The scoping period for the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan Update has come and gone. More than 1,500 people participated by proposing their own alternative, commenting on existing alternatives or voting on comments posted on the engagement platform. We were one of those posters, having created our own “Alternative 6 for Social Communities,” centered on zoning — to ensure social housing can be fully implemented — and making Seattle a city where all have access to basic necessities within 15 minutes from their homes. Councilmember Alex Pedersen, too, had a proposal that he sent out to constituents, which he is calling the Alternative L (a low-income housing alternative).
At first glance, a councilmember like Pedersen discussing increased density to create more low-income housing seems like a huge step in the right direction (for him). However, Alternative L is nothing more than a watered-down proposal that has co-opted language from the Initiative-135 campaign, which aims to establish a public housing developer to create social housing in the city.
Line by line, this proposal can be broken down to reveal its status quo nature. Pedersen is interested in limiting residents who have low incomes to areas that already have apartment buildings and other forms of low-income housing. Under Alternative L, housing would be restricted to “existing frequent transit arterial corridors in Neighborhood Residential zones,” staying true to the majority of proposals already presented by the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD).
Beyond limiting the locations where low-income housing may be built, the vision for quantity and density of housing is also uninspired. The plan would “permit multifamily developments of up to six-unit stacked flats (per each 5,000 square foot lot),” an amount of density that certainly will not keep up with the city’s growth. Even if every lot zoned for housing in the entire city knocked down existing structures and added six-unit flats per every 5,000 square foot lot, we would have just over 1 million units, which will not account for our estimated growth of over 1 million people by 2045.
The most seemingly promising component of Alternative L is the requirement that buildings are “100% low-income housing [defined as rental units affordable to households below 50% of area median income (AMI) or homeownership units affordable at 80% of AMI].” Unfortunately, strict income limits to access housing not only hinder long-term financing of maintenance and upkeep but also force people out of their housing if their income increases. So unless Pedersen is committing to providing an annual city subsidy (in perpetuity) that will pay for the maintenance of all of these homes (that low-income rent alone won’t be able to), then he is proposing something that will never pencil out financially.
Additionally, we know that people from the lowest income brackets and those making more than the AMI are in need of more affordable options, meaning that a 50 percent AMI cap will not result in the increased affordability for all that Pedersen claims.
Using social justice language by touting displacement prevention and calling out private interests (which we know are some of his top donors) while simultaneously promoting a plan that will do the bare minimum to increase the affordable housing stock shows a lack of creativity. Pedersen is limited to using housing justice language to create a plan that won’t do nearly enough to resolve the affordability crisis.
Instead of Alternative L, OPCD needs to look at a plan that will result in transformative change, which is exactly what the Real Change Alternative 6 for Social Communities will do.
Camille Gix is the advocacy intern for the Real Change Advocacy Department.
Read more of the Oct. 12-18, 2022 issue.