HALA Focus Group Applicants Overwhelmingly Hail from Wallingford, Phinney Ridge, and Ballard

The deadline for applications to serve on one of the “community focus groups” that will help guide the implementation of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) is in less than two weeks, and so far, city sources who have seen the applications say the majority of the applicants so far appear to be white North End homeowners–precisely the sort of people most inclined, if numerous heated HALA presentations over the past few months are any indication, to oppose the plan altogether.

A breakdown of applications provided by the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development indicates that as of last Friday, half (49%) of all applications for the focus groups come from just three North End neighborhoods: Wallingford (22%), Greenwood-Phinney (17%) and Ballard (10%). The other neighborhoods with more than one applicant are the University District, 23rd and Union-Jackson, Capitol Hill, Uptown, Belltown, Fremont, and North Rainier; the vast majority of neighborhoods, including most of the South End and West Seattle, have no applicants so far.

Why does it matter where the HALA focus groups come from, or whether they’re renters or homeowners? For one thing, the HALA groups are supposed to represent the wishes of the city as a whole, including all geographic areas, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and income levels. If wealthy, white homeowners from richer parts of town like Magnolia and Ballard are overrepresented in the focus groups, the policies those focus groups will advocate are likely to be those that protect single-family zoning, long-time residents,  and homeowners’ interests at the expense of renters, recent transplants, and lower-income people who are priced out of Seattle by artificial constraints on new housing supply.

As I’ve reported here many times, there is a very loud, very vocal contingent of homeowners from north end single-family neighborhoods who oppose HALA because they believe it will bring more “density” (AKA renters) into their single-family areas, reducing their property values, destroying the midcentury “character” of their neighborhoods, making it impossible to find on-street parking in front of their houses, and eliminating their light, air and access to nature. Those voices have a seat at every table in City Hall, and they’re hard at work shaping the city’s housing and land use policies to be hostile to the homeless and inhospitable to everyone else who doesn’t already own property in the city.

For the city’s neighborhoods to be truly represented, these voices must be counterbalanced by an equally vocal, equally committed contingent of renters, low-income families, newcomers, would-be first-time homebuyers, and residents of neighborhoods that aren’t wealthy, white, and north of the ship canal. The only way urbanists and their allies will get land use that isn’t hostile to density, newcomers, and the poor is if they claim their seat at the table.

The focus groups do require a commitment of between five and 10 hours a month, which is obviously much easier for retirees and professionals with flexible schedules and cars than for people who work nights, get paid by the hour, and use public transit. But if those people don’t get heard, the city may assume they just don’t care. And if that happens, the city could continue on its current path to being a place where the people making six figures a year determine whether those of us making five figures or less can afford to live here. So I strongly encourage anyone who thinks they can find the time for this temporary (nine-month) assignment to fill out an application, especially if you don’t see your neighborhood represented in the applications the city has received so far.

The deadline is February 26. To find out more about the focus groups, attend one of two upcoming meetings. The first, focusing on how renters can get involved with HALA, is at 12th Avenue Arts (1620 12th Ave.) this Thursday, Feb. 18; the second is at the New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave. S) on Thursday, Feb. 25.

23 thoughts on “HALA Focus Group Applicants Overwhelmingly Hail from Wallingford, Phinney Ridge, and Ballard

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  4. This post completely mischaracterizes the opposition to HALA. Those of us in Ballard and Phinney have seen how new development has done nothing but make housing MORE expensive, and at the expense of the neighborhood. Affordable starter homes have nearly gone extinct as developers buy them and are allowed to build 3-story homes that sell for well over $1 million. Trees are removed, yard is paved over (doesn’t anyone care about the environment anymore?), and neighbors lose light and privacy. I firmly believe that if Seattle had reasonable height and setback restrictions for single family homes, many of us wouldn’t be so pissed at and distrustful of the city’s development plans. Independent businesses are lost and affordable apartments are torn down and replaced with luxury condos with chain stores and nail salons on the ground level. The only group benefiting from all this development is developers. I also agree that our infrastructure hasn’t kept up. I’m really tired of being passed up by buses because they are full, and I don’t even live that close to downtown.

    So the city has done nothing but make Seattle more expensive and less livable, and then they put together a committee that is entirely composed for people that enter the process believing more development is the solution. Wow, I wonder why so many of us are distrustful of this. I tried to get involved when I heard about HALA last year and was completely shut out. They didn’t want to hear from your average Seattlite.

    I’m so tired of HALA proponents trying to shut up dissenting voices with charges of racism/classism/NIMBYism. They don’t seem to want to understand the opposition at all, and instead just try to make us feel guilty with these charges in the hopes we’ll keep our mouths shut. The comment about how homeowners are hostile to everyone that’s not a property owner…right there, I know Erica has zero interest in understanding the other side. What an inflammatory and ridiculous statement.

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    • NIMBYs thrive on racism and classism – especially as they utilize their privilege to block needed housing to protect selfish interests. It inflates their home values while pricing out those unable to afford increased costs. Your pro-segregationist stance is really disturbing.

      If you don’t think that homeowners are hostile to renters, you haven’t been paying attention and should check your privilege.

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      • Yo NIMBYs sucks: Why all the negative energy towards everyone? Your logic of privilege and segregational stance is undefined and cannot be understood unless you can expand on your thoughts for others to understand. Not sure why you are so disturbed?

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      • What is your real name, Mr. Suck?

        Why don’t you crawl out from under your rock so we can see you?

        No one cares about the opinions of a man who is afraid to use his own name.

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    • Affordable starter homes have nearly gone extinct

      Indeed they have!

      as developers buy them and are allowed to build 3-story homes that sell for well over $1 million

      That’s not the reason. The reason is they aren’t affordable any more because there is a policy-induced housing shortage, and the political agenda that opposes HALA also works to exacerbate that shortage.

      In 2009-2010, a good friend of mine wanted to buy in a North Seattle neighborhood. Her budget was 325K, and she wanted three bedrooms. I looked with her; we saw a few dozen homes. There was nothing particularly nice or fashionable at that price-point, and the best locations were out, but there were a number of homes in parts of Greenwood and elsewhere that met the criteria. If she’d been willing to look South, there would have been hundreds.

      Now there are no single-family homes that meet that criteria. (A zillow search on those parameters reveals around They haven’t been torn down, though; they’ve been bid up. I can drive around and point out the houses she looked at; they’re still standing. They couldn’t be had for anything less than 400 today. In a shortage, there’s no such thing as natural affordability.

      This is why it’s impossible to take seriously that people who oppose new housing really care about affordability. Anyone paying attention can see that shortage-induced competition for older, unremarkable houses is having a far more devastating effect on the availability of affordable housing than the housing stock lost to re-development. That these are bad-faith arguments by people benefiting from the shortage-induced runup in housing costs really is the Occam’s razor explanation here.

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  5. Where is “White Wealthy Ballard”? Is it next to “6 figures Northend” or “5 figures or less” not Northend? Where do the anti-HALA residents live? What do they look like? Are they louder than HALA supporters? Do they ride buses, pay property takes, ride bikes, have kids, have pets, support the Seahawks? Are pro-HALA people denser? Do pro-HALA people dislike Mid-Century character? Is this really neighborhood vs neighborhood? If I own a house with a yard and a 2 car garage, is it ok to be pro-HALA or it that not allowed? Why is the Southend not responding? Do Northend neighborhoods care more? If I have more kids and make my household “denser” am I pro-HALA, will I get some tax credit from the City? Is this the best website to get good information on the battle between neighborhoods? Is it ok for me to slam a neighborhood with residents I know nothing about to continue this discussion?

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    • Good questions, Jim. I’m a white Wallingford father of three owner of Craftsman pro-renter density-sanguine wishes there were more diversity in my neighborhood fine with apartments hopes solar panels don’t get shaded out very much pro-goals of HALA skeptic about implementation bicycle commuter sometimes takes bus owns car Virgo. The level of discourse over this thorny set of issues thus far has been truly poor, and it starts with a mishandled HALA roll-out from the mayor’s office that continues to be a problem, knee-jerk reactions from a small number of neighborhood activists quick to stir up fear and outrage and the all-too-ready use of labels that appears to thrust us all into competing camps. It’s all so confusing, I feel like I’m at war with myself!

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      • Perhaps both of you above could take time to join a focus group and make your opinions known, rather than just post them on a blog. That’s what the focus groups are for.

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  6. It’s not that home owners on the north end are opposed to growth. We want smart growth. Seattle 2035 Development Capacity Report (the city’s own report) states “Based on current zoning, DPD estimated that the city has development capacity to add about 224,000 housing units.” Mayor Murray wants to add 50,000 in the next 10 years. So there is no need to rezone. Greedy developers are already ignoring building codes for set backs and getting bonuses to build more height. The over development that has destroyed Ballard is starting to creep into Wallingford and Phinney Ridge. For profit builders are not going to solve our affordability crisis.

    I do agree that it would be great if the focus groups were representative from the city. I just hope the people that attend take the time to become informed. The big winners in HALA, as I read it, are the developers not the poor.

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    • “Greedy developers” have nothing on NIMBY homeowners who want “smart growth” to keep out the poors.

      NIMBYs blocking housing to protect selfish interest are most definitely NOT going to solve our affordability crisis.

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  7. I’d respectfully submit that the majority of us from the north end that have asked to participate are neither “rich” nor are we density averse homeowners. These sorts of generalizations are not helpful to getting folks to participate from either perspective (those that do participate, or those that will be intimidated by the broad brush picture of those of us who are participating, with these opinions of yours).
    Rather, we have invested in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and have explicitly purchased these houses in these areas because _this_is_where_we_want_to_live. Many of us avail ourselves of transit too, and have chosen to live in these areas because of the bus service. But in the past year we are seeing a large increase in crime, (property damage, car prowls, open drug use, package theft, assaults), strains on our infrastructure (services & hard assets), as well as the difficulty in parking – largely because of short sighted municipal permitting and city budget issues.
    What I would like to see, is a comprehensive plan to address all these current problems we are facing due in part to the current level of density, before we add more density to the problem. As well, why can’t we specify that all the currently MF zoned lots get more fully developed, before we start rezoning SF lots and SF neighborhoods?
    It seems illogical AND irresponsible to add more density if we cannot support the density we currently have, doesn’t it? And would be just be adding HALA housing to an already strained neighborhood? What would be the good in that? Are you implying that more housing in neighborhoods that are going downhill, is better than none at all? Really?
    First things first. I think the city needs to demonstrate that they can provide services and structure (that we pay for) to support the current density, before they can get a pass from those impacted neighborhoods for more density to support HALA.

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  8. Wow – you seem intent on creating a class war when there isn’t one. Homeowners in Ballard aren’t rich. Why shouldn’t they want to preserve trees and open space? And I assure you that many renters are wealthy; that’s part of the problem, isn’t it, that so many expensive condos and apartments are being built, often after older, less expensive dwellings are torn down? The City’s position is that once something can be legally built, they can’t stop it – that’s why Ballard has become so overbuilt, with some very ugly behemoths. So any time a rule is changed, the effects are enormous and cannot be contained. I would add that the things those of us who live here are most concerned about in the HALA report do not have to do with helping the homeless.

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    • M. Smith, if there are provisions in the HALA report that you don’t like, then why don’t you join a focus group and state that. That wouldn’t be participating in a class war; it would be participating in civic action.

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    • The class war already exists, largely because homeowners block housing to protect selfish interests.

      Homeowners in Ballard are quite rich compared to renters in Seattle, and even homeowners in South Seattle.

      There aren’t “many expensive condos” being built at all.

      There are very few older apartments being torn down.

      Ballard is not overbuilt, it is vastly under built.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree – PUBLICIZE. I’m a moderately well-informed home-owner who listens to the radio, reads the Seattle Times and stays active on-line, and this is the first I’ve heard of HALA. Where is a busy south-end renter going to hear of it?

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  10. Perhaps few in this area have heard about the focus groups yet. Though we (and I assume most media outlets) routinely receive announcements about openings on boards, committees, etc., we didn’t receive an announcement from the city about these focus groups until the end of this past week, asking if we’d publish it to get the word out to prospective West Seattle/South Park applicants. I published it yesterday (Saturday). The focus groups were mentioned in passing recently in one of the neighborhood-council meetings we routinely cover; at the time, I searched the city website (and the Web in general) looking for more info, couldn’t find any. Even now, the only city page indexing highly for the phrase “HALA focus groups” is the application, not a general infopage. – Tracy @ WSB

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