small businesses) wiped out in our city. Expect to see more homeless on our streets and growing divide between rich and poor in our city.

We applaud Herbold’s intent here; it would be a great leap forward to hold developers responsible for replacing any portion of the low cost housing they remove. Urge Councilmembers to support and also strengthen it. Developers should be required to replace 1 for 1 every low in come unit they destroy and at comparable price. And it shouldn’t apply just to a few select “high risk” areas of the city but all areas of the city. A low-income person in Lake City or the UDistrict or elsewhere forced from their home due to demolition is no less deserving than those driven out in Bitter Lake or South Park. They’re just as “displaced”, just as threatened with homelessness.

here’s a link to her proposal, click text at bottom for full read:
https://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx…

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Upzoning

Number of housing demolitions exceeds number of subsidized units the city created from 2016 through 2018

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The city spent $175 million over last three years producing 1434 ‘subsidized’ low income housing units but developers tore down 1889 low income units: Recent MHA upzones and more on the way will greatly exacerbate this trend

Drawing from city data sources (with links below) we’ve compiled amounts of money the city spent 2016-2018 to create new subsidized units, according to the City’s Office of Housing Annual Reports, and then added up the total units created for each of those years and then broken out total number each year priced at or below 50 percent AMI. It comes out to $175 million spent to produce 2565 units but only 1434 were priced for those at or below 50 percent of median.

Over the same years, 2699 units were torn down.  Assuming 30 percent were homeowner and higher income rentals not affordable to low income folks, a total of 1889 units were removed serving low income households.  175 million spent over those three years – all to come out at the other end with a net loss of 455 low cost units in our city. There are applications pending for removal of another 910 units so far in 2019.

We also could add to this, the number of units lost each year to speculative activity, developers buying and selling existing low cost buildings driving rents up and tenants out, and due to increased taxes that result when an area is upzoned.  We estimate at least 1000 more low cost units are lost each year as a result of upzoning and developer actions taking advantage of those upzones.  These trends are about to be greatly exacerbated by the pending council passage of its city-wide “MHA” upzoning plan.

(A special note: our estimate that 70 percent of demolished units are occupied by low income households is based on past surveys we have done of residents occupying units in buildings where permits were pending for demolition and by using the reverse phone directory to call former residents of buildings torn down or already vacated for demolition. To downplay the impact of demolitions, city’s planners point to a much smaller number of low income households displaced from these buildings who qualified for and received relocation assistance under the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance or TRAO.  But most low income tenants in demolished buildings often aren’t even made aware of their eligibility under TRAO or for other reasons never apply for assistance, or the landlord forces them out before applying for permits so they never even receive notice of their eligibility.  Also, TRAO limits eligibility for assistance to only households with a combined income below 50% of median.  It means the majority of unrelated low income individuals who pool their rent and live together in a unit, most of these folks are not eligible under TRAO and go uncounted by the city.  In otherwords using TRAO as a method for calculating numbers of low income people displaced by demolition is wholly inadequate.)

Sources:

City spends about 70 million to produce a total of 1197 units in 2018 but only 557 units were affordable to those with incomes at or below 50% of median) htt

https://durkan.seattle.gov/2017/12/city-of-seattle-announces-100-million-in-affordable-housing-investments/  2017 report indicates the city spent about 70 million to produce a total of 896 units of which 588 were offered to those with incomes at or below 50% of median

http://murray.seattle.gov/mayor-announces-47-million-affordable-housing-investments-2016/  2016 report indicates that the city spent about 35 million to produce 472 new units of which 289 were offered to those with incomes at or below 50% of median

https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/OPCD/Demographics/AboutSeattle/Citywide_Permit_Report.pdf   this chart shows total demolitions by year

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Upzoning