As chair of the Housing, Health, Energy & Workers’ Rights committee, and an at-large member of the Seattle City Council working to make our city more affordable, I’m proud to have been one of 17 elected officials appointed to the National League of Cities (NLC) Housing Task Force — where leaders from cities across the country are working together to address our shared challenges of housing affordability, availability, funding and quality. The housing crisis isn’t an issue just affecting Seattle, it’s a crisis across our nation, and with diminishing federal dollars, local level councils and legislatures are scrambling to respond to a crisis that the private housing market will never solve.
Here’s what we found: Nearly all cities across the United States are struggling with housing affordability — varying from creating enough housing, to ensuring existing housing is in good condition, to preventing displacement as cities grow. To help address the crisis, NLC just released a state-by-state analysis of how local and state governments can make progress on housing affordability.
This analysis should inform our action now. In the halls of Olympia, state legislators are considering critical housing and land-use bills, including HB 1923 and SB 5812/HB 1797.
Local policymaking authority often enables cities to lead on progressive policies — like raising the standards on minimum wage, sick leave and workplace protections. But on housing, a patchwork approach will be insufficient to address housing affordability at the scale of the problem. We need more tools in our tool belt. At the local level, pushback in individual neighborhoods, often due to misperceptions or fear of the unknown, can be a barrier for cities to adopt necessary changes. This means it’s important for states to step in and create a new floor, baseline standards for cities to build upon.
But on housing, a patchwork approach will be insufficient to address housing affordability at the scale of the problem. We need more tools in our tool belt.
For example, California recently passed a law that mandates local action to increase density near transit centers. In Utah, legislators are considering legislation that ties housing with transportation, ensuring local planners increase housing availability in high-growth areas. The legislation provides a range of 22 options to allow flexibility for cities to comply.
Here in Washington, HB 1923 provides a flexible menu of options — similar to Utah’s legislation — for cities to create local policies allowing for greater housing availability and affordability.
Another bill, SB 5812/HB 1797, would create a baseline for some cities to ease local restrictions on backyard cottages and in-law units. This type of gentle infill density is exactly what our state needs.
Unfortunately, these bills face reactionary resistance. In a recent erroneous editorial, the Seattle Times Editorial Board once again incited resistance to progressive housing policies.
But far from removing local planning authority, as the editorial inaccurately claims, these bills create realistic, permissive baseline standards for local action for cities grappling with historic wrongs rooted in racist redlining policies and continued exclusionary practices. In spite of the housing crisis’ devastating impacts, and broad support for state action, the Times Editorial Board argues for state legislators to sit on their hands.
Local backlash can stifle progress on efforts to increase the availability of housing. For example, look to the years-long delays on Seattle’s ADU/DADU (in-law units and backyard cottages) legislation and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA). The legal delay on MHA implementation alone is estimated to have cost Seattle $87.8 million worth of affordable housing, or 717 units. In that lost time, we’ve lost lives as people have been pushed into homelessness, and we’ve lost neighbors as people have been pushed out of the city.
In that lost time, we’ve lost lives as people have been pushed into homelessness, and we’ve lost neighbors as people have been pushed out of the city.
We desperately need state legislatures to step in to help cities take action. HB 1923 and SB 5812/HB 1797 are smart bipartisan policies with broad support from environmental and housing advocates, labor and local leaders. They set minimum statewide standards that cities can build upon.
The issue of “local control” versus state preemption is nuanced and shouldn’t serve as a justification for the state to stay silent on one of our most critical economic and social crises: lack of affordable housing.
Because the housing affordability crisis spans the boundaries of any given city, we need broader solutions that any individual city can achieve — and we need each city to do its part. Leadership means knowing that in partnership we have strength. Now is the time for that partnership to help address the most pressing crisis facing our residents in Seattle: We don’t have the housing to meet our city’s demand.
As we work to advance progressive local housing and land-use policies in Seattle, I’ll keep working collaboratively with state, regional and local partners to make sure we are doing everything we can to address housing affordability for all of our neighbors. We can’t lose another minute, another life or another neighbor.
Teresa Mosqueda is a Seattle City Council Member and chair of the council’s Housing, Health, Energy and Workers’ Rights Committee.
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