Seattle mayoral and city council candidates discuss Seattle housing

As Seattle continues to expand in the face of limited housing supply, candidates for city government discuss ways to continue growing while also considering community and environmental needs. Photo: Nick Bramhall

Two Seattle mayoral candidates and one city council candidate shared their perspectives this week on hot housing topics in the expanding city, including affordable housing, clean energy and density issues.

The contenders took part in a panel that discussed ways to make the region “inclusive, resilient and vibrant” as part of Built Green’s 2017 Conference on September 14. The annual event brings construction sector stakeholders together to learn about current best practices and technology for environmentally friendly building.

This year’s conference was sponsored by GreenTools, a King County program which assists builders, residents, businesses and local governments transition into sustainable green housing.

Among the key solutions discussed were encouraging movement into the urban center of Seattle, pushing for higher-capacity living spaces and transitioning to electric alternatives for public transportation.

Seattle mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan was clear that “We need to expand our permitting abilities.”

“Instead of having one foot in front of the other where you go to (the state Department of Transportation) and then you go to utilities and the permitting process is a gauntlet, we have to simplify and break down the silos between the city agencies…for those projects we are trying to incentivize: affordable housing, green, low-income housing.”

For mayoral candidate Cary Moon, she prioritizes the use of new construction materials such as cross-laminated timber, making use of surplus land and matching non-profit partners to help empower disadvantaged residents to “take ownership” of their construction goals if they lack expertise.

“We have hundreds of parcels of public land not being used. Let’s make that available for low-income housing,” she said.

Another popular objective is increasing housing density within Seattle, especially near public transportation centers, to help cut back on commuter traffic and gas emissions.

Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council Position 8 candidate, wants to steer the city away from single-occupancy homes and focus more on larger-capacity homes.

“I think we need to do a lot more to incentivize two-and three-bedroom creations for below-market-rate housing so that we can actually see folks live with their families,” she said. “We have multi-generational families living in our city, and that’s how we create density.”

Mosqueda said she lives in Queen Anne – where a company recently purchased a two-bedroom home next door to her eight-unit apartment building and turned it into a four-and-a-half story, single-family home. The home is larger than her apartment complex and currently houses two adults and one child. The construction project should have instead been used to add living space for the community, she said.

“I think if there was a way to incentivize folks that if they want to be in those areas that once upon a time allowed apartments like mine, we’ve got to figure out a way to go back and create more housing, because I look at that building every day and I think it could have been turned into at least 10 apartments.”

With increased density and new jobs coming to Seattle, the candidates said the need for increased awareness of gas emissions and the city’s environmental footprint also should be considered. On the horizon are autonomous and electric cars, but without the proper planning, Seattle will be unable to make the transition.

“The largest source of emissions are our cars,” said Durkan. “We should focus on getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles, and also having a look at electrification.”

She added the city should electrify its police fleet and its busses, and work with taxi and rideshare companies to move toward electric, which would involve adding more charging stations across Seattle.

“We also need to focus on building more housing in Seattle and getting denser everywhere so people can walk, ride bikes, and live somewhere where they can go by foot,” Durkan added.

With such rapid growth in Seattle, many people are getting pushed out of the city while trying to work multiple jobs, driving between shifts while also taking care of children, Mosqueda said.

“If we create enough affordable housing throughout the city that is built safe-energy… we can reduce carbon emissions and make more people walk instead of drive,” said Mosqueda.

Also important is electrifying Seattle’s transit grid, she added. “Then, I think we can finally see some changes in terms of the emissions.”

“This is where Seattle should be leading the country: in getting to a 100-percent renewable, clean energy economy,” said Moon, adding that one major solution she sees is a push for affordable compact growth to help combat the increased traffic for those getting pushed out of the city. Also, breaking down the silos in transportation funding and determining how to add transit services to the state’s large transportation budget.

For Mosqueda, community and stakeholder engagement is one way to ensure positive housing change over the coming years.

“I’m very interested in bringing folks together to rapidly address these issues…There are lessons to be learned when we bring together developers, community activists, people who will actually live there… I think then we can create the opportunity for folks to live and work in the place they call home.”

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