🌆 Seattle’s housing debate in three minutes

🌆 Seattle’s housing debate in three minutes

Can Seattle create enough housing to stay ahead of our population boom before it overwhelms us? And can we do it right?
(📸: @mahuix_tlan)


Seattle’s grown faster than any other major city this decade, adding 114,000 people since 2010, and that’s put us in a bind: If we don’t add enough housing to keep up, living here is going to get more expensive than it already is — and, worse, more people are going to get priced out.

What are our local leaders doing about this?

Something called HALA, which was passed by our city council in 2015. It stands for the Housing and Affordability Livability Agenda and it’s essentially a blueprint to change the rules about how we develop the city so that a) more housing can fit, and b) low- and middle-income folks can still make a home here.

Six neighborhoods, including the University District and the International District, have already been “upzoned” to allow more density. Twenty-seven more just got a green light to move ahead in the process (find them in a chart here — just 6 percent of single-family zoned lots would get the update). A key part of HALA is a “grand bargain” with developers. In essence: they get to build taller, denser (read: more profitable) apartment buildings around the city as long as they either a) include a certain number of affordable units in those buildings, or b) pay into a city fund to build affordable housing somewhere else.

Why is this HALA thing a big deal right now?

Because two weeks ago, a judge ruled against a group of neighborhood associations who think the plan doesn’t do enough to account for how more density could hurt their communities. Now our city council says it will likely vote on the plan to upzone parts of 27 neighborhoods around the city this spring — unless the city decides to change course. And like with any ginormous city policy, there are plenty of hot takes out there about what is — and isn’t — moving us the right direction.

Why do people want to support the plan?

Here are a few perspectives:

  • ‘Focus on what we all stand to gain.’ Taller apartment buildings and multi-family housing like mother-in-law apartments would change the look and feel of neighborhoods where single-family homes are the norm. Is that a reason to stop the upzones? In this op-ed, housing advocate Alison Bolgiano argues that there’s a lot to gain when neighborhoods are affordable enough to welcome different kinds of people. (The Seattle Times)
  • ‘Single-family zoning is a racist policy.’ Zoning has a big part to play in how we build our city, and Lester Black of The Stranger cites a new study from the Seattle Planning Commission to press the case that expensive housing — a.k.a. what’s found in most single-family zones these days — excludes not just low-income locals, but people of color, too. Single-family zones make up 75 percent of Seattle’s buildable land, according to the Seattle Planning Commission’s report. (The Stranger)
  • ‘Seattle may be the nation’s most proactive city for housing.’ San Francisco housing advocate Randy Shaw just put out a new book about the housing crises in cities around the country called “Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.” In it, he calls our HALA plan a model for the rest of the country. In a Town Hall Seattle talk last night, he called on the city to move past objections about process and make the upzones a thing, fast. (Generation Priced Out)

And why do people want to change the plan?

Let’s round up some of the arguments:

  • ‘MHA abolishes neighborhood planning.’ The Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan is how the city’s looking at implementing HALA. In this op-ed, neighborhood advocates Maria Batayola and David Ward make the case that the city hasn’t done a good enough job of considering how denser housing could hurt existing neighborhoods, particularly around open spaces, aesthetics, and congestion. (The Seattle Times)
  • ‘The city should reconsider.’ The “grand bargain” passed between developers and the city at the heart of HALA didn’t get a lot of community input — even though an early timeline of the process had that in the roadmap — and The Seattle Times editorial board thinks that was a mistake. Their advice to the mayor? Start over, “end the fighting and build consensus for ways to accommodate growth without further harming places that make Seattle special.” (The Seattle Times)
  • ‘It’s a recipe for suspicion.’ HALA advocates may want to get past questions of process, but to columnist Danny Westneat, putting HALA into action without a lot of public input doesn’t build a lot of trust. He points to Everett, where some pretty big upzones around the city were passed after a process that got community feedback in 24 public meetings. (The Seattle Times)

See more interesting takes on the debate around our housing policy? Hit reply to let us know.

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‘I can’t handle another winter outside.’ Seattle leaders re-opened a cold weather shelter earlier this week for our neighbors living homeless. Why? So folks could have a safer place to sleep when our temps dip low. But there’s a “massive disconnect” between the 4,500 people sleeping outside on any given night and the shelter beds available, KUOW reporter Kate Walters said on “The Record.” While the frosty weather has forced some Seattleites to seek shelter, many are still sleeping outside because of barriers like substance abuse and not being able to store their belongings or stay with their pets. ❄️ (KUOW, The Seattle P-I)

Will WA be repped in D.C.? Two big, local figures are considering running for president in 2020: Gov. Jay Inslee and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Inslee has a long political history in the Evergreen State, while Schultz brings his business knowledge and a “disgust for political division,” reports KIRO’s Essex Porter. One UW political science professor’s take: Inslee is a “top five candidate,” and Schultz won’t have problems financing a campaign with his personal wealth, which could work against him. Have thoughts about our potential presidential candidates? Weigh in this thread on our Facebook page. (KIRO)

Keep clam, Seattle. If you’re anything like Team Evergrey, you’ve been craving clam chowder like crazy since you watched our guide to razor clamming in Washington. Lucky for us, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement caught up with restaurateur Heather Earnhardt of The Wandering Goose in Capitol Hill —  who just moved to Willapa Bay — to get her legendary clam chowder recipe. Weekend cooking plans, made. 🍲 (The Seattle Times)

Award-winning eats. Want to add more spots to your foodie bucket list? Get some inspo from this year’s Eater Awards. Two of our awardees: Little Neon Taco in First Hill was named Restaurant of the Year for its tacos, mole ribs, and posole menudo; and Dynasty Room in Chinatown-International District won Bar of the Year for its herbal cocktails and Korean bar snacks. 😋 (Eater Seattle)


Things to do


🎄 TOMORROW: Celebrate the season of giving with Foundation and Seattle Works’ holiday party (Ballard)

💛 Thursday, Dec. 13: Hang with the Foundation gang to simply chill and catch up. (Belltown)


🎟  Ring in the holiday season with this theatrical sequel to Pride and Prejudice (Greenwood)
🍴  Grab a po’boy and sip sangria at Seattle’s social justice library (Beacon Hill)
🍺  Taste beers and check out this artsy Short Run market — through Saturday (Sand Point)
🎶  Check out Seattle’s biggest caroling competition (Downtown)

🎈  Take the fam to dance along to silly tunes by Caspar Babypants — through Sunday (Capitol Hill and West Seattle)
🛍  Munch on food truck grub at this handmade holiday market (SoDo)
🛍  Give the gift of local experiences at this holiday market (Yesler Terrace)
🛍  Shop small at the first-ever Northwest African American Museum holiday market (Central District)
🛍  Jazz up your space with art that’s less than $100 (SoDo)
🎈  Deck your fam in glowy lights for a walk around the lake (Green Lake)

🎟  Hear your neighbors’ “unconventional holiday tales” with KUOW (Greenwood)
❄️  Dress warm to check out this iconic holiday lights festival (Leavenworth)
🎈  Bring your dogs to the park and drink hot cocoa (Pioneer Square)
🎈  Take the fam to a KEXP dance party on the waterfront (Downtown)

🗣  Bring your menorah to stand in solidarity with your Jewish neighbors (Downtown)
👋  Learn how to live forever by making connections across generations (Phinney Ridge)
🎈  Take the family to ooh and aah at the zoo’s holiday lights (Phinney Ridge)
🍿  Get into the holiday spirit by checking out these holiday flicks — through Wednesday (Belltown)

Going to one of these? Take us with you! Email a pic to [email protected] or tag #theevergrey on Instagram. Learn what our emojis mean here, see more upcoming events on our events page, and add your own events with an Evergrey membership. Is an event sold out? Hit reply to let us know and we’ll update the listing in tomorrow’s newsletter.


We’ll see ya Monday, Seattle. — The Evergrey

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