TONIGHT: Support the HALA Recommendations

The C Is for Crank encourages you to show up and listen or comment at tonight’s city council hearing on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee’s recommendations, which have come under attack from single-family protectionists. Tonight’s public hearing will help the council decide which of the 65 recommendations to set in motion. It will take turnout, support, and continued pressure from urbanists like you and me to ensure they make the right decision and keep the most critical elements of HALA intact.

Iterations of the term “urbanist” have been hotly debated recently (I prefer “reality-based urbanist” myself), but the bottom line is that we all want to ensure that everyone in Seattle–not just wealthy single-family homeowners, not just Amazonian imports, not just those who got here first, but everyone–can live in safe, affordable housing in the city.

This fight is critical, because the council is under tremendous pressure to abandon the very recommendations that will have the most positive impact on affordability. Mayor Ed Murray and several key council members have already abandoned a major, symbolically important HALA recommendation, which would have allowed a greater diversity of housing types (such as duplexes and townhomes) in the 65 percent of Seattle’s land mass that’s currently reserved exclusively for detached single-family houses. Murray, along with council president Tim Burgess and council land-use committee chair Mike O’Brien, walked back their support for that recommendation after angry property owners and neighborhood activists flooded city inboxes with letters of protest and crowded council meetings to voice their complaints about the changes.

I believe that most of the city supports the principles behind the HALA proposals, even if they aren’t familiar with the details, for one simple reason: They provide more affordable housing. Mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to build affordable housing on site in exchange for the right to build more densely, combined with a new linkage fee on commercial development, would provide 6,000 units of set-aside affordable housing. Other key measures in HALA would expand the boundaries of urban villages to reflect current and future walkability and transit access, increasing total housing supply and driving down the overall cost of housing (which is true no matter how much some progressives insist that supply and demand does not exist).

The opposition to HALA, which has described population growth as a cancer and have suggested single-family homeowners and neighborhood activists should “take back Seattle,” is organized, motivated, and can turn out plenty of people with the means and time to attend midday hearings when most of us are working. This and other nighttime meetings are an ideal opportunity for HALA supporters to show that we, too, deserve a voice at City Hall and in the future of our city.

8 thoughts on “TONIGHT: Support the HALA Recommendations

  1. So between 2010 and today, what has changed. We’re developing more units than ever.

    The increased demand has exceeded the increased supply. Insofar as some sellers of high-end housing are keeping prices higher than present demand, it’s because they see the writing on the wall–as long as demand continues to outpace supply increases, their price will be met soon enough.

    And again, I’ll ask for something that demonstrates that the townhouses you claim someone is preventing would be affordable. Your $300K/3BR home. How would that happen?

    You’re being willfully obtuse, by pretending not to know there’s generally a premium for new construction. I’m not claiming the new townhouses would necessarily meet that benchmark. They could be a bit more affordable if a variety of land-use policies were better–your movement fights those changes too, of course–but that was never my point. The car analogy, again–try harder this time: The affordability of used cars is supported by not artificially constraining the supply of new cars, thus pushing some frustrated new-car seekers into the used car market, driving up the price of used cars.

    In a healthy housing market, where supply of new homes is allowed to meet demand, there’s less pressure on the older, less sexy and new portion of the housing stock, so it remains naturally affordable. I don’t expect new housing to be cheap. I want enough of it such that people who might otherwise buy it aren’t turning around and outbidding less rich people for older, less fancy houses. In healthy housing markets–I could point to plenty of them, that’s exactly how things work. One city I spend some time in that’s a good example is Columbus. Like Seattle, it’s growing fast and has a very strong economy, iwth good jobs and rich people moving in. There is a lot of new construction–enough to keep up with that market–to the less sexy portion of the housing market has remained fairly affordable.

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  2. “killed by artificial scarcity”

    So between 2010 and today, what has changed. We’re developing more units than ever. Consider the demand side the culprit. Explosive expansion in the tech sector. Amazon, bio-tech, Brooks, etc. Were you expecting “the market” to have all these homes just sitting there empty waiting for those folks? And, again, there ARE vacancies in high end housing. So your “theory” that wealthy people will move there may not be true. Everyone looks for a good deal. And a lot of people want a backyard (that a townhouse doesn’t offer). Hence SF home prices will continue to rise. And townhouses with rooftop backyards will be more than your $300K target.

    And again, I’ll ask for something that demonstrates that the townhouses you claim someone is preventing would be affordable. Your $300K/3BR home. How would that happen?

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  3. There are lots of people who a) need to own and drive a car, and b) could never afford to pay 20K or whatever the cheapest new car on the market costs. I’ve yet to hear one person say allowing non-subsidized “market price” new cars to be built is bad for these people, for some reason. Perhaps because it’s an insane argument–placing artificial restrictions on the number of new cars that can be purchased will drive up their price AND drive some consumers who are now priced out of the new car market into the used car market, driving up their price.

    Obviously, a similar dynamic exists in both markets. There’s a premium for new. Cars depreciate faster and more inexorably, of course, but the underlying dynamic is the same. People like BB pretend that their policy is aimed at protecting existing quasi-affordable single family homes, but–except for the lucky few who bought at the right time (a group that includes BB, quite coincidentally I’m sure)–there are basically no affordable single family homes left in Seattle. They’ve been destroyed not by bulldozers and developers but by artificial scarcity, a policy BB wishes to continue.

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    • Curious how you propose to add more “single family” homes. Unless you mean townhouses as infill development. Of course “the market” is not producing affordable townhouses either (ranging in price now about $1/2M to $1M depending on neighborhood).

      Would you explain the economics of how you think more townhouses would work to make them affordable. Broad brush is fine. We’ve been asking to see pro formas to back up all this arm-waving, but none are forthcoming. You can keep in simple – just using land cost (existing home price), producing say 3 townhouses on a 4000 sqft lot, with what you think the per sqft hard and soft costs are. Show us how they’d be more affordable than what the market is doing today in lowrise zones.

      Please don’t trot out the “if we make more the prices will come down” nonsense. No one will build if they will sell for less than cost, or without out adequate profit. Maybe adding a 4th townhouse? Eliminating parking? Show us the numbers and spare us the ad hominem attacks.

      Oh, and if you’re one of those DENSITY FIRST “ubanists”, explain to us why a city of townhouses achieves your long term density goals. Or are you happy with a city of townhouses.

      (And I’ll give you a clue. Most people don’t buy into their first house in a great part of town. At least in big cities. It is a trade up process. Build equity over time, including use of sweat equity. Buy a condo or a house in an outlying area. In a couple years trade up using built up equity. This sense of entitlement that there should be an affordable house for YOU on Cap Hill now escapes reality. And after you get yours, what about the folks 20 years from now? How d they get a house in that neighborhood?)

      My suggestion of preserving the SF zones and adding ADU/DADU configurations is that those units will be far more affordable as rental units. Far more so than new construction of townhouses. After all, isn’t this what this is all about? New townhouses only satisfies the Master Builders’ desire to build new (and profitably).

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      • If you don’t build rich person storage facilities, rich people will store themselves in ordinary homes. Indeed, that has what has happened. The “affordable SF housing stock” you and Herbold talk about preserving are already gone, killed by artificial scarcity. In 2010 I helped a friend look for a house. Her budget was just over 300K, she wanted 3 bedrooms in north Seattle. She was priced out of the nicer/bigger/updated houses and better locations, but there were lots of perfectly fine homes. There would have been way, way more if she’d looked South. Now, using a 300K/3BR threshold, Seattle has nothing. Of the 25 that pop up on zillow in the entire city under those parameters, most are auctions that’ll go for much more or obvious teardowns; maybe half a dozen might be habitable.

        The economics are breathtakingly simple. Maybe these boring, unremarkable home wouldn’t have been bid up so much if the people who could afford to bid them up had more newer houses to buy instead. But those get bid up too, because there aren’t enough of them to go around, because that’s how your precious neighborhood movement wants it. Perhaps they’re as delusional as you pretend to be about the underlying dynamic, perhaps they’re just cynically fighting to protect their return on investment. I don’t know, but I don’t particularly care, either.

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  4. Geez, that “Take Back Seattle” guy says this:

    Making growth work for all

    Seattle is growing, and it’s changing fast. But it’s becoming a great place to live only if you can afford it. We need to take back control of growth.

    Seattle has been and must continue to be a place that supports and values the interests of working people, middle- and low- income families and renters. We all want the quality of life here to remain high, yet it is easy to see where we have fallen short.

    It’s time to protect reasonably-priced housing for working people and middle-class families, and to aggressively invest in new housing for those that cannot afford what “the market” produces.

    It’s time to ensure that profitable developments give something back to the City, and that we invest more equitably and wisely to improve our transportation infrastructure and public amenities.

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    • Your desire to “control” this growth without seeing that limited supply is what’s causing high housing prices is the reason you’re going to strongly lose this election.

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      • That’s pretty naive framing of the issue. There is plenty of supply, however new housing being produced is not affordable to many. Check vacancy rates in many neighborhoods. Adding supply does not yield affordable units. Perhaps it is my belief that “the market” cannot solve the affordability crisis is what troubles the neo-liberal wing of the urbanist movement such as yourself. I favor stronger public subsidies and city action than HALA. None is this is why I may lost the election…

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