Commentary: Last chance for CID community to voice input that could alter Seattle housing market

Nicholas Nolin August 7, 2017 0

Historic Chinatown Gate • Photo credit: ZhengZhou/Wikipedia Commons

Time is winding down to comment on the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The period for receiving feedback from the public has been extended until Monday, August 7.

After the feedback has been collected and reviewed, the final proposal will be determined by fall 2017. There probably won’t be another opportunity for public input until next summer, when City Council will vote on the proposal.

The EIS has the potential to drastically alter the Seattle housing market and play a pivotal role in determining how the City reaches its goal of creating 50,000 housing units over the next ten years. However, it is worth noting that certain communities won’t be directly affected. Seattle’s Downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown and the University District are subject to separate MHA plans.

While the Chinatown-International District (CID) is not included under the purview of the EIS, members of the community can still provide feedback. According to Councilmember Lisa Herbold, “The Chinatown-International District community should absolutely comment on the Citywide EIS if they are … [concerned] about the displacement impacts of development.” Seattleites have the ability to put forward “an unequivocal refutation of the statement that ‘increasing development capacity and encouraging market rate development in high displacement neighborhoods is in itself an anti-displacement strategy,’” Herbold said.

The EIS can be read in its entirety here. The document essentially lays out the three strategies the City is considering to increase the amount of available housing.

The three alternatives include a plan of no action, and two differing action plans. While the three options have some things in common, there are also significant differences.

Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle

Alternative 1, the “No Action” plan, would basically be a continuation of the status quo. According to the EIS, the existing zoning laws would be used to guide “redevelopment, demolition and new construction projects.” This alternative fails to adopt new zoning legislation, and would also prevent the expansion of urban village boundaries. The expected outcome when it comes to total household growth over the next twenty years would be approximately 45,000 new units within the designated study area, and 76,000 throughout the entire city. The number of income-restricted affordable housing units within the study area over this time would number just over 200.

Alternative 2 would result in new zonings laws and expand the boundaries of urban villages. Its key figures include the creation of nearly 63,000 new homes in the study area over the next two decades, with a total of 95,000 units throughout the city and 5,700 income-restricted affordable housing units.

Alternative 3 would also see the adoption of new zonings laws and larger urban villages. Its numbers more closely resemble those of Alternative 2 by producing 62,900 new units in the study area with 95,000 total homes city wide along with 5,600 income-restricted affordable housing units.

Although Alternatives 2 and 3 result in nearly identical numbers, the main difference between them is the extent to which they concentrate growth in areas vulnerable to displacement risk. In other words, whereas Alternative 2 seeks to create housing stock in a more uniform manner regardless of a community’s socioeconomic standing, Alternative 3 takes socioeconomics into consideration.

Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle

Under Alternative 3, communities considered to have a higher risk of displacement (Rainier Beach, Othello, Columbia City and the Central District, among others) would see less intense growth. However, while both action alternatives would see the bulk of income-restricted affordable unit growth occur in areas with high access opportunity (more or less a proxy for a community’s overall desirability), Alternative 2 would create nearly 700 more affordable housing units in areas at high risk of displacement.

For those concerned about the development of affordable housing throughout Seattle, it is important to note that compared to Alternative 1, alternatives 2 and 3 are expected to produce 28 times the amount of rent and income-restricted units.

To get a more complete understanding of the three alternatives and their potential impacts on the Seattle housing market, read the draft EIS for yourself.

While everyone’s preferred course of action depends on their own set of values, one inescapable truth that confronts us all: in order to have your values reflected in the final proposal, your voice needs to be heard by City Council first.

Information on the EIS can be found at https://www.seattle.gov/hala/about/mandatory-housing-affordability-(mha)/mha-citywide-eis

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