Political heavy hitters criticize Mayor Harrell’s housing plan

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The letter concerning the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update was spearheaded by the Complete Communities Coalition, which includes the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity’s Seattle-area chapter, the Housing Development Consortium, NAIOP and House Our Neighbors, among others. The latter three groups represent affordable-housing developers, commercial real estate interests and social housing, respectively.

The Coalition’s letter, sent Monday, garnered signatures from nearly four dozen organizations and businesses representing real estate, hotels, restaurants, climate, urbanism, architecture, homelessness, disability rights, grassroots community advocacy and more. Click here to read the letter and see the full list of signatories.

Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan dictates what kind of housing and how much of it can be built in each neighborhood. Once adopted, it will guide how Seattle grows for the next 20-plus years.

The city released a draft of the plan in March, which largely builds off of the Seattle’s existing “urban village” strategy of concentrating apartment construction in the urban core as well as in the commercial cores of outer neighborhoods, while leaving most of Seattle’s residential space for low-density, mostly single-family housing.

The plan was met immediately with criticism from local housing advocates that it wouldn’t allow for enough new housing construction. State Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, flagged that Seattle’s proposal might not even comply with a new state law legalizing four-to-six unit buildings in all residential zones.

The Complete Communities Coalition builds off those arguments in its call for Harrell to do more. On its website, the Coalition points out that the draft Comprehensive Plan was written to accommodate an average annual construction rate of 5,000 homes, less than the 6,800-12,500 homes Seattle has built each year since 2015. They argue that 5,000 homes a year are insufficient to keep up with the city’s growth.

The group states: “Simply put, the current Draft Plan is a plan to make Seattle more expensive. This will most impact renters, low-income people, and people of color, as we face rising rents and displacement pressures. This is a step back in our efforts to meet the growing demand for housing.”

In its letter to the mayor, the Coalition outlines five changes it wants to see to allow more and larger housing.

First, they want the plan to allow larger fourplexes and sixplexes to facilitate construction of three- and four-bedroom homes that can accommodate families, which the current proposal mostly would not allow.

Second, they want the plan to allow midrise construction and mixed-use apartment/commercial buildings within a five-minute walk of bus lines, instead of just along arterial streets near frequent transit, as currently proposed.  

Third, the Coalition has asked the mayor to expand the boundaries of the plan’s “Neighborhood Centers” from an 800-foot radius to a quarter-mile. Neighborhood Centers are a new designation in the plan: smaller-scale mixed-use zones with four- to six-story apartment and condo buildings with ground-floor shops, grocery stores and restaurants. The plan proposes 24 Centers.

Fourth, the letter calls for the plan to include more density bonuses and other incentives to encourage developers to build more income-restricted affordable-housing units that don’t rely on public subsidy. The policy idea in the Coalition’s letter is similar to a recent bill from Councilmember Tammy Morales to create a community development pilot project. The full Council rejected the legislation 7-2.

Finally, the Coalition calls on the city to allow 12-18-story buildings in all of the “Regional Centers” designations, including Capitol Hill, the U District, Northgate and Ballard.

The Chamber points to its own recent polling data showing Seattleites support affordable-housing construction. In its April poll of Seattle registered voters, 69% of respondents said they thought building more affordable housing would improve quality of life, and the same percentage said they supported the building of a wider variety of housing types in their neighborhood.

“We need more housing – that’s why the Seattle Metro Chamber has spent years working in coalition advocating for policy changes including more middle housing, increased access to homeownership for people of color, and pushing for aggressive city comprehensive plans,” said Seattle Metro Chamber President Rachel Smith in a press release announcing the Coalition letter.

Asked for a response, a mayoral spokesperson told Cascade PBS their office is still reviewing the letter, but has been in conversation with many of the signatories about the plan over the past few weeks.

They continued, “We believe the draft One Seattle Plan, with more middle housing options in urban residential neighborhoods and continued focus on climate-friendly growth near premium transit investments and amenities, achieves the goal of housing abundance and diversity.”

The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is still drafting more detailed plans for each of the seven Regional Centers. The spokesperson said Harrell has asked OPCD to look for ways to increase density as part of that process. Finally, the spokesperson emphasized that the Comprehensive Plan is not yet finalized and that they are still accepting public comment through May 20.