How will your street and neighborhood be changed by new citywide zoning?

MHA EIS map

Activists fear citywide MHA will increase displacement of poor people and communities of color. (Map by Seattle.gov)

Over 24,000 parcels could be affected by latest HALA effort to build more housing

By George Howland Jr

This is the big enchilada.

In the middle of November, city hall hopes to roll out proposed zoning changes for nearly every Seattle neighborhood, according to Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District One, West Seattle). In every neighborhood, the zoning would allow for bigger, taller buildings in commercial areas and urban villages. Ten urban villages would have their boundaries expanded–more could be added later. Inside urban villages and their proposed expansions, more housing would be allowed in many single-family areas. In exchange for this tremendous increase in land value, developers would be required to include low-income housing in their projects or pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.

The plan is called the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and it is part of former-Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). The citywide MHA could affect over 24,000 parcels of property, according to Jason Kelly, the spokesperson for the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD).

Previously, city hall determined that the citywide MHA required an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), because of its significant effects on Seattle.

The EIS is the document that Herbold says the city hopes to release in mid-November. In June, as part of the EIS process, city hall released a draft. OPCD’s Kelly says, “We are still working to respond to hundreds of questions and comments [on the draft EIS]. We don’t have a solid plan of when the EIS will be issued.”

In the EIS, the city will explain how it proposes to mitigate the negative impact of the new zoning—such as displacement, traffic and loss of open space—on the city’s environment. Also, the EIS will specify the proposed upzones for each one of the over 24,000 parcels of property.

If Seattleites believe that the city does not have adequate plans to mitigate the impact of the zoning changes they will only have ten business days after the final EIS is issued to appeal to Seattle’s Hearing Examiner. In other words, if you want to sue, you better have your ducks in a row. If no one sues, the proposal will be sent on to the Seattle City Council, where a solid majority supports the zoning changes.

To preview the possible zoning changes on your street and in your neighborhood, please refer to the city’s interactive map at the end of this article.

City hall is hopeful these changes will have a positive impact on Seattle’s housing crisis. The city projects that if MHA is implemented, over the next twenty years, the program will produce 6,000 new affordable homes. “If we do not implement zoning changes,” states Jason Kelly, the Office of Planning and Community Development’s (OPCD) spokesperson, “we do not get any of the 6,000, new, income-restricted, affordable homes.”

MHA has already been approved by the city council for certain neighborhoods: the University District, South Lake Union, parts of downtown, the Uptown neighborhood (lower Queen Anne), the International District and certain intersections in the Central District. These areas will not be part of the citywide MHA.

Renter and activist argues zoning changes will increase displacement

David Ward, a renter, an activist and a researcher believes that the zoning changes will increase the displacement of poor people and communities of color. Ward says, “The new buildings will be much more expensive than the old ones they are replacing.” Ward argues, the city is underestimating how luxury development will tear through the Rainier Valley and Rainier Beach, forcing people out of their homes. Additionally, Ward believes that the city’s is overestimating the amount of low-income housing that MHA could create.

The city’s inadequate measures to address this economic displacement means, “there is a good likelihood of [the plan] being challenged” before the Hearing Examiner, says Ward.

Geoff Wentlandt, a senior planner with OPCD, says, “Just because zoning has changed doesn’t mean there be any new development.” He says the development of any given parcel would be subject to the desire of the property owner, the Seattle real estate market and the overall economy. In addition, the MHA’s projected time frame for new development is “unlimited,” says Wentlandt. “There are external limits on growth based on the economy and other matters.”

Ward is concerned that zoning changes will quickly trigger negative consequences. “In south Seattle, most of the properties are small single-family houses. [Zoning changes] will totally change the nature of the neighborhood. Property taxes are going to go up. People of color are going to get kicked out of there because they can’t afford it.”

This kind of gentrification has already occurred in the Central District, even without zoning changes. The Central District was 80 percent African American in the 1970 and was less than  20 percent black by 2016. In 2000, there were around 41,000 U.S. born blacks in Seattle; by 2014, this number had shrunk to around 33,000.

Ward says, “[MHA] does not provide very much affordable housing. It allows much more development, but it doesn’t do one-for-one replacement of affordable housing.” He adds, “It’s important for people to know what development is likely to happen in their neighborhood.”

Using the maps to understand the proposed zoning changesUse this link to access the city’s maps of proposed zoning changes. There were three alternatives in the city’s draft EIS:

a. No action

b. Alternative two

c. Alternative three

The final EIS will be a fourth alternative and will incorporate aspects of alternatives two and three.

2. The maps have highlighted areas where zoning changes would occur. You can click on each individual parcel to see the old and new zoning for that property. In some cases, in the highlighted areas, the zoning has the same designation, for example Low Rise (LR 1), but the definition of the designation has changed. To find the new definition for this zoning, you must refer to Appendix F of the draft EIS (scroll down the page until you see it).

3. If you don’t know what the initials of the zoning designation mean, these acronyms are explained in Appendix F of the draft EIS.

Questions, tips, comments:

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Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. He works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy. He has never even been to a Huskies’ football game with the Coalition’s John Fox.

About George Howland Jr

For many years, George Howland Jr has been a Seattle-based journalist.
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