By Rick Mohler and Paul Chapman
Susanna Lin’s recent Op-Ed [“Don’t believe HALA upzone hype,” Dec. 6, Opinion] claims that Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) will replace existing affordable housing with “luxury units,” displace existing residents, burden our infrastructure, reduce tree canopy and increase developer profits, and that it is simply a hyped-up public-relations campaign by the city.
Intentional mischaracterizations of HALA are why we and others formed Welcoming Wallingford a year ago. As a diverse group of homeowners, renters, single people and families, we believe that Seattle neighborhoods should welcome those who are moving here while ensuring that those already here are not forced out.
We agree with HALA that the best way to do so is to build more housing close to transit, schools, jobs, parks and services, and to require some of this housing be affordable. In doing so, we also reduce sprawl into our forested lands, put fewer cars on our streets, and limit carbon emissions that contribute to climate change — what Lin dismisses as “urbanist ideology.”
“The city’s document also fails to study alternatives beyond upzones that could better address our affordability crisis with fewer adverse impacts,” writes Susanna Lin in a Dec. 6 Op-Ed.
HALA is a broad suite of 65 strategies to address housing affordability that works in tandem with other programs, including Move Seattle, the Parks Levy, the Housing Levy, the Growth Management Act, Sound Transit 3, $15 minimum wage, renter protections and more. Lin misleadingly suggests that only one of these strategies, Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), constitutes all of HALA.
MHA requires developers to build affordable housing on site or to contribute to a fund that the city will use to build even more affordable housing by leveraging state, federal and private money. In exchange, per constitutional requirements, the city will increase development capacity, usually height, of all multifamily and commercial land. The city has carefully calibrated this exchange to maximize the affordable-housing benefit without making projects financially unfeasible — in other words, an even trade.
The city recently completed a 1,500-page environmental study of the impacts of MHA. Lin is part of a group called the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity (SCALE) that has filed a legal appeal of this study. The underlying reason for this opposition by many of its members — including our own Wallingford Community Council — is the upzoning of single family parcels to multifamily within Seattle’s 24 hub and residential urban villages, which amount to a mere 6 percent of the city’s single family land.
SCALE claims that MHA will accelerate the demolition of older, affordable housing to build new housing. This fails to acknowledge that the status quo has exacerbated the problem of affordability. Seattle’s median home price is $700,000, and climbing fast. Under current rules, modest houses in single-family neighborhoods are being torn down to make way for $2 million “McMansions” with two-car garages. The planned upzones offer an alternative. Instead of encouraging the continued demolition of modest houses to build large and expensive ones, the MHA upzones allow the construction of courtyard housing, duplexes, triplexes and small apartments, thus welcoming more people of more modest means to live close to transit, jobs, schools, parks and us.
The SCALE appeal claims the city “has not engaged in any meaningful, targeted, neighborhood specific planning or collaboration.” We beg to differ. Among the dozens of forums and meetings across Seattle over the past two years, city staff have held HALA events in our neighborhood four times with hundreds of neighbors in attendance.
Our city will change with or without HALA and MHA upzones. We’d like to see it change in a way that welcomes new people to our neighborhood, harnesses development for affordable housing, protects those already here, and addresses the serious environmental issues we face. HALA’s 65 recommendations, including the MHA upzones, are comprehensive and effective strategies for doing so. In contrast, if SCALE’s appeal is successful, it will exacerbate our housing and environmental crises while miring us in needless administrative process costing Seattle taxpayers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.