Proposed Changes to Single Family Zones

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There has been a lot of discussion and disagreement about some of the recommendations that came out of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee (HALA), specifically around the recommendations regarding the future of our single family zones. It appears that even among some members of the HALA committee there are different interpretations about the single family zone recommendations. Regardless of the intent of the members of HALA, the recommendations are now before the City Council, and we will be making decisions on which recommendations we will be moving forward and in what form and on what timeline.

I am writing today with my position on the recommendations and the role that single family zoned land should play in addressing affordability.

  • On Backyard Cottages: The HALA report suggests expanding opportunities for backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in our single family neighborhoods. I support this recommendation. These housing types are already allowed in all single family zones in Seattle and often provide more affordable opportunities for people to live in our great neighborhoods without dramatically changing the physical scale of the neighborhood. Last fall the council passed Resolution 31547 asking DPD and HALA to explore ways the encourage more of these housing types in our single family neighborhoods.
  • On Rezoning Single Family lots to Multi-Family: The report also suggests rezoning a small portion of single family property within our urban villages and along arterials with frequent transit to multi-family or mixed-use zoning (see this map of proposed changes). This would amount to a change to only 6% of all of the land currently zoned for single family use. Along with Downtown and South Lake Union, our urban villages throughout the city are where we have chosen to direct the vast majority of our growth in Seattle. Most land in our urban villages is already zoned commercial or multi-family (see this map for detail), and I believe that in order to provide additional zoning capacity for multi-family uses, it makes the most sense to first look to our urban villages.

The idea of rezoning single family properties along arterials with access to frequent transit is intriguing and requires further exploration and study. I can envision areas where this would make sense and areas where it would not. I believe this portion of the recommendation should be examined on a case by case basis with particular focus on ensuring that areas where we decide to allow multi-family housing are well served by transit and other amenities that residents would need.

  • On other changes to Single Family Zones: Many people are concerned that the HALA recommendations call for rezoning all single family zoning to multi-family zoning. I do not support zoning changes that would lead to rapid redevelopment of our single family zones and the replacement of existing single family housing with newly constructed multi-family housing. I don’t believe this will help with affordability. However, if there are creative ways to allow families to convert existing housing in single family zones to allow families to share a house, beyond the mother-in-law apartment model we already have, I am open to exploring that. On properties where redevelopment makes more sense for structural reasons or out of necessity, I would like to see the new buildings take the same size and scale of buildings already allowed in the neighborhood, even if it means more people live in those buildings.

A critical factor for me in evaluating policies in these areas will be supporting policies that maintain existing structures in single family zones and opposing policies that encourage replacement of existing housing stock within the single family zone.

I want to also share a bit about process going forward. None of these changes will happen without significant City Council deliberation and public input. This fall, the Council plans to craft and pass a resolution that would identify which of the recommendations from HALA we plan to prioritize in our upcoming work, what committees that work will go through, and what the anticipated timeline for that work is. We may also use the resolution as an opportunity to clarify the Council’s interpretation of any HALA recommendations that are causing confusion. This resolution itself will go through its own public process which will include at least three special committee meetings and a public hearing between now and the end of September. Our first meeting of the Select Committee on Housing Affordability will be this coming Monday, July 20, where we will receive a briefing on the whole HALA package of recommendations. You can sign up here to receive the agendas for these meetings via email.

With the exception of the ordinance to create the Commercial Linkage Fee for Affordable Housing, which I intend to pass in 2015, all other ordinances will happen in 2016 or later.

I will soon have another post describing the historic agreement we reached in the HALA negotiations that will sets a progressive new paradigm for development in Seattle—soon all new buildings in the city will include or contribute to affordable housing.

Thanks and let me know if you have any additional questions, comments or concerns.