This is a statement on Mandatory Housing Affordability by the group Livable U-District, delivered to the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning committee of the City Council:
Dear Chair Johnson and Members of the PLUZ Committee,
The Livable U District Coalition Opposes Adoption of the HALA Framework.
Instead, Suspend Action on this and related upzone legislation, and Address First Things First.
Livable U District (LUD) is a true grass roots ad hoc coalition of University District renters, homeowners, small businesses, organizations and their supporters committed to preserving both the livability and affordability of Seattle’s University District. Over dozens of individuals and organizations have thus far endorsed LUD’s position statement found at livableudistrict.com and attached here.
The “L” in the acronym HALA stands for the term Livability; but measures to protect and enhance livability are lacking in the HALA Framework that is now before the Council. A key problem with the legislation is that it presupposes massive upzoning for the entirety of Seattle, with the University District upzone being specifically mentioned as among the first.
But serious livability problems exist in the U District now that will not be solved by the HALA Framework and its upzones. These include unmanageable traffic congestion, a lack of open space, loss of tree canopy, loss of existing affordable housing and historic buildings, public safety issues, insufficient parking for residents and businesses and a growing homeless population lacking services and shelter. Rezoning before addressing these first will merely layer greater density over existing problems, making them harder to solve.
We call upon the Mayor and City Council to suspend plans for adopting the HALA Framework and its upzones, and instead, as a first priority, develop and adopt legislation requiring impact fees to ensure that developers pay their fair share of the costs of growth. Even considering funding from the recent voter-approved transportation levy, there is a citywide backlog of road street, bridge, and sidewalk needs far in excess of the levied amount, due in large part to Seattle’s failure to require developers to help share these costs and pay impact fees.
Additional “first things first” measures to address urgent livability issues – such as conducting an inventory of existing affordable housing and requiring developers to replace one-for-one any existing low cost housing they remove – are outlined in Livable U District’s Position Paper and on its web site.
Furthermore, the city needs to require a risk analysis for all proposed low income redevelopment and provide mitigation for those being removed.
Current Affordability & Livability
For many decades the U District has been an affordable area not only for students and UW staff, but also for long time residents, seniors and others. Low rents for many small businesses also provide a diversity of inexpensive ways for residents, students, and workers to eat, drink, socialize and shop.
Drastic U District Changes & Its Impacts
The UW plans, in cooperation with developers and City of Seattle staff, to upzone (allow larger buildings) in the District. It will allow building heights up to 320’ and create a high-tech Innovation District that will bring in multiple, expensive high-rise office towers in the heart of the District’s current residential neighborhood.
This will destroy current U District benefits and create the following problems:
- Directly eliminate about 500 low-income units.
- Increase land values that will eliminate the affordability of another 1,000 units and increase property taxes.
- Force the current small businesses out of their storefronts because of increased rents from higher land values.
- Increase traffic, while reducing the amount of parking.
- Change the neighborhood from a community of residents and small shops to an expansion of the UW campus and UW and corporate office buildings.
- Will strain already over-stressed public services & infrastructure.
First Things First
The upzones will significantly increase problems that already exist in the U District, such as unmanageable traffic congestion, a lack of parking, lack of open space, loss of tree canopy, and loss of existing affordable housing and historic buildings. Under existing zoning, including planned and permitted structures, the U District exceeds 150% of its City-assigned growth target for 2024. Necessary infrastructure is not keeping pace. Seattle should address the current problems and put First Things First.
While it may not appear so, Seattle is already quite densely populated. For cities over 200,000, Seattle is the fifth densest city west of the Mississippi and will soon overtake Los Angeles as the fourth densest.
The U District’s population already exceeds its 2024 growth targets, which, according to past Comprehensive Plans, means the District should halt development until necessary infrastructure can be built to keep up.
The City’s target growth in the U District is 2,000 people through 2024. With current planned and permitted units exceeding 3,100, developers of those units provide parking for less than half that number. This 1,600 fewer parking spaces than units is more than the street parking in the entire U District core. This only increases both community traffic congestion and individual parking aggravation.
The HALA Framework document represents more of a Grand Sell-out rather than a Grand Bargain for Seattle’s neighborhoods like the University District. We are being asked to sacrifice more of the physical and social character of our communities for upzones that will not pay for or provide infrastructure and amenities to make our communities livable.
The HALA Framework should not be adopted alone. It must be considered as part of a package that contemporaneously addresses parks, social services, transportation, public services, zoning and other elements of a comprehensive plan.
The Livable U District Coalition urges the Council to Suspend Action on the HALA Framework and Upzones, and Tackle First Things First.
— Nancy Bocek, Livable U District Coalition