Housing advocates send letter urging City Council to approve CM Herbold’s Anti-Displacement Amendments to Mayor’s Grand Bargain – City Council vote tomorrow 930AM

Leaders and former leaders of housing and homeless organizations from across the city forwarded a letter this afternoon giving their strong support to Councilmember Herbold’s amendment to the HALA “Grand Bargain” to ensure that developers replace housing they’ll remove as a direct result of upzones accompanying the Mayor’s Grand Bargain.  A vote will be taken in the City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee tomorrow morning (930AM) in the Seattle City Council Chambers.  

Below is the full text of a letter sent this afternoon to all Councilmembers, their staff, and the Mayor’s office.  It’s self-explanatory and we’ve printed it below in its entirety.

Ad Hoc Coalition of Housing and Homeless Advocates (signatories below)

August 1, 2016

To: Members of the Seattle City Council, Staff, and Mayor’s Office

Re: Please support CM Herbold’s amendments to the proposed MHA-R Framework Policies

Dear Councilmembers,

As an ad hoc coalition of housing advocates (signatures below), we are writing to give our strong support to Councilmember Herbold’s amendments to the mandatory housing (MHA-R) program that for the first time will give the city a real tool to help us prevent the displacement of low income people, seniors, working people, and people of color from our city.

Councilmember Herbold’s amendments simply would require developers to pay an additional fee or include additional low income units in their projects in areas of high displacement risk and where we otherwise would lose hundreds of existing low income units as a direct result of future HALA upzones. During environmental review, the city’s consultants would identify the number of existing units likely to be lost. Then, if that area finally is upzoned, all developers there would have to pay an additional fee or inclusionary requirement on top of the Mayors very modest HALA Grand Bargain requirement.

We understand development interests are saying they could not afford the added fee/inclusionary requirement. However, that is not what the city’s own economic consultants have said. To quote from a summary of the economic consultants analysis presented to the Planning Land Use and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee in late 2014, their study “shows that Seattle’s jobs, real estate and development markets are so strong that we could raise our fees significantly without halting the growth we are experiencing. ” And keep in mind, this was an analysis that preceded the Grand Bargain and did not presuppose that developers would be given the benefit of significant upzones in return for the requirement.

Another consultant report (Sept 14, 2014) done by Cornerstone for the City Council concludes that rents would not increase with the linkage fee/inclusionary requirement: “this is because developers are already charging the highest rents that the market will bear. If developers could raise rents and pass on more costs to their tenants, they would do it already.”

Further, surveys of what other large cities are doing across the country and presented to the PLUZ committee show that a mandatory requirement could be significantly higher than the 3-8 percent the Mayor now is considering without affecting new construction.

We’ve also heard some developers are trying to convince you that with upzones and accompanying increases in market rate development, displacement somehow vanishes or goes down.

Since 2010 in Seattle we’ve upzoned for an additional capacity of nearly 70,000 units and what’s been happening to our city? Since 2012 we’ve been breaking records for new residential construction three times normal: 28,000 units built, or under construction. There are applications pending for another 20,000 new units!

There has been no “trickle down”, and no freeing up of housing affordable to low income and working people. Since 2012, 2500 units of existing affordable housing have been destroyed and there are projects in the pipeline that would remove another 1800 units. Vacancy rates have remained low, and speculation—the buying and selling of existing rental properties—have driven rents to record levels (among the nation’s highest) forcing literally thousands from their homes.

A look at historical trends dating back decades in Seattle shows that such housing losses always rise, as does homelessness, during periods of rapid growth To the extent the HALA upzones further accelerate rates of growth, it is a certainty that rates of displacement and gentrification also will accelerate. CM Herbold’s amendments are designed to identify (via long-established planning practices) housing placed at risk due to a given HALA upzone, then mitigating, if not preventing those losses.

The impact of growth on our existing affordable housing is not a matter for debate. To quote from page 28 of the City’s May 2015 preliminary 2035 Growth and Equity report:

“If unmitigated, new market-rate development in high-displacement risk areas is likely to lead to displacement of marginalized populations. The analysis described in this report assumes that the higher the growth in high-risk areas the greater the likelihood of displacing marginalized populations. Displacement is a concern under any alternative. All of the alternatives are likely to cause displacement, which would have disproportionate impacts on marginalized populations. The urban centers and villages with the highest displacement risk are 52 percent nonwhite, compared to 31 percent nonwhite citywide. “

For years, the city’s land use code, in instances where developers seek special exceptions, has included a 1-for-1 housing replacement requirement; for example when developers take advantage of the current incentive zoning system applied to downtown and several other multi-family areas of the city. We’ve also had a 1-for-1 replacement requirement when developers take advantage of the MFTE tax break program. When institutions, such as hospitals expand their boundaries, and when the U of W rents office space beyond its boundaries, a 1-for-1 replacement policy applies.

Councilmember Herbold’s amendment is designed to enable us to carry over this commitment to address displacement more comprehensively by building it into the HALA & MHA-R process. And if we don’t do so, we’ll actually lose the displacement mitigation we’ve had for years that is part of the current incentive zoning system.

Developers will realize millions in additional returns under the Mayor’s HALA upzones. It’s time developers also shared in the cost of replacing low income housing they are removing. If we don’t, we’ll continue to lose many more low cost units than we ever can build with our subsidy programs even factoring in passage of a new housing levy and imposition of the modest HALA mandatory housing requirement now being considered. Homelessness and our housing shortage will only continue to spiral upward.

Please approve CM Herbold’s amendments to help make real our stated commitment to achieving economic and racial justice in our city.

In no particular order signed by, (organizational affiliations for ID purposes only)

Michael Ramos, Executive Director Church Council of Greater Seattle

Alice Woldt, former Executive Director Fix Democracy First & Church Council of Greater Seattle

Liz Etta, Executive Director Tenants Union of Washington State 

Timothy Harris, founding Director Real Change 

Jon Grant, former Director Tenants Union of Washington State

Darel Grothaus, Former Housing Policy Coordinator and Director of Seattle’s Department of Community Development

Gary Clark, former Housing Planner Seattle Office of Housing

Yusuf Abdi, former board member Seattle Housing Authority

Bill Kirlin-Hackett, Director Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness

Sinan Demirel, former Director ROOTS Homeless Youth Program

Nick Licata Former Seattle City Councilmember

Sarajane Siegfriedt, Boardmember Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), 46th District & King Co Democrats, and State Democratic Central Committee

Ruth Schaefer (SAFE) Standing Against Foreclosure & Eviction

David Bloom, former Associate Director Church Council of Greater Seattle

Carolee Colter, Co-Writer Outside City Hall

Bang Nguyen, Organizer Recover the World

Ishbel Dickens Former Tenant Union Organizer & Former Director National Manufactured Homeowners Association

John V. Fox, Coordinator Seattle Displacement Coalition

Joe Martin, Social WorkerPike Market Clinic



About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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