Parking, affordability and transit

phinney flats

Should Phinney Flats, a proposed 4-story, 52-Small-Efficiency-Dwelling-Unit building, with zero parking require no-car leases? (Drawing by Skidmore Janette courtesy of Johnson & Carr)

A neighborhood fight over tiny apartments with no parking leads to city hall proposing a Seattle-wide law to help developers

By George Howland Jr, Contributing Writer

On Phinney Ridge, the issues of parking, affordability and transit have collided.

The site of the crash was Phinney Flats, a proposed 4-story, 52-Small-Efficiency-Dwelling-Unit (SEDU—pronounced “see do”) building with zero parking. Livable Phinney, its neighborhood opponents, appealed the proposed building’s permit and won, most significantly over inadequate transit service.

Now city hall wants to pass a new law that will change the rules going forward so that developers can more easily build multi-family housing without parking. Livable Phinney wants city hall to consider another approach: the no-car lease.

Early next year, the Seattle City Council will take up the issues.

SEDUs are a popular new form of multi-family housing. In a September study, Colliers’ Seattle Multifamily Team projects that 2,271 SEDUs will be developed next year. In comparison, last year 8,300 new residences were built in Seattle, mostly apartments. SEDUs are self-contained, tiny, apartments between 220 and 300 square feet, and the buildings don’t provide parking. According to Colliers, SEDUs’ rents average $1275—significantly cheaper than studio apartments, which average $1546. Colliers also notes that SEDUs are more profitable to build.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, George Howland articles, Neighborhoods, Politics, Transportation, Upzoning

City cuts funding for urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing: advocates say the move means more homelessness


Urban Rest Stops like this one in downtown and others in Ballard and U-District face funding cuts in favor of voucher system untested on city-wide scale

Millions in funding for homeless programs are being moved from shelter and tested services to ‘rapid rehousing’.  Advocates say only calls to electeds can stop a ‘colossal mistake’

Immediately following the budget process, outgoing ‘placeholder’ Mayor Tim Burgess held a press event, flanked by Catherine Lester, head of the City’s Human Services Department (HSD) to announce deep cuts in funding for the city’s homeless urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing programs.  

The move, according to housing and homeless advocates, virtually guarantees a dramatic rise in the number of homeless on our streets.  It grows out of a unilateral decision by Burgess, Lester, and other HSD officials to shift millions of dollars from these essential survival services to a system of rent vouchers, dubbed ‘rapid rehousing’.   

What’s especially troubling to both providers and homeless advocates, these officials intentionally waited until after the budget process to ensure there were no hearings, evaluations, or opportunity for dialogue between decision-makers and agencies running the affected programs or the homeless themselves.  They and their advocates had no opportunity to show how effective these programs have been and no opportunity to ask electeds to step in and prevent these cuts.

“Go ahead test the value of programs like rapid rehousing but on a small scale ” advocates argue.  When it’s done at the expense of existing proven and basic survival services, however, it’s “simply a case of moving the deck chairs around while tossing overboard those who made it into the life-rafts. “

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Posted in Affordable Housing, Budget, City Hall, Homelessness, Politics

Humbows not hotels

CID coalition

The Chinatown International District Coalition wants to protect neighborhood residents–95 percent of whom are renters and 25 percent who live below the poverty line. (Photo: Cliff Cawthon)

The Chinatown-International District Coalition fights against 1,600 market-rate residences and hotel rooms flooding their neighborhood

By Cliff Cawthon, Contributing Writer

On November 19, the Chinatown-International District (CID) Coalition (also known as Humbows Not Hotels) hosted a community meeting about developer-driven displacement in their neighborhood. Forty community members came to the meeting, co-sponsored by former Seattle City Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley, to discuss their concerns.

The CID Coalition was founded a year ago after Cynthia Brothers, an activist and creator of the Vanishing Seattle website, wrote a piece in the Seattle Globalist about the rapid pace of development in the neighborhood and how it might lead to displacement. The Coalition includes residents of the neighborhood, people who are connected to the neighborhood and other concerned allies who have been keeping an eye on development.

The CID, the historic heart of Seattle’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community, is home to 5,000 residents. While Seattle’s overall median income has shot up to $80,000, the CID’s average median income is only $40,000. Twenty-five percent of the neighborhood lives below the poverty line. According to the city, “95% of the area population are renters.”

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Cliff Cawthon articles, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Politics, Protest, Resistance, Upzoning

Twenty-six neighborhood, housing, and small business groups file appeal challenging HALA upzones and mandatory housing requirement


No they’re not carolers but community leaders from across Seattle at City Hall and voicing their opposition to the HALA “developer giveaway” upzones

Coalition of groups from across Seattle demonstrate broadbased opposition to the City’s HALA Grand Bargain “developer giveaway”

On Monday, Nov. 27th, 26 neighborhood, housing and homeless advocacy, small business and environmental groups from every corner of Seattle held a press conference at City Hall to announce formation of a coalition to challenge the adequacy of the final environmental impact statement for the planned “HALA-MHA” upzones and mandatory housing requirement.  (A video of the event is here)

Calling themselves “the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity” or SCALE, the Coalition filed this appeal with the City Hearing Examiner.  If successful the appeal would force a ‘remand’ sending the upzones back for further review, revisions, and public hearings.  A successful challenge would be a significant setback for city leaders, like Councilmember Rob Johnson, and their efforts to ram these upzones through the Council next year.  

The City Council cannot act on the HALA land use changes or mandatory housing requirement before a hearing examiner decision on the appeal and the environmental review process has played out.  A remand would force at least a six month delay in the process if not longer.   

Said David Ward, a Ravenna renter and president of the coalition, in reference to the HALA plan, “It will make Seattle far more unaffordable and also make it more difficult to live here due to more traffic, not enough schools, more pollution, fewer trees, and a loss of the diversity of residents we currently have.”
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Displacement Coalition files code complaint against University Unitarian Church’s plan to demolish homes for parking lot


“Activist church” would displace ten residents receiving assistance from Community Psychiatric Clinic (CPC)

Church ignores law restricting demolition of housing for parking lot and city inspectors ask for ‘correction’; Coalition also says Church may have violated just cause and tenant relocation laws

Last week, The Seattle Times published a front-page story about University Unitarian Church’s plan to tear down 3 homes in Northeast Seattle rented to 10 formerly homeless people… for a parking lot.  Community Psychiatric Clinic (CPC) has managed the homes for years behalf of the Church.  The units are offered to people with mild mental health issues and also receive services from CPC.

The Times story does not make clear why church leaders could not include the parking ‘on-site’ incorporated directly into their renovation plan. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the houses are on the opposite side of the street from the church. In fact, the three houses are on the same side.)

Screenshot 2017-11-20 at 11.44.48 AM

The church easily could incorporate parking into their renovation plans instead of demolishing these homes serving low income families

The story left us scratching our heads since we are aware of city legislation passed some 20 years ago barring demolition of existing structurally sound housing for a ‘principle use’ parking lots.  (Recently the City Council watered down this legislation allowing developers to abandon rental homes and then later demolish them, but the prohibition on demolition for a parking lots remains.)

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Politics

Amid displacement, Mayor Burgess proposes a citywide upzone


Mayor Tim Burgess is getting pushback from community groups about his housing policy.

Community groups express concerns about race, social justice and city hall’s ability to listen

By Cliff Cawthon, Contributing Writer

Last Thursday, Mayor Tim Burgess unveiled a plan to implement Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements on all new multifamily and commercial development in 27 neighborhoods across Seattle. MHA would allow developers to build bigger and taller building in exchange for including affordable housing in their projects or contributing to a low-income housing fund. Under this plan, the mayor hopes that the city will meet its goal of at least 6,000 new rent-restricted homes for low-income people over the next decade.

The plan overall includes building 50,000 homes by 2025, including 20,000 affordable homes (6000 of these would be income restricted). The plan is purportedly aimed at expanding the housing capacity first in the city’s urban villages, in densely packed neighborhoods including Rainier Beach, Othello, and South Park, all places at high risk of displacement. In other words, places where residents are extremely vulnerable to any immediate economic shock.

This, of course, has received pushback from people in the community who are concerned that this approach would exacerbate displacement and not create enough housing to meet demand.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Cliff Cawthon articles, Density, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning

New state law requires cities (including Seattle) to recalculate their growth capacity and could lead to more upzoning

– written by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox (reprinted from this month’s editions of Pacific Publishing Newspapers)

State agency hires firm linked to Master Builders Association (MBA) to develop new formula cities will use to calculate future zoned capacity


Developers deny Seattle has adequate ‘zoned capacity’ but city planners say we have capacity for 220,000 units, three times what’s needed to meet our 2035 assigned regional target. The developers solution; change the way capacity is calculated

Look out! The Washington State’s Department of Commerce just selected a private engineering and planning firm, LDC Consultants, to set new formulas that counties and cities must use to calculate how much capacity for new residential development they have under their existing zoning code. If the new formula shows that more capacity is needed to reach their “2035 residential growth target” under the State’s Growth Management Act (GMA), that city or county is required to upzone for still more development.

What’s especially troubling about this, a key member LDC consulting also is tied to the Master Builders Association (MBA), well known for its interest in promoting as much density and development in communities as is humanly possible. In fact, the MBA credited this individual for doing a lot of their legwork in the recent session of the Legislature that ensured passage of the bill requiring recalculation of the formula.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning