Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

While our City continues to boom, attracting new jobs, development, and infrastructure, we know that not all members of our community benefit equally.  In fact, the increased pressures of our booming economy exacerbates our current housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and disproportionally harms low-income communities and communities of color. But I remain hopeful about our ability to grow and prosper without displacing the people, communities, and cultural anchors that make our city and neighborhoods great.

I have been reflecting on what it means for Seattle to grow and become a more equitable city as the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is being discussed across committees.  The Comprehensive Plan guides the city’s policy decisions around development and defines the vision we all have for a city where all people are able to thrive.  The plan includes goals and policies not only around urban growth, but also around transportation, community wellness, arts and culture, and how we engage community in planning.  To me, the plan is an opportunity to decide together what we want Seattle to look and feel like in the future.

Last May, council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored, to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into our Comprehensive Plan update.  Essentially, we asked that before making decisions about how to grow, we need to be able to define and measure displacement, beyond the antidotes we hear every day.  Who is being pushed out?  Of what neighborhoods?  And why?  How does growth impact communities differently? And how can we measure the where the greatest opportunities exist? The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has stepped up to this challenge.  OPCD has published both the Growth and Equity Analysis (GEA), which measures growth, displacement risk, and opportunity across the city, and the Equitable Development Implementation Plan (EDIP), which recommends strategies to ensure that as we grow, all communities benefit.  Staff continue to work in collaboration with communities most impacted by the threat and reality of displacement, who know best how to address their own needs as we grow.

I believe in the Growth and Equity Analysis’s Vision of an Equitable Seattle: Seattle will be a city with people of diverse cultures, races, and incomes. All people will thrive and be able to achieve their full potential regardless of race or means.  Our city’s neighborhoods will be diverse and will include community anchors, supports, goods and services and amenities so that our residents can lead healthy lives and can flourish. 

The equity analysis highlights the need for city-wide strategies as well as place-based strategies to ensure people thrive in place. This means not only considering how and where we grow, but investing in local community initiatives in places with high displacement risks and investment needs.  One example recommended in the EDIP that my office is excited to see to fruition is the Rainier Beach Innovations District (RBID).  The RBID is a community driven effort to focus transit oriented development (TOD) projects to produce decent quality jobs and create entrepreneurship opportunities for community members in Rainier Beach, bringing new economic development near the light rail station.  I believe investing in community-driven projects like the RBID are essential to our growth as a city.

In addition to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our community continues to take strides forward to achieve the goals and vision set forth in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).  We are taking essential steps toward building new, and protecting existing, affordable housing stock.

Access to quality affordable housing is key to anti-displacement.  Building new affordable housing is an essential way we are able to maintain Seattle’s racial and economic diversity and vibrancy, but it cannot be our only strategy against displacement. Keeping people in place enables communities to continue to thrive in the places they call home.  In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on housing affordability:

  • Seattle Housing Levy: Last month, the Council voted to place the Seattle Housing Levy on the August Ballot.  This Levy would create $290 million dollars to resource affordable housing.  Working with Councilmember Herbold, we added a loan program so that tenant-occupied buildings can be quickly acquired and preserved as long-term affordable rental housing or permanently affordable homeownership units.
  • Mandatory Housing Affordability: In addition to non-profit and community land trust efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, we hope to pass the Mandatory Housing Affordability- Residential legislation this summer.  This legislation would require all new multi-family and commercial development projects in the city contribute to creating 6,000 new units of affordable housing in the next ten years.  I am committed to ensuring our proposal meets this goal, and we would love to hear from you at a public hearing on June 21st.
  • Affordability in Single-Family Zones: In addition I want to see more opportunities for affordability across Seattle. Including in single family zones. I am hopeful that encouraging more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will be a big step towards this goal.
  • Tenant Protections: We are also pursuing increased tenant protections outlined in the HALA recommendations including protections that assure tenants are not discriminated against based on their source of income or background checks.  Essential to keeping people in place is assuring we protect tenants most vulnerable to being priced out of the city.

Over the coming months, my office will continue to explore creative anti-displacement strategies that create community ownership and opportunities to build on the strengths of the diverse communities that make Seattle home.  We plan to explore different models the city can pursue including:

  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land and are primarily used to create long-term affordable housing by removing land from the private market.  CLTs can also be used for commercial and retail properties.  We are looking at models locally and from around the county, such as Burlington, Vermont, which stewards 6% of the housing stock in the City. Here in Seattle, Homestead Community Land Trust has been working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families since 1992.
  • Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs offer ownership opportunities for lower-income people, and maintain affordability by limiting the resale value of the property.  We are interested in exploring how the city could support tenants interested in cooperatively owning their properties. There are many models for what these community-owned LEHCs can function and work with other models, including CLTs.

We are looking forward to working with other Councilmembers, departments, community-based organizations, tenant advocates, non-profit developers and land trusts working on creative ways to ensure development without displacement.  We hope to bring together local and national experts to learn more about how we can creatively keep people in place, and assure all of our communities benefit as Seattle grows.

Guest Post: Building for the Future

By Laura Robinson

Recently I had the opportunity to visit YouthCare’s YouthBuild with Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell. YouthCare is a Seattle-based organization committed to transforming the lives of homeless and at-risk youth. Their model of care is based around three critical steps: engage, stabilize and prepare. The third step assists young people in gaining the skills (employment training, GED prep, college access) necessary for rewarding futures.

YouthCare partners with South Seattle College, where YouthCare’s YouthBuild, one of YouthCare’s employment training programs is operated. The program specifically prepares young people for careers in construction – particularly useful given Seattle’s current growth explosion. Through the South Seattle College partnership, students are able to earn up to 32 college credits through their participation. The program runs for six months at a time, with nearly 20 students enrolled every cycle.

This program teaches technical construction skills along with critical intangibles like personal confidence, trust and hope. The accomplishments of the program are evident within its hallways. Photos of graduates working in union apprenticeships hang on the walls. Smiles, laughter, and shy confidence are evident in the faces of current students. YouthCare is in the business of restoring hope – by teaching tangible skills, but also through recognizing each young person as an individual capable of great things.

YouthCare is helping young people to know themselves, trust themselves and believe in their own abilities to achieve success. The dedication and enthusiasm of the staff at YouthCare’s YouthBuild is matched only by the commitment and enthusiasm of the students themselves.

As we entered the building for our visit, each student came forward for introductions and then quickly fell into what appeared to be a typical routine – good natured and rowdy competition around construction work stations. The main construction room is filled with structures that challenge and evaluate students on different skills. One wall is filled with tools that students add to their personal tool belts as they develop proficiency with each one. One student proudly described how he started late in the program, but now had more tools than anyone else on his belt. Councilmembers Bagshaw and Harrell were guided expertly by students through the stations.

LaTroy Hayman, a recent graduate of YouthCare’s YouthBuild is now an apprentice with the Construction Industry Training Council (CITC) on their carpenter’s apprentice track. Beyond his apprenticeship, LaTroy is a community activist and very involved in getting the word out to other young people about the program. One young man credited LaTroy’s enthusiasm and outreach for getting him to join the program. YouthCare’s Youthbuild provided support and development of LaTroy’s gifts for activism and community leadership, and continues to do so with all the students.

Program graduates go on to many opportunities – many opting for apprenticeships in local unions. And because of Seattle’s recent Priority Hire ordinance, future graduates will have the opportunity to work on city-financed construction projects – an important way our city makes an investment in young people. The program has a graduation rate of over 80% (higher than the national average in YouthBuild programs) and an abundance of positive energy and success stories.

Through construction skills, young people gain confidence and pride in their ability to complete a job. Beyond that, the young men and women at YouthCare’s YouthBuild create community in their classrooms and workspaces. This shared community allows students the security, safety and support to imagine new possibilities for themselves, while recognizing their own unique gifts – LaTroy’s talent for activism and outreach, to name just one.

Trust, friendship and hope are built in this program – a far-reach network graduates can rely on for support well into their futures. By supporting YouthCare’s YouthBuild, we are supporting a better future for youth and our community as a whole. And by supporting YouthCare’s Youthbuild, we build hope for the future. Let’s make that a priority.

To learn more about supporting YouthCare or volunteer opportunities, please visit Youthcare.org.

Growth and Displacement Vulnerability Risk Index

Last summer, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) briefed the City Council on its progress on the Seattle 2035 Plan, the 20-year major update to the Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap for how to concentrate future growth, transit and other city investments.  The original 1994 Plan directed housing

and jobs to Urban Villages or Urban Centers so that growth would not just be scattered throughout the city.  As part of the Seattle 2035 Plan, the City is trying to determine whether of not we should continue that pattern of growth concentration, or use another.

At the briefing last summer, I raised the question of the relationship between growth and displacement and shared with DPD and the Council the anti-displacement strategies used by other cities, specifically the use of mapping to identify the areas most at risk of displacement.  After that, Councilmembers on the Planning, Land use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee asked DPD to develop a similar approach for our planning efforts.  We received a report on that work, the Growth and Equity Analysis, in PLUS yesterday.

In creating a Displacement Vulnerability Index the report explains:

“There is very little vacant or undeveloped land in the city. Therefore, most new development will be replacing some existing use, which often includes housing. When housing is replaced by a new use, the current residents in that housing are displaced. This analysis focuses on displacement that affects marginalized populations. It combines three categories of data (vulnerability, amenity, development potential) to identify areas where displacement of those populations may be more likely.”

The result of this analysis was to identify neighborhoods with a. high displacement risk and low access to opportunity, b. high displacement risk and high access to opportunity, c. low displacement risk and low access to opportunity, and d. low displacement risk and high access to opportunity.

The report then went on to use this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of the alternatives being discussed for the Seattle 2035 Plan, the major Comprehensive Plan mentioned above.  Seattle expects 70,000 new housing units and 115,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. The report explained that:

“For achieving equity, how growth unfolds is much more important than the amount of growth. The amount of housing growth expected in a specific neighborhood in the different alternatives is not the determining factor of whether the neighborhood will develop equitably. If the same total amount of growth occurs in fewer, larger buildings, it might directly displace fewer current residents than a scenario that involves more new buildings. If the new structures are built on existing vacant land or parking lots, the displacement impact would also be lower. The timing of growth can also be a major determinant of impacts on displacement. Rapid changes can be more destabilizing for a neighborhood housing market and therefore more likely to displace existing residents than a steady rate of growth that allows time for accompanying offsetting investments to be effective.”

The Seattle 2035 Comp Plan will eventually, once adopted, identify an approach to distributing the expected increases in housing and employment. The four alternatives being considered now are:

1. Continue current trends so growth would continue to occur in the Urban Centers and Urban Villages.

2. Guide more growth to Urban Centers so that a much higher percentages of housing and jobs would go to the urban centers and the hub and residential urban villages would see less growth than currently.

3. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Light Rail.

4. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Transit (not just light rail)

After using this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of these 4 alternatives, the conclusion was that Alternatives 3 and 4 would likely cause the greatest displacement of marginalized populations.   In particular, alternatives 3 and 4 expand urban village boundaries for several urban villages, which would affect future use and density levels.  Expanding urban village boundaries in Othello, Columbia City, North Rainier, North Beacon Hill and Rainier Beach as proposed under Alternatives 3 and 4 may put upward pressure on rents before community stabilizing investments take effect.

It seems clear to me that the City is moving towards a Seattle 2035 update that focuses growth in the places where we have made significant transportation investments, but what will it say about us as a City if, in doing so, we select the alternative that has the greatest displacement impacts on low income and people of color?  In light of these findings, I think that we must develop a 5th alternative that distributes higher growth in “high opportunity/low-displacement risk” areas and distributes less growth to areas with “high displacement risk.”  This alternative should be coupled with a strategies to a. make it more possible for low income people to live in the high opportunity/low displacement risk areas as well as b. public investment to stabilize existing “high displacement risk/low opportunity” areas and create more economic opportunity for the people living there.



Live-Work Units in Commercial Areas

On April 21st, the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee passed Council Bill 118327, which adds pedestrian (P) designations to neighborhood commercial areas in 37 neighborhoods across the city. It also removes restrictions on street-level residential uses in 17 areas, and revises regulations for Neighborhood Commercial areas.

Included in this Bill are live-work units, dwellings that combine living space with space for operating businesses. Seattle zoning generally treats live-work units as non-residential uses. They are not permitted at street-level along principal pedestrian streets in P designated areas, such as along main retail streets, but they are allowed in other locations where non-residential uses are required, such as side streets.

Live-work units must include a business with a business license. However, in a 2011 survey of live-work units my office performed,  it was revealed that few units have a valid business license. Most were being used as apartments, generating no business activity that could activate the streets upon which the units were located.

While the Executive’s proposed amendments clarify rules for live-work units to ensure they include a work area along the street-level street-facing façade, I wanted to make sure these units, which can be highly prized by small business-owners, fulfill their intended use as places of business that help activate streets. I offered two amendments toward that goal:

  • Require property owners to keep business licenses on file for each live-work unit they own; or,
  • Require property owners to provide an exterior sign for each live-work unit indicating the business that occupies that unit.

The PLUS Committee adopted both of my amendments. The full Council is expected to vote on the Bill by the middle of May.

Keep in touch…


Update on the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project

Over the course of the last year, my office has received a great deal of correspondence regarding the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project proposed for the Cheasty Greenspace.  This project first came before the Council as part of its approval of a Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) grant that would support the construction of a perimeter trail, envisioned by the proponents as the first phase of a larger project involving mountain bike and pedestrian cross trails through the interior of the Greenspace.  The project was initially proposed by The Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View (Friends), in collaboration with a number of community partners.

The Friends are doing a great job of removing invasive plants and restoring the area.  Such volunteer work is essential to reclaiming our Greenspaces, and I deeply appreciate the work of the Friends.

When this proposal came before the Council intense community interest in support and in opposition was expressed.  Some would like to see Cheasty developed with a network of pedestrian and mountain bike trails and others are concerned about the effect of mountain bike trails on the Greenspace.

Since at least 1988 Seattle has had policies relating to our Open Spaces (now referred to as Greenspaces).[1]  Generally the policies on Greenspaces include 5 key goals, to[2]:

  1. Help preserve areas of natural landscape and habitat for wildlife
  2. Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity
  3. Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution
  4. Help reduce the necessity for constructed storm water systems
  5. Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land

Those and other City policies were developed over the years through a lengthy public process at a time when there was intense pressure for development and building within the greenbelts.  While the policies for the Greenspaces do not prohibit pedestrian trails or the use of bicycles, it is clear that uses in the Greenspaces are to be “low impact”.  Where such uses are proposed, careful planning consistent with City polices and environmental stewardship must occur.

Those who oppose the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project have been characterized as “a small but vocal group”.  However, there is strong support throughout the City for protecting our Greenspaces and strong support for the five key goals in our policies. 

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission in an April 2, 2014 letter to the Mayor and Councilmember Jean Godden noted the following:

Cheasty Greenspace is part of the approximately 14 percent of park land that falls under the April 2009 Seattle Parks Classification as a “Natural Area/Greenbelt”. That classification notes that “Natural areas are park sites established for the protection and stewardship of habitat and other natural systems support functions.  Some natural areas are accessible for low impact use.  Minimal infrastructure may include access and signage where it will not adversely impact habitat or natural systems functions.” …The Commission is very concerned about any conversion of natural areas and Greenspaces in our urban forest to more active uses which can impact the habitat and wildlife protection in these areas.

When this project was proposed to the Council, it did not appear that public dialogue had been held on how the project was consistent with our longstanding Greenspaces policies. Evidently, the Parks Department (DPR) was aware of the sensitivity of constructing a mountain bike trail in the Greenspace/Natural area because DPR in communication with the City Council refers to the trail as a “1.5 mil perimeter bike loop”.

To be clear, the legislation before the Council was the NMF grant for funding of a perimeter trail only.  Thus Council’s decision to specify that design discussion should focus on a perimeter trail was, in part, an effort to keep discussion focused on the scope of the NMF proposal before the Council.

Meanwhile it was made public by the proposal’s advocates that the long-term desire was to include interior mountain bike trails within the Greenspace, which Council was concerned may not be “low impact”.    We know, for example, that Cheasty Greenspace is an ecologically sensitive area, especially with respect to the slopes and wetlands.  Yet, without sufficient information at the time the Council acted last summer, it was Council’s belief that more study should be done, and that steps should be taken (such as focusing on a perimeter trail) to prevent potential ecological risk to the landscape.   I support that cautious approach.

When proposed actions are potentially inconsistent with longstanding city policies it is appropriate for the Council to respond to public concern.    In this case we asked the Parks Department to conduct a public process on the project, so that more information could be developed and public review could occur.

DPR is in the midst of that Council-requested public process involving a Project Advisory Team (PAT) composed of community members.  The PAT will make a recommendation to the Parks Board of Commissioners on the design of the project.  Following this, DPR is expected to make a final decision on the design consistent with Council direction, and return to the Council for approval.  These requirements are consistent with the City Council’s responsibility to comply with city policy, our responsibility for oversight of City Departments, and our stewardship of our parks and public lands.

I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Project Advisory Team, the Parks Board, and ultimately of DPR.  I expect that in-depth study will be completed on the ecological impact of the final design proposal.  And, I anticipate a more comprehensive discussion of how this project correlates to our existing policy on Greenspaces and of whether the policies should change.

The Council has requested the Parks Department to review and report back to the Council on policies relating to use guidelines for natural areas and greenspaces (such as the Cheasty Greenspace) by this summer.  That process has already begun, and I anticipate that there will be ample time to review those policy recommendations within the context of the Cheasty project.

There is a need for more places for active recreation including mountain biking.  I am confident that need can be met without damaging our Greenspaces and undermining the unique benefits they provide to our environment.

[1] Seattle City Council Resolution 27852, adopted September 12th, 1988

[2] Seattle City Council Resolution 28653, adopted February 8th, 1993