Seattle Displacement Coalition files appeal of UDistrict Highrise Upzone Plan

For immediate release:                                           Dec 14, 2015

Seattle Displacement Coalition files appeal of UDistrict Highrise Upzone Plan 

Over 1500 low cost housing units and dozens of small businesses are directly threatened – yet the City won’t even do a legally required ‘displacement risk analysis’

Appeal filed with Growth Management Hearings Board to block city’s UDistrict highrise upzoning plan until the required analysis is completed and ‘mitigation’ is imposed to ensure ‘no net loss’ of low cost units.

“Our Mayor and Councilmember O’Brien profess great concern about the effect of their HALA upzone plans on low income families, working people, and people of color, but so far have not even met their legal obligation to study loss of housing that the upzones will cause”

contact:  John V. Fox  206.632.0668 or their attorney Ryan Vancil206.842.7811

Details: Late last Friday, the Seattle Displacement Coalition filed an appeal with the State’s Growth Management Hearings Board charging that the city failed to conduct a legally required “displacement risk analysis” prior to approval of changes in the City’s Comprehensive Plan that lay the groundwork for Highrise Upzoning covering nearly all of the University District.

Over 1500 units of low income housing and dozens of small businesses are directly threatened by these plans, yet the city went ahead with completion of an environmental impact study and approval of comprehensive plan changes without fulfilling its legal obligation as outlined in the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to undertake a displacement study.  The City’s Director of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) responsible for undertaking the study refused even to meet with the Coalition to discuss the matter.

According to RCW 43.21.C.420(4)(f), the statute requires that Seattle “prepare a study that accompanies or is appended to the nonproject environmental impact statement, but must not be part of that statement, that analyzes the extent to which the proposed subarea plan may result in the displacement or fragmentation of existing businesses, existing residents, including people living with poverty, families with children, and intergenerational households or cultural groups within the proposed subarea plan”.

The State Legislature in 2010 adopted this language explicitly to apply to any city in the state with a population over 500,000 meaning only Seattle. If Seattle adopted any ‘optional element’ allowed under SEPA such as “subarea planning” as in the case of transportation subarea planing they now are doing, the ‘master planning’ they are doing now at Yesler Terrace, and making use of TDR they now are doing in South Lake Union, then the city is required to do this displacement risk analysis. And it must precede every ‘nonproject action” meaning every upzone (and comp plan changes that precede the upzoning) they are considering.

The Displacement Coalition obtained meetings with the City Attorney and Councilmember OBrien, land use committee chair, seeking their cooperation in meeting the city’s obligation. First they sought to secure such a displacement study prior to approval of Comp Plan Changes laying groundwork for the UDistrict Upzone. We were told that it was a decision that would have to be made by the Director of DPD. However, DPD’s Director Diane Sugimura literally refused even to meet with the Coalition to discuss the matter.

The Coalition also discussed with the City Attorney and Councilmember OBrien the need for adoption by the City Council of a policy requiring that such a study be undertaken in all future instances involving upzoning and other ‘non project actions’ in order to ensure compliance with the state requirement.

Under the Mayor’s “HALA” Housing Plan, literally every area of the city is slated for some kind of upzoning over the next 18 months and literally thousands of existing low income housing units across our city would be placed at risk. The Displacement Coalition urged them to adopt a specific policy requiring such an displacement risk assessment accompanying each of these upzone plans. The Coalition provided a specific blueprint for such analysis that also would include a list of mitigation measures to ensure no net loss of low income housing in the event any of these future upzones were finally approved.

The City Attorney expressed his strong interest in working with the City Council to develop such a policy. However, Councilmember O’Brien listened but gave us no indication of his interest in working with us to adopt such a policy. He said he’d “consider it”.

It was on this basis – especially the lack of cooperation from within DPD and their total unwillingness to meet their clear legal obligation that we have filed this appeal. We will ask that all plans for the UDistrict upzone be placed on hold until the required analysis is completed and a policy is adopted citywide that applies to all future upzones and other nonproject actions.

Our Mayor and Councilmember O’Brien profess great concern about the effect of their HALA upzone plans on low income families, working people, and people of color, but so far have not even chosen to fulfill their legal obligation to ensure the city addresses these devastating effects on our neighborhoods.  The estimated 6000 units of very low income housing the HALA plan would create over the next 10 years represents a small fraction of the total number of existing low cost units our city is going to lose to speculative redevelopment set in motion by the HALA upzones – unless something is done and measures are imposed to ensure no net loss of these units.  The HALA plan otherwise is a blueprint for even more gentrification, higher rents, and displacement.

For more information, and copies of our appeal, contact 206.632.0668

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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