Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

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While our City continues to boom, attracting new jobs, development, and infrastructure, we know that not all members of our community benefit equally.  In fact, the increased pressures of our booming economy exacerbates our current housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and disproportionally harms low-income communities and communities of color. But I remain hopeful about our ability to grow and prosper without displacing the people, communities, and cultural anchors that make our city and neighborhoods great.

I have been reflecting on what it means for Seattle to grow and become a more equitable city as the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is being discussed across committees.  The Comprehensive Plan guides the city’s policy decisions around development and defines the vision we all have for a city where all people are able to thrive.  The plan includes goals and policies not only around urban growth, but also around transportation, community wellness, arts and culture, and how we engage community in planning.  To me, the plan is an opportunity to decide together what we want Seattle to look and feel like in the future.

Last May, council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored, to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into our Comprehensive Plan update.  Essentially, we asked that before making decisions about how to grow, we need to be able to define and measure displacement, beyond the antidotes we hear every day.  Who is being pushed out?  Of what neighborhoods?  And why?  How does growth impact communities differently? And how can we measure the where the greatest opportunities exist? The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has stepped up to this challenge.  OPCD has published both the Growth and Equity Analysis (GEA), which measures growth, displacement risk, and opportunity across the city, and the Equitable Development Implementation Plan (EDIP), which recommends strategies to ensure that as we grow, all communities benefit.  Staff continue to work in collaboration with communities most impacted by the threat and reality of displacement, who know best how to address their own needs as we grow.

I believe in the Growth and Equity Analysis’s Vision of an Equitable Seattle: Seattle will be a city with people of diverse cultures, races, and incomes. All people will thrive and be able to achieve their full potential regardless of race or means.  Our city’s neighborhoods will be diverse and will include community anchors, supports, goods and services and amenities so that our residents can lead healthy lives and can flourish. 

The equity analysis highlights the need for city-wide strategies as well as place-based strategies to ensure people thrive in place. This means not only considering how and where we grow, but investing in local community initiatives in places with high displacement risks and investment needs.  One example recommended in the EDIP that my office is excited to see to fruition is the Rainier Beach Innovations District (RBID).  The RBID is a community driven effort to focus transit oriented development (TOD) projects to produce decent quality jobs and create entrepreneurship opportunities for community members in Rainier Beach, bringing new economic development near the light rail station.  I believe investing in community-driven projects like the RBID are essential to our growth as a city.

In addition to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our community continues to take strides forward to achieve the goals and vision set forth in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).  We are taking essential steps toward building new, and protecting existing, affordable housing stock.

Access to quality affordable housing is key to anti-displacement.  Building new affordable housing is an essential way we are able to maintain Seattle’s racial and economic diversity and vibrancy, but it cannot be our only strategy against displacement. Keeping people in place enables communities to continue to thrive in the places they call home.  In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on housing affordability:

  • Seattle Housing Levy: Last month, the Council voted to place the Seattle Housing Levy on the August Ballot.  This Levy would create $290 million dollars to resource affordable housing.  Working with Councilmember Herbold, we added a loan program so that tenant-occupied buildings can be quickly acquired and preserved as long-term affordable rental housing or permanently affordable homeownership units.
  • Mandatory Housing Affordability: In addition to non-profit and community land trust efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, we hope to pass the Mandatory Housing Affordability- Residential legislation this summer.  This legislation would require all new multi-family and commercial development projects in the city contribute to creating 6,000 new units of affordable housing in the next ten years.  I am committed to ensuring our proposal meets this goal, and we would love to hear from you at a public hearing on June 21st.
  • Affordability in Single-Family Zones: In addition I want to see more opportunities for affordability across Seattle. Including in single family zones. I am hopeful that encouraging more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will be a big step towards this goal.
  • Tenant Protections: We are also pursuing increased tenant protections outlined in the HALA recommendations including protections that assure tenants are not discriminated against based on their source of income or background checks.  Essential to keeping people in place is assuring we protect tenants most vulnerable to being priced out of the city.

Over the coming months, my office will continue to explore creative anti-displacement strategies that create community ownership and opportunities to build on the strengths of the diverse communities that make Seattle home.  We plan to explore different models the city can pursue including:

  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land and are primarily used to create long-term affordable housing by removing land from the private market.  CLTs can also be used for commercial and retail properties.  We are looking at models locally and from around the county, such as Burlington, Vermont, which stewards 6% of the housing stock in the City. Here in Seattle, Homestead Community Land Trust has been working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families since 1992.
  • Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs offer ownership opportunities for lower-income people, and maintain affordability by limiting the resale value of the property.  We are interested in exploring how the city could support tenants interested in cooperatively owning their properties. There are many models for what these community-owned LEHCs can function and work with other models, including CLTs.

We are looking forward to working with other Councilmembers, departments, community-based organizations, tenant advocates, non-profit developers and land trusts working on creative ways to ensure development without displacement.  We hope to bring together local and national experts to learn more about how we can creatively keep people in place, and assure all of our communities benefit as Seattle grows.


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Comment from Bonny Oborn
Time May 24, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Councilman O’Brien, I live on Capitol Hill and have witnessed the results of rapid growth in housing. Aside from a lack of rent control and shortage for working families, the lack of parking requirements for new construction and a total failure in “design” left us with crowded street parking and soul less, flat-faced, rabbit hutch dwellings that have destroyed the city’s character and created expensive third world cell blocks. Please tell me what can be done to restore pride in our Seattle neighborhoods. Thank you, Bonny Oborn

Comment from Dan Del Duca
Time May 24, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Come on Mike. You remove that horrific anti-urban infill code you established in 2014 with Richards ‘Small’ Lot ordinance and I might believe you actually want to help solve housing.

Read and understand how 23.44.010 historic, common owned, structure combined and wiping out the 75/80 rule deliberately was written to prevent small homes on small lots. Pretty damn sure that specific ordinance wiped out some 40-50% potential fee simple small homes on existing legally platted lots in this city. The only result of that anti-housing ordinance is detached urban housing only for the wealthy.

I was the one that field tested that ordinance with Andy. I warned all of you that ordinance was nothing but continued war against the middle class and that denial of legally platted lots isn’t even legal per state subdivision law or state general law RCW 36.70A urban infill housing mandates.

There’s another good read for you. Take a couple of hours and read 36.70A, especially 36.70A.330. Believe me I wish I could afford to pick up that bat.

Walk a mile in a developers shoes then you’ll think twice about blaming us for the housing failure. Easy to demonstrate the housing failure is purely due to politicians.

Permit process overburden, permit cost overburden, exclusionary code, low threshold ECA denial, profit focused permit and utility monopolies, and I’m the bad guy? Pretty sure there are no end of competent reports making the case that those policies increase housing values by 1/3. About the amount median is above affordable.

You city politicians should consider that all the surrounding jurisdictions are also preventing affordable housing. But when the kids start raging in the streets because they can’t stand living in backyard huts, basements, garages, tenement slums, tent cities or suffer commute hell it won’t be in Renton, it will be in Seattle.

Since I was trained to offer a solution with a problem I do think it is possible to easily solve that bad code without ordinances. But solution can’t start from the bottom of the muddy trenches I live in.

Dan Del Duca bmdc57@gmail

Comment from J Wall
Time May 24, 2016 at 7:54 pm

If O’Brien has kept the brakes on development- good. I thought he was pro-development. Developers view Seattle SF neighborhoods as a logger would a stand of trees, as board feet, or as a place to put up condo’s and make money. The idea of zoning use to be simple- to protect the integrity of what people are buying. A SF neighborhood is a better place to live. Sound eitiist? If you don’t believe me, ask the developer why he want’s to build condo’s there. The developer knows it’s more valuable and will return more profit. As for the old time owners who get the benefit of appodment dwellers with cars and residential parking zones, the developer has moved on, money in pocket, bringing this improvement to some other place in the form of $450,000 2 bedroom condos. Sustainable development would be ok, at a moderate pace, but we don’t have that, instead it’s kill the goose. So long as the city gets more tax base, and the developers are going like madd, we’ll worry about the future later. It’s money making time now, in the name of affordable housing and saving the planet.

Comment from Tracy Antley-Olander
Time May 27, 2016 at 12:11 am

I see older apartments and duplexes in Wallingford torn down–housing used by students and lower income workers. What replaces them? Condos costing $600,000-plus. That is not what we need. Retain zoning restrictions in single family neighborhoods, force developers of these condos to pay into a fund to build affordable housing. I see homeowners like me steamrolled by a poisonous alliance between developers and low income housing advocates. Only the developers will win.

Comment from Todd Rosin
Time June 1, 2016 at 7:39 am

Mike – thanks for the overview. A few questions:

1. To the point of the Rainier Beach program, are there any opportunities along these lines in your own district and could you share what they may be?

2. Do you favor, as another means for building affordable housing (and keeping them affordable) the formation of a non-profit municipal bank that would exist solely to loan the city and some qualified developers funds to construct affordable housing, thereby evading restrictions that many for-profit banks would require?

3. I see your meeting is at St. Luke’s. What specifically can St. Luke’s, your office and area residents do to lessen the impact of homelessness and crimes committed by some of these people in the Ballard Commons area?

Thank you!

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