Stakeholders discuss affordable housing policy

Seattle houses
Housing stakeholders at the 2018 Built Green Conference shared the up and coming policies to address Seattle’s housing challenges. Photo: Joe Mabel

Green-building advocates and representatives from the housing sector and local government spoke this week at the 2018 Built Green Conference event on hot housing topics including sustainability, building innovations and affordable housing.

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

Key solutions include encouraging a better relationship between public and private developers, more local resources for creating inventory and better policies that promote affordable housing efforts and density.

The conference’s “Development and Displacement: A Discussion on Equitable Social Impacts” panel discussed what is being done to address the region’s housing crisis, as well as what policies best pave the way for more affordable housing options.

Marty Kooistra, Executive Director of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County, said the region would need 156,000 affordable housing units to accomplish the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force’s objective to house people who are currently homeless or cost-burdened. Looking ahead to 2040, the region would need 244,000 affordable units to meet the need.

“Whatever we are doing we are woefully short,” Kooistra said.

The county has several challenges to its housing goals: the region is topographically defined, has extremely high land costs and runs a transit system that is 50 years behind what it should be, he added.

One obstacle is the lack of resources available to correct the issue of affordable housing. The City of Seattle has $270 million worth of application requests going into the office of housing with only $40 million to address those, according to Kooistra.

“We need more resources, and we need people in the public to understand that there are good things happening, we just need to figure out how to do it on a scale much different than we are right now,” he said.

Another challenge to overcome is the inability for the public and private sectors to come together on issues such as density.

“We are very good in this region at saying that we innovate and work together, but really the public, private and nonprofit sectors do not dance very well. We have created a very serious dichotomy between private developers and nonprofit developers,” Kooistra said.

In his opinion, the nonprofit advocate community vilifies the private development community, labeling it as the “evil empire,” he continued. On the other side, the private sector tends to look down at accomplishments made by the nonprofit side. Real change will not happen until both sides learn to work better together to reach a common goal, he said.

“We have still not embraced…what it means to live with density and to do density right,” he said.

“We have factions of communities, we have factions of organizations who still believe we can push the urban growth boundaries out as a strategy, and as long as we continue to fight on these issues…I think we will continue to wrestle with how to get through the crisis that we have.”

Michael Maddux, Legislative Assistant and Lead Policy Adviser to Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, spoke to the efforts being made at the state and local levels to improve the affordable housing crisis.

State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1) is looking at creating a minimum density bill for transit areas, and Maddux said he looks forward to reading through that language. Earlier this year, the Legislature also passed HB 2382 which allowed utility properties to be sold below fair market value as long as they would go toward affordable housing, but also could go towards other community assets such as mixed-use housing.

Maddux said the bill  gave the city the motivation to investigate how to handle its surplus land inventory. It’s original policies were  adopted in 1998, but they lacked clear direction on what to do with those properties except to sell to the highest bidder.

In 2017, then-Mayor Tim Burgess proposed zoning changes which would require developers to build more affordable housing or pay fees which would be used to create homes for low-income residents in other locations.

This week, the Seattle City Council built on the progress and put forth a resolution which would direct city officials to determine if excess properties could be used for affordable housing or other public uses before making it available to sell. However, the city recognizes the fear that this could only mean these properties would go to affordable housing, added Maddux.

“It essentially says we are going to prioritize housing,” he said, and any excess properties will go into the affordable housing inventory

If those properties are being used toward that end goal, then the city will work with community groups to make sure that local residents’ opinions are heard “to ensure we are getting all the community amenities that are necessary for that community to ensure we are creating thriving communities, not just buildings,” he added.

 

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