Seattle City Council’s land use committee today approves Herbold-O’Brien’s anti-displacement amendments – our take on this

Both the good and the bad about today’s Council action: 

We spent a good deal of time urging housing and neighborhood advocates to back the Herbold-O’Brien amendments aimed at addressing displacement. We were extremely pleased to see they were approved today in the Planning, Land Use and Zoning (PLUZ) committee 5-0 (including Chair Rob Johnson joining committee members Herbold and O’Brien with alternate Lorena Gonzales and non-member Tim Burgess purposely showing up as well to give their support to the amendments ). The final legislation also was approved unanimously – something we weren’t so happy about – effectively affirming “the Grand Bargain”.

The Herbold-O’Brien amendments established a framework and the principle that any displacement caused by the HALA Grand Bargain (and accompanying upzones coming later) must be addressed. It was a critical first step in getting a recognition and ultimately achieving passage of a true 1 for 1 replacement policy to ensure ‘no net loss’ of low income units due to runaway redevelopment in our neighborhoods.

But there is much more work still to be done before we reach the point of actually achieving a substantive 1 for 1 replacement policy or no net loss policy that truly curbs displacement. 

The planners still must come up with means of assessing and identifying real numbers of units placed at risk of demolition due to the upzones. Then they must come up with a formula and added replacement/fee requirement that’s adequate to actually guarantee full replacement of those units. And the Council, after seeing this, must approve the extra requirement. So this is not a done deal yet and affected people and their advocates must be there, continue to weigh in, every step of the way to make sure it really happens.

But now I think this is really possible – and special thanks to Lisa Herbold, O’Brien and the other CM’s who showed in committee and supported it today as well – making it happen. CM Herbold also has pledged to help us translate this into something specific and move this forward so we can finally achieve this.

In 1980 Seattle passed the nation’s first demolition control law – thanks to our efforts, the Tenant Union, senior groups active at the time and others. The courts struck it down in 1987. So it means we’ve been trying for nearly 30 years now to re-establish such a law (needless to say one that also is legally defensible).   We are persistent and now have a real chance to make that happen.   

That was the good about today’s decision. But there is still a down side – always a down side I guess. While it’s now clear that a majority of councilmembers support some form of antidisplacement mitigation (since 5 of 9 today were there in committee and gave support to the Herbold-O’Brien amendments), it’s equally clear that at this point in time at least, a majority of councilmembers support the Grand Bargain and the future upzones that will come with it.

Keep in mind too, there will be no application of Herbold-O’Brien’s’ amendment now. That would come only later after an area is hit with a massive upzone. But there are accelerated rates of displacement and gentrification now in our communities – demolition for redevelopment at record levels accompanying unprecedented rates of new construction.

We cannot wait a year or two or however many years for a anti-displacement requirement and above all it shouldn’t be contingent on upzoning the hell out of our city.  It’s still no ‘Grand Bargain’ even with anti-displacement language (no matter how important it is we get at least some mitigation if in the end, the Grand Bargain finally is implemented).

Also, Herbold/O’Brien’s amendment addresses only units lost directly to demolition, not units lost to speculative activity – sale and resale of property – nothing for those who are “indirectly displaced”.  Once an area is upzoned, it will have the immediate effect of driving up property values, and taxes and rent- forcing many out of their homes in this fashion too. At least as many will lose there homes to these forces not just demolition.

But the big ‘bummer’ to all this – the vote councilmembers took today presupposes across-the-board upzoning of our communities.  We’re already zoned for 3 times the capacity our city needs to meet Seattle’s regionally set 2035 Growth Target. We’re at record levels of new construction with most neighborhoods at 100-300 percent of their regionally set 2024 growth targets. (And since 2005, 6000 low cost units removed and removal of 2000 more pending.)  All this is now occurring under the existing zoning code.

Why is it so obvious to the vast majority of Seattle’s citizens (and voters) but not at all obvious to most of our elected politicians. We are absolutely drowning in an uncontrolled unmanaged onslaught of growth.  Every day another historic older affordable apartment building bites the dust and another construction crane adds to those already blanketing our skyline.

From our perspective, why would we upzone at all when the effect of such upzones will lead to even more displacement and gentrification not to mention extremely important other values that are threatened and that make this city livable such as our tree canopy, open space, and of our cities unique diverse character that gives it a real soul.

The Neighborhood advocates (you know, those “selfish” and uncaring “NIMBY’s” and geez they’re mostly homeowners to boot) – these were the people who turned out in force at hearings today and at earlier hearings, sent out alerts, made calls, leafleted, spoke at community meetings and mobilized like crazy in support of the Herbold-O’Brien antidisplacement amendments.  And they did so even in greater numbers than us housing advocates.

Hats off to these folks, but especially those in the UDistrict, Lake City, Ballard, SE Seattle, Wallingford, West Seattle a lot of other communities too (apologies to those I’ve neglected) who gave countless hours for something that in the end could mean a real difference over the long haul for hundreds if not thousands of Seattle’s low income residents. These folks deserve a lot of the credit for making sure Herbold-O’Brien’s anti-displacement amendments were approved.

(We can’t leave the housing advocates out of course because even though they came out a little late in the game, they made a really good showing too weighing in with a powerful joint letter and lots of good testimony today as well. )

Despite the key role played by neighborhood folks, most went away disappointed today and understandably. They’re seeing their elected officials march inexorably towards passage of upzones that will do significant damage to both the affordability and livability of their communities, although I know they will have more to say about this and whether those upzones finally are approved.

In fact, I’ve never seen the neighborhoods and their leaders so unified, motivated, and organized. They certainly are not going away and likely this decision today by the Committee will only motivate them to fight even harder to turn back the upzones – each one of them – one at time – as they come down the pike and finally reach the Council.  And we’ll be right there with them.







About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
This entry was posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Neighborhoods, Politics, Upzoning. Bookmark the permalink.