in partnership with

City Council District 9: Nikkita Oliver & Sara Nelson

Question #1:

While the city of Seattle continues to grow, more and more communities become at risk for displacement and gentrification. If elected, what programs and policies would you pursue to preserve existing communities while encouraging the continued growth that the city of Seattle needs to address our affordable housing crisis? Additionally, how would you make sure that existing and future affordable housing resources are being used in an equitable way? 

Answer (NO):

Many of these questions are addressed in detail throughout the questionnaire. 

It is important to first mention that, with the development of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, there will be shifts to the services the City of Seattle provides, how those services and supports are provided, and the contracting for those services and supports. In January of 2022, all contracts the City currently has will go to the KCRHA; in January of 2023, new contracts will likely be issued for a potentially drastically different range of services and support. 

To address the state of emergency regarding homelessness and housing affordability, we need short-term strategies that include emergency transitional shelters — such as hotels and tiny house villages — and a long term strategy that prioritizes city-funded social affordable housing, supportive transitional housing as well as co-oops, community land trust, and infill housing options. QT/BIPOC and low-income communities cannot be relegated to renting. Home ownership is a major part of how white families have historically built wealth through home equity and QT/BIPOC families should have opportunities to do the same. 

Things Seattle can do to bring more affordable housing: 

Radical accessibility (short-term solutions): the City of Seattle should create a fund inside the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department to support people who use the parks for housing, enabling parks to help sustainably and humanely address the needs of unsheltered people while expanding green spaces in the city and absorbing unneeded roadways. Stop the sweeps (a harmful practice, a human rights violation, and exacerbator of public health and safety issues) and instead promote radical accessibility in parks by providing access to public restrooms, handwashing stations, mobile units for washing clothes and showering, and mobile medical clinics; provide trash and sanitation support to support in keeping areas clean and accessible; build rapport with impacted communities; and parking lot programs. 

Get people housed and/or keep people housed (mid-term solutions): Investing in hotels, parking lot programs, tiny house villages, bridge housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing. All shelters should lead to the next step of supporting residents in becoming permanently housed. Additionally, we will require expanded supportive services and transitional supports, and expand renters’ supports and protections to keep people at risk of homelessness in their homes. We will also need to increase the workforce and ensure prevailing wages for all who work in housing and homelessness services. Lastly, we should invest in peer support programs; where people who have experienced homelessness support peers currently experiencing homelessness in transition to the next step closer to housing security. 

Build social, deeply affordable, green Housing (long-term solutions): we must rapidly build affordable housing throughout the city by increasing investments in social housing, ending zoning laws which have segregated Seattle, and prioritizing housing for Seattle’s most vulnerable communities. 

Address the upstream causes that drive people into housing instability and homelessness in the first place.

Answer (SN):

The best way to address Seattle’s housing affordability crisis is to retain the existing “naturally affordable” housing supplied by small housing providers and then build more housing, period. I realize that building more housing, either market rate or subsidized, puts pressure on the market by raising land values and property taxes and also fuels the predatory practices of developers offering to buy properties from existing residents for redevelopment, all of which can lead to displacement. I will propose an Anti-Displacement Plan that will help people stay in communities experiencing rapidly increased density and the resulting gentrification. Elements of that plan include: 

Increase Housing Levy resources for foreclosure prevention assistance. 

Allocate more federal COVID-relief dollars for direct cash assistance for renters at risk of eviction. This form of rental assistance also helps small housing providers of naturally affordable housing pay their mortgage and thus stay in business instead of selling their properties to market-rate developers. 

Increase Housing Levy resources for first-homebuyer assistance programs. 

Adjust the MHA program so that single-family homeowners within urban villages such as the Central District are charged a fee just to make improvements on their homes in order to stay in their homes. 

Make it easier for homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods to age-in-place by renting out an ADU and generating an income from their property (see below for code changes to improve the City’s ADU and micro-housing requirements). 

Increase direct technical assistance to entrepreneurs in Black and brown neighborhoods to help them access low-interest loans to start and grow small businesses serving their community. This will also help retain and create jobs for neighborhood residents. Obviously, all affordable housing projects receiving Seattle Housing Office funds must meet our Race and Social Justice toolkit criteria in order to allocate resources in historically marginalized communities first. And providers such as Habitat for Humanity should be required to employ community preference points to benefit people with historical ties to the community. 

Finally, I would review all the recommendations in the HALA report to identify potential new policy proposals that would advance the smart growth Seattle needs in order to fill our affordable and market rate housing gaps.

Question #2:

Many of today’s housing policies from zoning to permitting have roots in racial discrimination and the long running effects of those policies continue to disproportionally harm black people and people of color. If elected, you will have an opportunity to address some of this through the 2024 Comprehensive plan update. With that in mind, how would you apply a racial equity lens to the update and what specifically would you like to see that reflects that approach?

Answer (NO):

Key priorities for the 2024 comprehensive plan include zoning, housing affordability, climate change, liveability, equity/ending economic apartheid, and transportation (long-term solutions): 

Seattle’s land use regime has led to displacement and inequity. The City’s development has also followed historical redlining and perpetuated racist zoning policies and restricted the growth of affordable housing supply. We must end single family zoning as we know it, and allow our zoning code to foster a diversity of housing options including “infill strategies” for the “missing middle” and multifamily buildings. 

We must expand urban villages and share growth with areas that historically have not absorbed growth. Seattle has built density in those neighborhoods with the highest concentration of poverty and where residents are most likely to be displaced. This is unjust and perpetuates anti-black housing policies. All of Seattle must be willing to take on density if we are to solve the housing affordability crisis and stop/prevent displacement and gentrification. Constructing high-density social, green, deeply affordable housing throughout the city must be paired with high-quality transportation, walkability, and more multimodal transit options. Support land acquisition into cooperatives, community land trusts, and consortiums will help families build equity through homeownership. Homeownership is presently not a possibility for all but those with the highest income (income inequity which is also highly racialized). In our region, Black, Native, and Latinx families have the least opportunity for home ownership and have the least access to high-earning jobs. As a result, Seattle is perpetuating racialized economic apartheid. The 2024 Comprehensive Plan presents an opportunity to address some of these inequities. 

Answer (SN):

For the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, I support replacing Seattle’s urban village strategy with the concept of the 15 minute city which envisions neighborhood hubs in which people can engage in live, work, play, learn, and care for each other without depending on a car which is a disproportionately large percentage of BIPOC household expense. 

To reverse the legacy of the racist practice of redlining, we need to end exclusionary zoning which concentrates wealth in singly family zones, constituting 60% of Seattle residentially zoned areas. Seattle took a step toward ending single-family zoning when it legalized two ADUs per lot in 2019. So the lowest zoning in Seattle is usually three units per lot. Hundreds of new ADUs are now going in and that’s a big win. I believe that changing “single family zone” to “residential zone” is a positive step to signaling the City’s desire for more residential infill but we’ll need more than name changes to implement that policy direction. 

The next step is to follow Portand’s Residential Infill Project which allows four ADUs per lot rather than three. And Portland has a provision that stretches the limit to six if two of them are subsidized, below-market rate units. We should do the same thing in Seattle because Portland’s analysis showed that it reduced displacement almost everywhere and led to a significant increase in new housing. 

An additional way to increase the supply of “missing middle” housing is to allow duplexes, triplexes, and quads on corner lots in single family zones. 

This past spring, City Council approved the Mayor’s proposal to allow affordable multifamily housing on the property of religious organizations. This is authorized under HB 1377, passed in 2019, which allows for additional density if the units are reserved for low income households for at least 50 years. An example in multifamily and mixed use zones for a 7,000 sf lot could go from the allowed 15 units under current zoning to 20-24 affordable one- and two- bedroom units plus a ground floor childcare space. I will work to promote this code change and help religious organizations who want to redevelop their property to include affordable housing obtain expedited construction permits from SDCI. 

Question #3:

Zoning reform is necessary but not sufficient to addressing our housing needs. If elected, would you be willing to push for zoning reform, what (if any) specific reforms would you like to see, and what will you do to see those reforms (if any) implemented?

Answer (NO):

We need to address the nearly 100 years of exclusionary zoning that was put in place in 1923. The upcoming 2024 comprehensive plan is a great place for us to chart this course towards repair and reparations through housing justice. 

Our current zoning pattern has created a bifurcated city. ⅔ of residential land is not accessible to all but those with the highest incomes. We need a mix of housing and residential patterns that create more opportunity for urban villages, social affordable housing, coops, community land trust, and housing for workers and the missing middle. 

We need to repeal apartment bans. Our development needs to be thoughtful; density must be shared across the City. We must stop urban sprawl, improve public transportation access and equity, make more areas of the City walkable, improve access to key amenities and services for all Seattleites, and we must have in place anti-displacement and anti-gentrification policies as well as opportunities for BIPOC families to generate equity as many BIPOC families have been historically and presently excluded from wealth building opportunities. 

To elaborate, I believe that priority areas for urban villages and urban enclaves are areas where we know there is or will be robust public transportation. This will help us to achieve our climate goals, build targeted transportation infrastructure, and make more of the City walkable. The more people can live in the areas where they work, go to school, grocery shop, access childcare and healthcare services the less people will drive and the more accessible our City will become by public transportation, bike, or on foot. 

The above being said, we should also consider an “urban infill strategy” similar to Portland in order to develop key “missing middle” housing for workers. We also need co-ops and community land trusts in order to increase the opportunity for homeownership and equity for all Seattleites (especially those who have been presently and historically excluded from such wealth building opportunities).

Answer (SN):

Yes, I will push for zoning reform. Beyond zoning reforms, I support and applaud Habitat for Humanity’s Cost of Home campaign to advocate for fair and affordable housing policy and I will use whatever leverage Council has to implement its policy goals in Seattle. 

In addition to the anti-displacement measures noted above that I will promote, I will advance an initiative to address the wealth gap in general which will also reduce the racial homeowners gap. Modeled on Senator Cory Booker’s “baby bonds,” the City will administer a program in which every infant born into a low-income family will receive a $1,000 deposited into an account under their name. Every year after that, until that child is 18, the City will deposit $1,000. When they come of age, they are free to use that money as they wish – tuition, a partial down-payment on a house, or on rent or whatever. 

I supported Seattle’s $15/hour minimum wage, but that’s not enough to live on in Seattle. To forge an equitable recovery and prevent displacement, we must prioritize jobs and opportunities to build generational wealth. I’ll focus on developing our workforce through apprenticeship and job training opportunities to open pathways toward middle-class careers as well as give youth options for technical training and professional mentorship.

Question #4:

Affordable housing is more than just homeless shelters, permanent supportive housing, and low-cost rentals. Affordable housing also includes affordable homeownership opportunities. How do you see affordable homeownership fitting into the overall housing spectrum and what (if anything) should the city do to support it?

Answer (NO):

Seattle’s history of residential segregation, restrictive deeds, housing covenants, and redlining are some of the most critical and insidious drivers of racialized wealth inequality in Seattle. These racist and anti-black barriers have prevented Black communities from building, growing and transferring wealth. This has led to huge disparities in homeownership where 50% of white residents are homeowners but a little over 25% of Black residents own homes. Seattle is the third most gentrifying city in the country. Affordable home ownership requires creating opportunities for first-time home owners as well as a commitment to keeping people in the homes they already own in a fast gentrifying city. 

First Time Home Buyer Programs 

We need to increase and improve access to first-time home buyer programs for the most economically and systematically marginalized Black, Native and POC residents. While we have a number of first-time homebuyer programs and a down payment assistance program, the most marginalized Black and Native residents still do not qualify. We need to assess the effectiveness of our current model and determine if it reaches the communities most in need of support buying a home. Those communities most in need of buying homes in our region are those who have been systematically excluded from the home buying market, like Black communities in our region. 

Stop gentrification and displacement 

Stopping gentrification and displacement means keeping people in their homes. Rainier Beach Action Coalition and Puget Sound Sage wrote an important report on Disaster Gentrification that everyone should read. To tackle this crisis the following recommendations were made: 

Reduce evictions and foreclosures by forgiving rent debt, extending the eviction and foreclosure moratoria, and making rent relief contingent on increased tenant protections; 

Create opportunity for BIPOC communities to secure land and buildings to preserve affordability by robustly funding acquisition and preservation funds; 

Increase BIPOC power in planning and development by establishing local planning and accountability through equitable development zones; 

Preserve affordability and create a path for tenant ownership by passing a Tenant/Community Opportunity to Purchase Act; Stop harassment of vulnerable homeowners by creating non-Solicitation/cease and desist zones; 

Discourage property flipping for profit through a tax on certain real estate transactions. 

Seattle City Council, due partly to the work of Councilmember Sawant, already started growing the suite of tenant protections at the municipal level including ending school year evictions, preventing folks from being evicted due to unpaid rent during COVID-19, and right of first refusal. I commit to the pursuit of the recommendations as outlined by experts in our communities. Additionally, we will need to: 

The gentrification conversation has to be framed around the underlying issues of power and race that created inequitable development here and make gentrification possible. 

Protect our long-time residents who wish to remain in place. One way to do this is by ensuring that all homeowners, especially Black seniors, know about HB1410, which prevents foreclosure of homes due to unpaid property taxes. This new state legislation is key for keeping our seniors in their homes. 

Prohibit large-scale luxury development in neighborhoods with a high-risk of displacement. We must ensure that development is actually to the benefit of the current community so that we can remain and age in place. 

Preserve our existing affordable rental units and ensure they are quality, healthy, and habitable. 

Utilize City-owned land and surplus land for partnerships with community collaboration to build deeply affordable housing. Expand our current commercial rent control legislation to ensure that small businesses do not lose their storefronts. Fight for residential rent control alongside a myriad of cash assistance programs, investments, and tenants rights laws.

Answer (SN):

Providing pathways to affordable homeownership is an important equity issue and Habitat for Humanity’s model is a successful and effective way to make homebuying accessible to people who would not otherwise be able to afford their first home. The City should increase its investment in this and similar programs. In other words, keep partnering with Habitat for Humanity and increase the funding allocated to this partnership. 

In addition to the anti-displacement and residential infill strategies mentioned above, I also support allowing the subdivision of lots in single-family zones for the construction of Detached Accessory Dwelling units that can be sold by a homeowner, not just rented.

Question #5:

The Seattle Housing Levy is up for renewal in 2023. Will you push to renew that levy and are there any changes that you would like to see to how the levy operates?

Answer (NO):

I support renewing and increasing the levy. Moreover, I have a strong preference towards progressive revenue generation options rather than increasing property taxes (which may have the impact of displacing residents). 

Leveraging our progressive revenue generation options, including increasing the JumpStart tax, are ways that we can achieve the goals of the housing levy without continuing to be depending upon a regressive tax system that places the burden upon those already most deeply impacted by the housing crisis. 

I do, however, recognize that the levy may still be our best option in 2023 and would support renewal. 

I would like to see changes to how the housing levy operates, and would advocate for the expansion of our rental production and preservation program, as well as homeownership, acquisition and preservation programs. These are all programs that support ending some of the upstream root causes of homelessness in the City. 

As the King County Regional Homelessness Authority comes online, they will take on directing our work regionally and as a City to end homelessness. This means they will direct dollars, determine programs and projects, and do contracting as it specifically relates to services, supports, and supportive housing for residents experiencing homelesness. The role of the City will be to continue to provide funding to the authority, to focus on housing development/production, and to fight the upstream causes of housing. This will of course be a collaborative effort but the City’s role will be shifting. 

Answer (SN):

Yes, I will push for the renewal of the Housing Levy. I do not have deep familiarity with every line item of that funding source but I do know that many people make too much money to qualify for housing targeted at people making 50% AMI or less but cannot afford market-rate units or subsidized housing aimed at 60 – 80% AMI. So I would work to increase Housing Levy funding for workforce housing. This could be possible by using ARPA and federal infrastructure funds to temporarily backfill Housing Levy dollars for housing at the very low end of the income range. I would also increase funding for homebuyer assistance programs, foreclosure prevention and direct cash rent relief for tenants facing eviction.

Question #6:

Would you be supportive of identifying new financial resources, beyond the Seattle Housing Levy, for affordable housing production and what would those resources be?

Answer (NO):

Our regressive tax system places the burden of solving the housing affordability crisis, equitable transportation, and ending the racial wealth gap on those communities, especially Black communities, already most cost burdened with rent and transportation. Ultimately, the burden of taxation is inequitably distributed. Those paying the most in taxes are also those most impacted by the lack of affordable housing. We need to tax the wealth and corporations who have benefited most from the economic boom in our region. Progressive Funding Options: 

The funding from Jumpstart Seattle is one place to start. We are currently generating only half of the revenue that we could from the big business tax (a bit over $200 million per a year). 

We must bring our housing supply to scale to actually meet the crisis facing our City. We need approximately $400 million per year (1 billion per year in King County) of affordable housing to meet the need. The City can no longer wait on the private market to address a crisis from which they benefit (and therefore have no economic incentive to help end). As a result, Seattle needs to get deeper into social affordable housing. 

Some of the taxes we want to explore include: 

Local Estate Tax 

Taxes on exceptionally high compensation 

An augmented B&O tax 

Raise the REET 

Progressive property related taxes such as speculative real estate investments, vacant or unoccupied properties, second home Housing Growth Fund (Reinstate the City’s Housing Growth Fund) 

Income Tax (We need to find an equitable way to do this given that the law only allows for a 1% flat tax) These funding possibilities were identified by the Seattle City Council in its 2018 “Taskforce on Progressive Revenue for Housing and Homelessness,” but are as yet unimplemented.

Answer (SN):

Yes but we should not pursue new resources that could end up inhibiting new projects. Instead we should make sure existing sources of revenue are having the desired effect of generating more affordable housing. The Mandatory Housing Affordability program is a tool to promote density and generate revenue for affordable housing. So far, MHA, matched with revenue from the Housing Levy and other funds, has enabled the construction of about 700 units of affordable housing citywide. 

We should also be looking at ways to decrease the cost of affordable housing production. Our entitlement and permitting processes take way too long and add cost to projects. I support the land use and building code changes recommended by the Third Door Coalition to bring permanent supportive housing online faster and less expensively. I address the challenges of the Design Review process that inhibit residential construction and restrict revenues going into the MHA program. Before identifying new financial resources, I will work to better align the processes that housing providers must go through in order to build with our policy goals for more affordable housing. I will also study how and if both the Housing Levy and MHA can be improved to increase production of more affordable housing.

Question #7:

There have been growing concerns that Design Review is creating general delays, unpredictability, and added costs for housing in the city, which is sorely needed. In effect, these patterns can choke off housing supply and increase rents. Do you have any plans to improve, reform, or eliminate Design Review in Seattle? If so, how and when?

Answer (NO):

Design Review is a locally controlled and mandated city process meant to improve the exterior design, height, bulk, and scale of most new mixed-use, multifamily, and commercial projects through the discretionary application of citywide and neighborhood specific guidelines by volunteer boards. There are systemic patterns that merit the City of Seattle’s attention and consideration. It is time for the City of Seattle to meaningfully reform Design Review to be more efficient, consistent, and predictable. 

Key considerations: 

Design Review delays are growing. These delayed processes add direct costs to housing and future rents. In some instances, these trends are in direct opposition to our need to develop green, deeply affordable housing. 

For affordable housing developments, we can consider providing a different and/or more direct option that may or may not fully eliminate the design review process for an affordable housing project. 

Limit the number of meetings a project is required to go before a Design Review Board. 

Examine the fees charged through Design Review by City Planner to consider accountability and tracking for the time spent. This is exacerbated by high hourly rates. 

Streamline the number of Design Review Guidelines to remove redundancy and reestablish priorities about design outcomes. Discretionary processes are inconsistent and unpredictable and have a direct impact on project schedule and delivery of housing units. These impacts include well-documented instances when high quality projects are held up for subjective reasons and/or despite having broad community support. 

Design Review is being misused as a tool to stop or slow development rather than encourage good design — especially in neighborhoods that do not want to take on any density, despite our serious housing crisis. 

It is important to acknowledge that in rapidly gentrifying areas or where displacement is rapidly occurring some communities, like the Chinatown International District, are using design review (or what is ISRD in the CID) to slow gentrification and displacement. As a result, the slowing of process is not for the same reasons nor does it have equal impact in all areas of the City. However, wealthier neighborhoods may utilize design review to keep multi-family developments and affordable housing out of their neighborhoods. In areas experiencing gentrification and displacement, the process is being leveraged as an anti-displacement strategy. What this should instruct us is: a) not all areas of the city are experiencing the same impacts of development and gentrification; b) we need to provide communities with real tools, strategies and supports for anti-displacement and anti-gentrification because ISRD may not be the best place for this important community organizing work; and c) while some communities simply (and rightfully so) do not want to be pushed out of their neighborhoods by hotels and unaffordable luxury developments, others do not want new people in their neighborhoods and such exclusionary acts cannot be tolerated. 

The International Special Review District (ISRD) is supposed to have a more comprehensive view including climate/environmental and affordability. These meetings, especially during the pandemic, have become wildly inaccessible for the community. As stated above, the community is often attempting to leverage these spaces to bring greater concerns of displacement and gentrification to the City. We need to consider: Is this process working for the communities living in the CID? Is it doing what we say it does? Are there additional processes, policies, or supports that need to be put in place? 

ISRD meetings may need to have interdepartmental collaboration. I have heard that when communities attend ISRD meetings rarely are the right people in the room to answer their questions. Expanding these meetings to include other departments may better support the needs and vision of the communities living in the neighborhood in moving through the ISRD process. Hold meetings online for accessibility and provide the needed language translation services. 

The boards themselves often lack diversity of perspectives, despite the stated intent of boards to represent a range of perspectives. Have design review meetings online. 

Provide design review meetings in multiple languages. 

Provide compensated roles for community members that are reflective of marginalized communities. 

During the pandemic, the city moved affordable housing to Administrative Design Review (ADR). ADR, unlike the other boards, is not volunteer. They are staff and, from what I have heard, are, unfortunately, more inaccessible to the public/communities. You have to know to request an audio recording to get information on meetings because they are not public and you cannot join in and listen. This is supposed to be more streamlined and quicker but that is not necessarily happening. We may want to re-examine this process and make adjustments.

Ultimately, we need to connect design review to the City of Seattle’s other housing goals and policies, create real accountability for volunteer board decisions, increase representative access for all communities, balance the real costs and benefits of requirements, and discourage the misuse of the process by legacy residents fighting change while also protecting more marginalized legacy residents from unjust displacement and gentrification. We believe it will be necessary to further engage communities and groups most impacted by the housing crisis as we identify and fully develop solutions.

Answer (SN):

Time is the biggest driver of cost overruns in construction and the Design Review process is lengthy, cumbersome, and expensive because of the attorneys and architects required to advance a project through all the meetings and revisions. Given this, I believe DR does more harm than good, especially for residential projects. The DR process adds time and expense when the policy direction is the opposite: build more housing, fast, and make it as affordable as possible. 

Design Review has been a problem for as long as I remember and there were efforts to improve and streamline it when I staffed Richard Conlin’s Land Use Committee. It seems like every change to the program generates additional problems or uncertainties. And everyone hates it, including the public whose interest it is supposed to serve. In the abstract, it’s probably a good idea to have a discretionary process wherein the worst developers are challenged to improve their projects and the good projects can seek out flexibility needed to make their projects work better. In other words, the Design Review Board should facilitate good projects, and constrain bad designs. However, in practice DR too often acts as a bottleneck, further delaying development at a time when we simply do not have enough housing stock to meet our needs. A single delay of one month can cost up to $270,000 and the uncertainty around the review process dampens housing production, reducing supply and increasing rents and mortgages. 

It is clear that many changes need to be made: 

Because the DRB holds the Go/No Go authority of a project, it should not be made up of volunteers with varying degrees of experience. They should be professionals with clearly defined qualifications (architect, designer, landscape architect, etc.) and, ideally, a certain level of experience in the construction or development industry because too often, DRB recommendations aren’t grounded in the realities, code restrictions, and nuances of actually bringing a project to completion. Also, DRB members should be paid a modest stipend for participation. 

There needs to be a clear expectation of how long each stage of the design review process will take and the maximum number of meetings required during the whole process. How about three, total? 

Quorum is a problem. If DRB members don’t show up for a meeting, the project should proceed to the next step anyway because the project designers and attorneys who are required to attend and present at meetings are expensive. Calling off a meeting because a DRB member doesn’t show up is a waste of money and the public’s and project leaders’ time. 

DR needs to be clear what is under the scope of the review board management. Understanding this will help developers better prepare for review and, overall, streamline the process. 

Eliminating the Design Review process probably isn’t feasible or in the public’s best interest in the long run so the more achievable path would be to constrain the scope and time allowed.

Question #8:

As a regional hub that continues to grow, Seattle attracts a wide range of people; families, couples, roommates, and individuals. Different housing types can better meet the needs of each of these groups. Small apartments have proven to be an ecologically sustainable and effective way for private developers to build new units at affordable prices. Current city policy heavily restricts the development of congregate housing, which is the most affordable housing option for individuals and couples. Both the HALA report and the AMIHAC report have urged removal of these restrictions. Do you have any plans to act on these recommendations? And if so, what will you do?

Answer (NO):

Congregate housing developments, like apodment models, were at one point in time allowed within the City. Congregate housing models are more likely to be affordable. If we are to lift the restrictions we should require that any developer desiring to access the MFTE has to build units that are restricted at lower, deeply affordable rents. 

I agree that lifting this restriction, as well as ending exclusionary zoning, is important. In addition to lifting/ending restrictions, we need to do everything possible to require that units are deeply affordable. Without a requirement for affordability, we make ourselves reliant upon the goodwill and charity of the private market to respond to a crisis from which the private housing market financially benefits. Coupling lifting restrictions and zoning changes with restrictive tax credits and other requirements to build deeply affordable housing (as well instituting anti-displacement strategies) is key for building the requisite housing we need to serve our most economically marginalized and vulnerable communities and to ensure that we do not further displace more residents from the City. 

Answer (SN):

The bottom line is that we have 25% of the city’s renters that are too low-income to afford market rate development but make too much money to be the beneficiary of our social housing dollars. The folks caught in the middle CAN be helped by market rate development but the city has made a series of blunders over the past several years to quash the development of the smallest and most affordable forms of market rate housing. How to fix it? 

Allow congregate housing in low-rise zones such as NC1/NC2/LR2/LR3. This would require a tweak in the table of allowable uses to restore it to where it was in 2014 before changes were made to microhousing regulations. 

The intent of the 2014 legislation was that SEDUs should be allowed to be 220sf but code interpretations by the Construction Code Advisory Board (CCAB) and SDCI during that process and administrative policies put in place subsequently make it challenging to design and permit SEDUs and congregate units at the smallest end of the range. A couple remedies could be to direct SDCI to simplify the regulations so they are consistent with the legislative intent by: 

Removing the 70-7 rule, revert to a policy consistent w/ the more typical method prescribed by the code interpretation handbook. Removing detailed requirements for SEDUs (layout of countertops, cabinetry, etc.) other than those prescribed for efficiency dwelling units. SEDUs are three times the size of the minimum unit size prescribed by the National Healthy Housing Standard. There is no public health or safety rationale for any of these requirements. 

The MFTE program is really important for small developers to make their projects work. It has become increasingly unattractive to small unit developers, first by design, and lately by the sheer weight of the bureaucracy. 

Direct the office of housing to enact MFTE %AMI requirements that are based on published market studies and require the same % discount from market rate for all unit types. 

Direct the Office of Housing to allow people to provide proof of income based on their annual tax returns. The current system is so onerous for renters and landlords alike that it drives down participation in the program. Renters are often stymied by the reporting requirements of the financial disclosure which can take weeks to complete. Landlords are strained by how long their discounted units sit open while multiple prospective tenants fail to complete the application. This process must be repeated every year, which is really distressing to tenants who are already poor and busy and don’t really have time for this kind of nonsense.


Question #9:

Similarly, production of family-sized housing (defined as rental apartments, condos, and houses of 2 or more bedrooms) has fallen precipitously in recent years, contributing to rapidly escalating costs for such housing. Do you have any plans to encourage development of family-sized housing? If so, what will you do?

Answer (NO):

Candidly, the City must decide that this is a priority and fund family-sized housing of all types (especially for those who are at the lowest income levels). I am committed to pushing us in this direction. Our lack of family-sized housing is pushing working families out of the City and farther from work, services, supports, and community. Through low-income tax credit programs and through federal subsidies for affordable housing we drive a greater development of family sized housing of all types. Additionally, we must include, when participating in private-public partnership or using city dollars for housing, that we will require family-sized units be included in new developments throughout the City.

Answer (SN):

Family sized housing works best in a ground-based format where the units can be built economically and connect to at-grade amenities and open space. Current policy is aimed at trying to get apartment developments to provide it, which ensures that the housing is both as expensive as it possibly can be, and that it is provided in a format that is most likely to be disconnected to ground level amenities. 

I will propose allowing flexibility for ground-level residential on downtown streets where it makes sense due to the surplus of street level retail. This stoup model works well in Vancouver and adds life to the street. Those units could be larger and more affordable to families than tower units. 

Another policy to encourage family sized housing would be to expand the amount of land where low-rise townhouses are allowed. Current policy has managed to reduce townhouse development by 70% over the last few years. This is largely due to: A shortage of LR zoned land 

Expensive and sclerotic permitting process 

MHA fees being exacted without any meaningful changes to LR zoning to allow greater development of the land Changing the “round up” allowance for the number of units allowed on a 5,000 sf lot from .5 to .8. This effectively reduces the number of family-sized townhomes from 4/lot to 3/lot because, by code, 3.5 units are buildable on 5,000 sf lots. MHA fees being charged to the developer at permit issuance, ensuring that those costs have to be paid by the equity investors (expensive money), not by the debt financing (cheap money). 

Numerous agency policies that have shifted the costs of ADA curb ramps, street use, right-of-way improvements, utility mains, and a host of other city infrastructure costs away from general funding and onto the backs of individual projects. If elected, I will propose reexamining these policies with the input of architects, developers, and neighborhood organizations. 

2021 Seattle General Elections: City Council (District 9), Questionnaire on Housing

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