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Mayoral Race: Lorena González & Bruce Harrell
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?
It is essential our efforts for greater, truly citywide upzoning is tied to anti-displacement investments and placemaking efforts and paired with transit planning if we are to meet our climate resiliency goals as well as be a City that can create the housing stock we need as the fastest growing city in the country. Without action on denser zoning, our housing and climate crisis will only get worse and further exacerbate wealth disparities; every worker in this City, whether they are a tech worker or a hospitality worker, should be able to afford to live in Seattle and in a neighborhood with the amenities and transit they need.
I grew up in a redlined Central District home and have witnessed firsthand as friends and family are forced out of longstanding communities due to lack of affordable – and equitable – housing options.
As Mayor, I’ll work to protect communities against displacement and gentrification by calling on our Office of Housing to explore programs for increasing equity in housing and homeownership, including community land trusts, affirmative marketing, and exploring policies like those in Washington, DC that give tenants the opportunity to purchase buildings when they are up for sale, and in Austin, Texas, where ‘right to return’ programs have helped marginalized tenants return to gentrified communities.
The best way to reduce homelessness is to prevent someone from losing their housing in the first place. I will work to expand rental assistance programs and pursue housing affordability measures to grow the housing supply and reduce housing costs for residents at risk.
To prevent displacement, we must work with community from the start. As I did on City Council, I will make sure to have community voices involved in our decision making process on housing and zoning. While I believe all neighborhoods will have to take on additional density and housing, we need to do so in a way that is equitable and not concentrated only in diverse or low-income neighborhoods.
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?
I have long supported the Equitable Development Initiative and my administration would support, not suppress, those community driven efforts. Equitable development will also require reforming our exclusionary zoning laws, which allows for 80% of the city’s residential land to be zoned for single-family housing. I am also committed to creating more incentives for the construction of on-site affordable housing, capturing additional transit-oriented development opportunities and investing in public transportation so that we can truly have an affordable and interconnected city.
I am the candidate who as a Councilmember championed the Race and Social Justice Initiative, which requires all City policies to be reviewed through a race and social justice lens. Applying this lens to housing and zoning decisions is especially important as we seek to prevent displacement and ensure a more equitable city. We need to review and update existing zoning to address longstanding disparities that harm communities of color and create unfair outcomes.
Equity in housing cannot just come from affordability – it must ensure economic and educational opportunities are within reach, while simultaneously reducing car trips and ensuing pollution. Affordable housing must be developed near transit lines, with jobs and workplaces, schools and childcare facilities, healthy food and other necessities in walking distance. A comprehensive, community informed approach is crucial to making progress.
I will also by Executive Order create an interdepartmental team to form and create a work plan around my proposed Race and Data Initiative – which will look granularly at how race affects outcomes for Seattle’s BIPOC and other diverse communities. We know broadly that communities of color and other underrepresented groups face disparate outcomes in our city – but this effort will collect clear, tangible data and provide real recommendations for how to address and eliminate those disproportionate effects, with the information available to all so everyone can participate in the solution. This initiative will be used to look specifically at housing and zoning, along with other related areas.
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?
I would work with the council to end exclusionary zoning citywide.
Throughout my City Council tenure, I recognized – and acted upon – the importance of increasing our housing supply. I voted in support of efforts to expand backyard cottages and supported upzoning areas around transit near Downtown, Roosevelt, West Seattle, and more. I was also an enthusiastic supporter of the HALA process that upzoned “urban villages” citywide, adding density and affordable housing targets throughout the city.
While I have not called for the immediate elimination of single-family zoning, I am committed to increasing density and building out affordable housing, especially in delivering development in areas that have already been upzoned. Every neighborhood will have to embrace additional housing if we are going to meet our goals and ensure everyone has an affordable place to call home, especially as our City and region grow over the next several decades.
We know the solution to the affordable housing crisis is more housing, and I want to make sure we develop that housing in an intersectional, equitable, and thoughtful manner. I made it easier to build ADUs, a commonsense housing solution, and I helped pass and continuously update the MHA program to significantly expand density and affordable housing across the city. That’s why, as we determine the future of single family zoning and consider the possibility of its elimination, my first act will be to work with Council to convene a community and stakeholder-led process to guide us forward, similar to the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee.
From there, we can define a plan informed by experts, understood and molded by community, and implementable with both bold and practical solutions.
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?
I was a strong proponent of the city’s current MHA legislation though I believe it did not go far enough and was not truly a citywide effort. My administration will work to expand this.
I grew up in a redlined Central District home, which we could afford on my dad’s union paycheck. Today, that wouldn’t be possible because of our city’s dearth of affordable housing and homes. Homeownership is a powerful tool for building generational wealth and ensuring strong, stable communities. We absolutely have an obligation to increase access to homeownership.
We have to address this challenge head-on by building housing, adding density, and creating closely connected neighborhoods where a large variety of needs can be met within walking distance, while also being along transit lines connected to neighboring communities. As Mayor, I will continue to support efforts to increase multi-family housing in neighborhoods across the city through expansion of zoning for ADUs, duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and other housing options. We’ll work to designate many spaces as permanently affordable, and strengthen programs that promote first time home ownership.
I have supported home ownership and ownership retention programs in the Housing Levy, and would work with experts to build, develop, and expand programs that improve ownership opportunities and help people stay in their homes in a costly marketplace.
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?
I would like to see more investments in low income housing at 60% or lower AMI vs the current 80% AMI.
Our region – including Seattle – needs to build hundreds of thousands of new units of affordable housing over the coming decades to meet the needs of a growing population, and address the unsustainable gaps in wealth and housing access that create barriers to stable, quality, affordable housing options.
The Seattle Housing Levy is a critical tool to address targeted needs and I strongly support renewing the housing levy and updating it to match the specific needs of this moment – additional affordable housing options for our lowest-income neighbors and families; homelessness solutions including permanent supportive and transitional housing; and further support for rapid development to help address our continued growth.
Would you be supportive of identifying new financial resources, beyond the Seattle Housing Levy, for affordable housing production and what would those resources be?
Yes, I would like to see more progressive revenue.
Absolutely. We need to think about how the Levy can and should serve as a tool to address urgent and near term gaps in our housing supply, and leverage additional private, county, state, and federal resources to rapidly expand housing in our city.
While Microsoft and other large employers have committed significant resources for housing in our region, we have a short term influx of federal funding, and newly available local sales tax revenues working at the County level, the Housing levy is an opportunity to refine and redefine Seattle’s needs and opportunities for building needed housing.
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?
I want it to be faster and easier for affordable housing projects to get through design review and this will be a focus of my administration. Some of this will require working with our partners in the state legislature to change policies that preempt city law.
In this moment we desperately need housing – not hampering. Design Review should be streamlined and effective at meeting its purpose and allowing projects to move forward, not a tool to delay much needed development. I believe we should look for opportunities to cut through the red tape and allow faster development while still ensuring safety.
It’s especially important that we build immediately where we already have the zoning and capacity to increase housing, where we are currently underserving our city, and where we can provide support to lower costs of construction, which will in turn lower prices for the consumer.
For example, townhome production has gone down 70% since the City’s upfront Mandatory Housing Affordability Fees were imposed. We currently have hundreds of thousands of units of capacity to use under our current zoning scheme and we must take action to make the most of it.
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?
Yes, I would work with the council to enact these recommendations.
I strongly support making multifamily and congregate housing options more available. We need a diverse set of housing options – a small apartment isn’t the right fit for every neighbor or family. Especially as we work to increase home equity, we must have different options on the table that allow neighbors to both live affordably and be able to own shares of the place they call home. I will carefully review the recommendations, advocate for needed changes, and work with stakeholders to see how they can be implemented urgently, so these diverse forms of housing are in the pipeline as soon as possible.
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?
This is a key reason for why I support ending exclusionary zoning.
Similar to the above, I believe family-sized housing should be a critical part of our strategy. As I’ve made clear throughout this questionnaire, I support making it easier to develop housing forms such as duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes, which provide multifamily options, homeownership opportunities, and additional density which can reduce emissions and improve community building. We need to make sure there are affordable options, and that the city is helping direct and subsidize those investments, along with encouraging market-rate development which also increases supply and helps address immediate needs as growth continues.