But will Seattle stop acting like it before it’s too late?
With the Covid-19 crisis dragging on, and the climate crisis setting us up for an extended smoke event — it’s almost possible to forget that the housing crisis never abated. This, despite declaring an emergency back in 2015. Fortunately, thanks to legislation passed in 2019 by the City Council, the City of Seattle was obligated to review the Comprehensive Plan (CP) with the race and equity toolkit. While the city has not released a full report based on these findings, the Office of Planning and Community Development has released a staff report summarizing the study’s initial findings.
This staff report is the start for public outreach on what will eventually be the next major comprehensive plan update. However, we’ve been down this road before: Seattle has published a number of comprehensive plans going back to 1994, each one promising a glorious progressive future, only to run into the same problems, many of which trace back to the original CP of 1994. To understand why, we have to go back to the history of this plan.
We’ve been quieter than we’d like over recent months for a few reasons. The first is that a group of housing activists including several involved with Housing Now Seattle have been meeting and laying the groundwork for a new initiative that was to be rolled out over the summer. With the COVID-19 crisis those plans have been delayed, both because it disrupted our meeting schedule and because all of us have been feeling so overwhelmed by all this.
Those of us who have experienced homelessness before have some familiarity with this feeling. It’s like the world is pressing in on you and you try to grab hold of whatever is available that gives some comfort. Even when one is able to put together some temporary solution, the feeling of constant danger is exhausting.
That said, it is possible for individuals and for society to overcome. COVID-19 is beatable, as are many other problems. While the pandemic might be the most pressing crisis that we’re in, it’s not the only crisis we’ve got. The twin pressures of the housing crisis and the climate crisis have not gone away.
The Seattle City Council is expected to vote on repeal of the Employee Hours Tax today 6/12 and unless we act then almost $50 million a year in funding for combating homelessness will disappear.
We need as many people as possible to email the following Seattle City Council members:
Please emphasize the severity of the housing crisis. Personal experiences are good. If you're in their district emphasize that. Most of all, keep it brief and to the point.
Housing Now's official statement below:
Housing Now's official statement regarding the Employee Hours Tax
Today, Friday 5/10 the Seattle City Council will be voting on a proposal that would levy a tax on large companies in proportion to their number of employees in the city. This "Employee Hours Tax" (EHT) would boost funding for extremely affordable housing for those most in need. We support the EHT and we want this to be the start of something even bigger.
Housing Now has for the past few years conducted research into housing affordability. One thing that should be clear is that new housing is inherently expensive to construct. There are things we can do to make it less expensive, but it is nearly impossible to make housing in a big city like ours on the cheap, especially at a scale that will make a difference.Read more
Before most new buildings in Seattle can be constructed, their plans must first go through a process known as “Design Review”. Design Review Boards (DRBs) consist of volunteers selected by the city. These boards review building proposals and recommend changes to make building designs more aesthetically pleasing and functionally integrated into their surroundings. Sounds good, right? There are two problems: first is that there's no objective definition of good design. What may seem like a good or at least acceptable design to one person may be objectionable to another. Design review is as likely to suppress interesting designs as it is to avoid “bad” designs. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the time it takes to undergo multiple design revisions raises the cost of building housing. This applies to both for-profit and nonprofit buildings alike.
Fortunately, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) report identified design review reform as a priority. The goal was to reduce the costs that design review adds to the price of new housing by exempting more smaller projects from design review and creating an abbreviated design review for medium projects while reserving the full design review process for the largest projects. Since smaller projects are more sensitive to costs and uncertainty, this makes a lot of sense. It's also the case that a small project is less likely to become a visual eyesore than a large one.
The HALA report was published in July 2015 and the Seattle City Council is just now getting around to implementing this proposal. Housing Now has written them the following letter expressing our ideas about this proposal and how it can be improved
An Open Letter To the Seattle City Council and the Mayor of Seattle
Re: Design Review Reform
From: Housing Now SeattleRead more
...but since we did...
By Alex Broner, Founder and Director of Housing Now
It was 2015 and everything was topsy turvy. I was back in Seattle, over-educated, and under-employed. My masters degree in urban planning was tucked in my suitcase. I was moving from couch to couch, relying upon the goodwill of friends and family. One job interview after another fell flat. Looking outside at those sleeping on the streets, I knew I was lucky, but it didn’t feel that way.
It’s easy to give advice to any one person in poverty on how to improve their condition: go to school, learn a trade, save your money, apply to jobs, network...etc. Yet when millions of people are going through the same thing, at the same time, and have been for years, individual advice falls short.
One thing I don’t advise, if you find yourself in a similar situation, is trying to start a Housing organization. That’s what I did.Read more
Housing Now has taken a major step forward in its mission to expand publicly financed housing by publishing a major update to our website and policy goals. This update is the product of over 2 years of research by our volunteers. It includes input from architects, advocates, developers, planners, and other experts. This isn't the end of the process, but it's a huge leap forward in our ability to communicate what we've learned. In the days and weeks to follow we'll be further refining the site and progressing to additional action steps to expand affordable housing!
If you have questions about the new site contact or wish to get involved, please email [email protected]
In November of 2015 our allies on the city council introduced a measure that would have directed the city to study how to expand publicly financed housing. That measure was narrowly defeated in a 4-4 vote with one absence. Despite this, we have pressed on to conduct this research ourselves. We've been consulting with a number of housing experts and developing some ideas. In the coming months we'll be rolling out a series of editorials and action items related to these ideas. We're going to be focusing on the following areas:Read more
Housing Now Director Alexander Broner testifying. (Seattle Channel)
Two weeks ago, the Seattle City Council budget committee, consisting of all nine members, considered a budget request of critical importance to local housing. For the past year, Housing Now has been working with housing experts, policy experts, nonprofit leaders, and City councilmembers on identifying ways to expand publicly financed housing. What emerged out of this process was a budget resolution sponsored by Councilmember O’Brien, Sawant, and Licata.
Check out our full post over at The Urbanist.
For the past few weeks, five student researchers from the University of Washington have been working with Housing Now Seattle to do research into affordable housing. The topics they're studying include cost analysis (land and construction), a literature review focused on the policies and politics of affordable housing in other cities, and comparison of costs between Seattle and Washington DC. Their work will contribute to the (soon to be released) Family Housing Cost Model and to various reports and written materials to be published on the Housing Now website.
Above: Five students plus Alex, Ian, and Kate at our first planning meeting.
Bellow the jump are the names and bios of the five researchers: