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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: affordable housing

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January 7, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Affordable housing in Seattle just as important as minimum wage

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray chose to make a $15 minimum wage for city employees the topic of his first official press conference last Friday, but he also reiterated that increasing wages alone won’t fix the city’s affordability problem.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray conducts his first press conference. His main topic was implementing a $15/hour minimum pay for all City of Seattle employees. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray conducts his first press conference. His main topic was implementing a $15/hour minimum pay for all City of Seattle employees. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times)

Murray said education and housing are two other issues that must be dealt with if Seattle is to remain a place where people from diverse backgrounds and income levels can work and live.

He’s right. For now, let’s single out the housing part.

In case you missed it, The Seattle Times editorial pages featured a special section on affordable housing last month. Read those op-eds here. In November, our board called on city leaders to develop a coherent strategy to fix the housing shortage.

Since then, Seattle Times reporter Sanjay Bhatt reports rent increases may be stabilizing, but not by much. And most of the housing stock that’s available is out of reach for low and middle-wage workers. Remember, affordable housing generally means the cost of utilities and shelter should not exceed 30 percent of household income.

Here’s a link to the city’s wait list for subsidized housing, which is perennially long and can last years. Many lower-middle class workers don’t quality for assistance. Thousands more remain homeless, including hundreds of families with children.

If we know the city of Seattle needs more shelter and housing, how do we pay for it? New and existing developments rely heavily on federal funds, the Seattle Housing Levy (which is up for renewal in 2016) and the state’s Housing Trust Fund. The new mayor and City Council’s challenge is to develop policies that will stretch those limited dollars further.

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0 Comments | Topics: affordable housing, minimum wage, Seattle

October 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Affordable housing’s NIMBY problem in Seattle

Someone told me Seattleites like to say they’re fine with density — until you ask where that density should be.

I get it. I really do.

A few weeks ago, a new micro-apartment building opened up across the street from where I live in Capitol Hill. During construction, I resented the prospect of sharing limited street parking with a few dozen new dwellers. Eventually I awakened to my own sense of NIMBYism: I chose to live in a high-density neighborhood. I want jobs and people to stay in Seattle. I like living in an economically diverse community.

Parking can still be a nightmare, but it hasn’t gotten any worse since move-in day. With so many transportation options, some of those residents must be forgoing car ownership.

Some of our friends in the other hot Seattle neighborhood, Ballard, seem to be having a much harder time adjusting to high-density change. According to this Ballard News-Tribune story, many are upset and organizing an effort to stop the development of a 43-unit micro-apartment development on the 1700 block of NW 58th Street. Opponents created a web site, stop1715.0rg, complete with photos and warnings of sewage, parking and other problems.

The web site rips the developer’s decision to tear down the original house and makes the new project appear like an urban monstrosity. On Monday, I went out to see the site for myself.

The site of a micro-apartment development on the 1700 block of NW 58th Street in Ballard. (Photo by Thanh Tan)

The site of a micro-apartment development on the 1700 block of NW 58th Street in Ballard. (Photo by Thanh Tan)

Extensive work on the foundation has already begun. There’s no stopping the project. Also, it turns out the area is zoned for multi-family developments, and there are already apartments and townhouses surrounding the site on all sides.  I looked around for some neighbors opposed to the new building. One lady took a quick break from repainting the fence outside her town-home to frown and say,”That’s just a lot of units.”

Here’s another way I interpreted her comment: Who’s going to live there? Do I want to be neighbors with those people?

Seattle is home to more than 100 neighborhoods. Compared to other major cities, we also have way more single-family zones. I can understand why longtime residents are resistant to change, but if we hang on to the status quo — fighting affordable housing in a market that’s not building enough units to fill the  demand — housing costs will continue to rise and people will leave the city or become homeless. (This Atlantic Cities story points out Seattle’s homeless numbers are on the rise. Last January, the annual One Night Count estimated nearly 2,000 men, women, and children were without shelter.)

Developers, city permitting officials and neighborhoods can definitely do a better job of communicating with each other and finding some common ground on the design of micro-apartments.

Let’s have that city-wide discussion about density, too — just don’t expect any one neighborhood to be immune to change.

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0 Comments | Topics: affordable housing, Seattle

September 26, 2013 at 7:07 AM

Three ideas to solve Seattle’s affordable housing shortage

Seattle’s rental market absolutely should not go the way of New York City and San Francisco prices.

In Tuesday’s Seattle Times, reporter Sanjay Bhatt wrote a news story revealing landlords plan to increase rent by about 3 percent between September and March, on top of an estimated 7.5 percent increase over the last 12 months. Part of the problem is people in the millennial generation (born between the early 1980s and 1990s) are moving from bigger cities to Seattle. They’re accustomed to paying much more, and landlords know it. According to Bhatt’s news story:

In New York, renters in that age group spend roughly 70 percent of their income on housing, reports JLL, which compared millennial income data from PayScale.com to its own data on rents. In San Francisco, it’s about half their income.

In Seattle, rent consumes about 30 percent of millennials’ income.

Courtesy Sightline Institute

Courtesy Sightline Institute

There’s nothing wrong with people moving to Seattle. Quality of life here is great. If rent continues to eat up a greater portion of paychecks, though, the working poor and young adults will soon be priced out of the city’s urban core. Allowing that to happen will make Seattle less diverse and exacerbate traffic problems by forcing more people to live farther out and drive to work. Also, the more people spend on housing, they less they save or spend on food and the local economy.

In a Sept. 3 editorial, our editorial board encouraged the mayor and city leaders to pursue policy changes to increase affordable housing options.

I’m also intrigued by Sightline Institute Founder Alan Durning‘s e-book released last July, “Unlocking Home: Three Keys to Affordable Communities.” Durning, a Ballard resident and expert in sustainable living, studied the history of affordable housing throughout the northwest. In the 50-page book, he identifies three “less controversial” and politically feasible reforms that have worked. He says the city could make some simple changes in code to create thousands of additional units in existing neighborhoods. The three keys are:

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0 Comments | Topics: affordable housing, nick licata, sally bagshaw

July 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: How should Seattle deal with affordable housing shortage?

The good news is Seattle-based companies are hiring. The bad news is not everyone is getting paid Amazon.com, Boeing or Microsoft-level wages. As more people move into the city, moderate to low-income renters face skyrocketing prices. (Here’s a must-read July 1 news story by Seattle Times reporter Colin Campbell.)  We’re already seeing a rise in suburban poverty throughout parts of King County. It’s yet another sign that people may work in the urban core, but they can’t afford to live here. Or perhaps they are in situations similar to people in other cities who are inclined to save money by living in cramped quarters with many roommates.

Exterior of the Apodment apartment building in the University District. (STEVE RINGMAN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Exterior of the Apodment apartment building in the University District. (STEVE RINGMAN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Quality of life is at stake. I really believe employees from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds should be able to live comfortably close to work, schools and central Seattle amenities like parks, restaurants and shopping. This isn’t just about convenience. The further people have to travel for their job, the more money they will have to set aside for transportation and the less they will have to spend on other goods and services essential to the local economy.

Here’s a link to our Friday editorial that urges city council and mayoral candidates to give this issue urgent attention. Now is the time for us to think big and start talking about how to increase affordable housing options.

What do you think the city should do? Vote in the poll below, or add your own answers. Then go to this link at noon Friday for our mayoral live chat. Affordable housing is likely to be one of the big issues we discuss.

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0 Comments | Topics: affordable housing, mayoral race, Seattle