The Phinney Ridge Community Council hosted a panel discussion of HALA (the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) on Tuesday, May 3. Three members of the HALA Advisory Committee were there; each gave a 10-minute presentation. Here are thumbnail descriptions (paraphrased) of what we took away from the meeting:
Cindi Barker – Neighborhood activist in West Seattle: Cindi said she was asked to be on the HALA Committee on the day the rest of the names were announced. She felt like having the neighborhoods at the table was a late thought by the City, although they had asked one other person who turned them down. The process was, she said, utterly dominated by people in the business of building housing, both for-profit and non-profit. She watched as the percentage of affordable housing required under “Mandatory Housing Affordability” decreased from 12-15% in early meetings to the current proposal of 5-7%. She has asked the City for an explanation of how those numbers were arrived at, and is awaiting a reply. Her advice to the public is: “Show up now;” that is, become involved by whatever means are available, including attending HALA focus groups (which you may do even if you are not a member of the focus group).
Alan Durning – Executive Director, Sightline Institute: Alan emphasized that the shortage of affordable housing is urgent. The City has struggled with this issue for years, he said, and HALA is the best chance to address it. He said Seattle should live up to its values of being an equitable, inclusive city. He spoke of how, some 19 years ago, he was able to buy a house in Ballard and start a small non-profit, which has now grown into the Sightline Institute with 16 staff members. Those staff people, he said, cannot afford to rent or buy in Seattle. Nor can “Rhianna,” the young woman who takes care of his yard, who would, he said, be happy for the opportunity to rent a 300-square-foot apartment on Phinney Ridge for $800-$1,000 per month.
Jon Grant – former Executive Director, Seattle Tenants Union: Jon wanted us to understand very clearly that the 20,000 units of new affordable housing promised by the “Mandatory Housing Affordability” program are an illusion. In fact, he said, we will lose more affordable units than we will gain, resulting in increased displacement of low-income and working people. The supposed gain of 20,000 units is incorrect because the count includes only units which are already part of the subsidized housing system. The City does not track private-market affordable housing units, which are in older, privately-owned buildings. The HALA upzones will raise the value of the land on which those older buildings sit, causing them to be demolished and replaced with new construction. Only 5-7% of that new construction will be “affordable,” and the result will be a net loss of affordable housing.
Congratulations to the Phinney Ridge Community Council for providing this valuable forum, and for running a tight meeting where everyone could be heard!