The city of Seattle is at a turning point. It is growing quickly, bringing in thousands of new people to work tech jobs and the occupations that support them. Rents are shooting up, as are home prices, pushing people without means to further flung areas or into homelessness.
City officials have been working on a solution for the past four years. The legislation is called Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), and it is essentially a trade. In exchange for the ability to create taller buildings, developers must either include affordable housing units or pay a fee. Over the next decade, officials say, MHA would provide 6,000 new rent-restricted units for low-income people.
The proposed changes impact Seattle’s urban villages, which are located in neighborhoods throughout the city. Only 6 percent of land currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes would be impacted. But the plan faces stiff opposition from people who argue that these denser buildings will ruin neighborhoods, create traffic and speed up gentrification.
On Feb. 21, the city council held a 270-minute meeting to gather input from people before their final vote on the potential changes. We counted at least 114 people who spoke that night, neatly split between proponents and opponents of the legislation.
The debate is a familiar one at Seattle City Hall. The public comment period yielded few new arguments. Still, there were some shockers and clangers from opponents of the legislation:
Frank Fay compared MHA to redlining, a government practice that forced Black households into specific sections of the city:
“The purpose of the City Council is not to serve developer profits, and therefore the City Council should reject the new redlining of MHA.”
Kate Martin, candidate for City Council:
“I ain’t no HALA crack girl.”
Richard Ellison, wearing a light green “Save the Trees” t-shirt:
“This is just an excuse, this is an urban village exceptional-tree sacrifice zone bill.”
Gregory Flood compared the recent loss of neighborhood councils to the inquisition, a 1478 crackdown on religious dissent that killed at least 30,000 people:
“I was sickened when Mayor Murray and the Council disbanded the community councils … but I guess no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
Mark Holland thought this was funny:
“Density Bolsheviks are coming to town,
And they’re going to burn your single-family house to the ground.
They’ll plop a huge ass building in its place,
Where you’re only going to get 65 square feet of space.
Density Bolsheviks don’t care what you think,
They’ll chop down the trees, man, they’ll drive you to drink.
Density Bolsheviks won’t leave you alone,
Until you’re living in a box and chewing a bone.
Density Bolsheviks are pie in the sky,
Their dreams are too small and their buildings too high.
Density Bolsheviks, please comprende,
People like to live in houses and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”
Supporters of the legislation said they believed increased density, combined with affordability rules for developers, would create more welcoming neighborhoods for people who have been priced out of Seattle:
Patience Malaba, Housing Development Consortium advocate:
“Wages have not kept up with the housing costs, working families are struggling. Lower income households have felt the impact more greatly. We are inviting you as you consider the final legislation to make it strong and bold for us to meet the affordable housing goals.”
Randy Reidl of West Seattle, one of the saving graces of the evening:
“I’ve been there 65 years and the idea of 30 to 40 people replacing my wife and I sort of delights me… We’ve got to react to the hundreds of thousands of people who are moving here, which I kind of like.
A lot of them I’ve met and they’re fun to talk to if you can get their phones away from them. I find that just grabbing it and putting it in my pocket helps.”
Read the full Feb. 27 - March 5 issue.
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