Councilmember O’Brien and I submitted a guest opinion piece to the Seattle Times about linkage fees. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here:
Councilmember O’Brien and I submitted a guest opinion piece to the Seattle Times about linkage fees. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here:
Just got back from the official launch for our new housing affordability and livability plan. The plan, outlined in this resolution, convenes an advisory committee to establish a Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, due to Council and the Mayor in May. There’s more information in the Mayor’s press release. Below are my comments as prepared.
Home is where the heart is. Home sweet home. And in the words of David Byrne, home, it’s where I want to be.
Housing is the wonkier word for homes and I’m thankful for the Mayor’s collaboration so we as a city will focus our work on a plan for housing affordability and livability – so we can plan for what we want and need. The price point, the style, the size, the locations. We are a city of booms and busts, but all indications point to continued long-term influx of people wanting to make Seattle their home. We need this plan so we can chart a course to ensuring housing meets the needs of our whole community and does it in a way that helps our environment and keeps our neighborhoods the great, interesting places they are.
Last week I toured Bianca’s place, that’s the congregate family shelter run by Mary’s Place. The families at Bianca’s Place, and the families in Seattle’s future who will need a Bianca’s Place, are just one reason we need this effort, this sharpened focus and blueprint for housing.
I met several parents doing what it takes to keep their families safe and together. In particular I met one woman, an East African woman, who had found Bianca’s Place and spent some time there, but last Thursday was a big day – she showed me the keys to her new house. Her smile was bigger than the room. Her family would have a place to call their own.
I want to thank the advisory committee members and City staff who will work on this plan.
First we called them aPodments, but that soon switched to micros. Whatever you call them, they inspire either horror at the resurgence of the old-time single-room-occupancy hotel or they look to be the latest and greatest in affordable urban living.
After Tuesday’s Planning, Land Use & Sustainability meeting they’re also the subject of a possible mayoral veto, but for reasons that are unclear.
I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t know what a micro unit is at this point, but just in case…. Micros started appearing as a variation on the townhome. We saw four-packs or six-packs appear in parts of town (first Capitol Hill and the U-District), but instead of a typical two-bedroom configuration, we saw a full eight sleeping rooms connected to the core kitchen.
Many neighbors came out opposed to the projects because they feared the impacts of so many people living in the buildings. In a standard four-pack townhouse development, maybe you have two people per unit for eight total. In a four-pack of aPodments, you’ll have at least one person per sleeping room for a minimum total of 32 people.
On the good side, these buildings have generally been constructed near frequent transit and most residents are trying to live in the city car-free. On the bad side many micro developers were skirting design review thresholds by counting the eight sleeping units as one dwelling unit.
I think micros are a good addition to housing choice in our city. The late developer Jim Potter was a great, irascible proponent of City government figuring out how to help the private market produce affordability without direct subsidy. He toured me through one of his micro projects on Capitol Hill a few years ago and it was impressive. It’s not where I want to live at this stage of my life, but that’s not important in policy development. What’s important to me is that micros are available, safe and regulated for “fit” in a neighborhood the same way similarly-scaled buildings for full-size apartments are.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien did the hard work of assembling a stakeholder group of developers, architects and neighborhood advocates to review the micro regulations sent to Council by Mayor Murray earlier this year. After a series of difficult meetings the group came to some agreements and remained in fierce disagreement on others.
The result is the bill we voted out of committee Tuesday along with a series of amendments. Within the base bill the City now defines “small efficiency dwelling units” (SEDU) for the first time in code. The intent of this change is to replace the current form of micro-housing, with multiple sleeping rooms arranged around a core kitchen, with individual, self-contained, small apartments that are regulated as such. The legislation also sets thresholds for different intensities of design review depending upon the size of the building. The new rules limit the number of residential parking zone passes to one per SEDU rather than the four allowed other homes inside an RPZ boundary. The bill, also, better defines congregate housing so that’s a less attractive work-around for some developers.
This definition of SEDU and the design review thresholds are a big improvement over our current situation, though the contents of the bill remain controversial, especially with some developers. The amendments acted on in Tuesday’s meeting seem to be the focus of ire now by some who think the changes go too far. (Jim Potter would probably agree.) I might agree on one of them (minimum size), but I think we struck a good balance in the exchanges represented by the others.
Minimum SEDU size – I would prefer to allow architects flexibility down to 180 square feet, but the votes weren’t there for that. I think there are great examples of smaller spaces and I don’t think all renters want more space. Councilmember O’Brien and I attempted a minimum average across all units of 220 square feet and an absolute minimum of 180 square feet, but that failed. The majority of the committee voted to make 220 square feet the minimum for SEDUs arguing that peer cities like San Francisco and New York don’t allow units smaller than 220 square feet.
Bike parking – Councilmembers in the previous meeting advocated for enough storage to ensure bikes don’t have to be kept inside SEDUs or congregate residence sleeping rooms, so we increased the required bike parking to .75 per unit and also specified this has to be a covered area. Thanks to the suggestion of a smart architect, Councilmember O’Brien proposed not counting this bike parking space in the FAR (developable people space). That amendment passed and I think was a good way to ensure we’re not trading bike parking for residential units.
Common space in congregate housing – OK, congregates are a little different from SEDUs. They’re more like dorms and play an important role in affordable housing and housing for people with special needs. Councilmember Licata proposed increasing the required common area space from 10 percent of the building to 15 percent of the building. Laundry space will count, though, I worry too many of the spaces will be less about social interaction and more about just getting the wash done.
Sinks – The draft legislation required a minimum of one sink per SEDU and that if the SEDU has only one sink that the sink be located in the kitchen area. I was OK with this until King County Public Health weighed in with advice that living units have at least two sinks, one in the bathroom and one elsewhere, as a “best practice” in disease control. Developers have argued the second sink is superfluous and just a means for project-opponents to weigh down projects with unneeded fixtures and costs. In the end I sided with Public Health. If these are now stand-alone living spaces, no longer predicated on availability of a separate kitchen, and if there may be multiple people living in the units, then units should have two sinks, however small they might be.
Parking – This may be the issue neighbors of new micro buildings bring up the most. Most of the micro projects developed to date don’t provide parking for even the majority of units in the building and, to my mind, that’s OK. Most likely at least a few of the tenants own cars and park them in the neighborhood. That’s anyone’s right to do, but neighbors see the possibility of lots of new cars clogging up parking. Personally, I think it’s good that the City got out of the business of parking minimums in urban centers, our densest neighborhoods. I think it’s worth reviewing parking rules and what we’re seeing developed further out from the core of the urban villages and near frequent transit in other areas. We amended the bill with a request for the Seattle Department of Planning & Development to conduct a review of Seattle’s current car and bike parking requirements for new development. The results of that review will come back to the Council in late March of next year.
Overall, the bill defines SEDUs in Seattle’s code for the first time, lays out development standards and sets appropriate design review thresholds. I’m not happy about where the majority of the committee landed for minimum square footage per unit, but I want to get the other standards in place as soon as possible.
The amended bill now awaits Full Council consideration. That’s set to occur on Mon., Oct. 6. Regulations would take effect 30 days after the Mayor signs the bill.
One of my top priorities when I took over the Council’s housing committee this year has been to ignite development of a housing strategy for Seattle. We have master plans for pedestrian and bicycling improvements. We have a comprehensive growth strategy. We have neighborhood-level growth plans. We have a transit plan. We, also, have rising rents, concerns about the loss of affordable housing and strife about whether the apartment sizes being built are the sizes we need in the long-term. However, we don’t have a plan for how we, as a city, want to see housing grow.
That’s about to change.
Today in the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency we’ll have a first review of a resolution that sets out our intentions and a timeframe for developing a housing plan for the city. The Mayor has done a great job keeping housing affordability front and center in his priorities and his public statements. He has welcomed the idea of a housing plan and the work will be spearheaded by staff in the City’s Office of Housing and Office for Policy and Innovation with help from a stakeholder group to be assembled this fall.
My goal is for the plan to look at the entire spectrum of housing development and affordability issues. I don’t think we can fully understand the pressures on renters, buyers, developers and others without understanding what the whole spectrum of housing in our city looks like now. For instance, we’ll need to understand the future of high-income housing in order to understand how the search for buildable land in our built-out city will affect existing housing stock.
If we’re going to stay true to our rhetoric about wanting affordability for low income and middle income people in our city, we have to be sharper than we’ve been in the past and plan for what we want.
After today’s discussion we’ll take more feedback, edit and then edit some more. I anticipate the committee will vote on the resolution establishing our work toward the plan on September 18.
The Beacon Alliance of Neighbors list, like many neighborhood lists in the city, provides great information sharing opportunities about neighborhood clean-ups, crime news, new businesses in the area and more. They’re the modern equivalent of the photocopied newsletter on the porch or the bulletin board at the corner store. I learn a lot from these lists. From a string on the BAN list last Friday:
On Friday, June 76, 2014 , Lawrence H > <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lost bird and owners have been reunited! They just came to pick it up.
Thanks to everyone who gave good suggestions and to Craig for offering to provide shelter for the bird. One of the people in the group knew their neighbor has a bird and it turned out it was them. It’s actually a parakeet, not a canary (obviously I don’t know birds).
I did call the Seattle Animal Shelter and reported the found bird so that if someone did end up calling them to find their bird, it would show up as a found bird with info on who to contact to get it. (Thanks Pete)
On Friday, June 27, 2014 1:10 PM, Craig T <email@example.com> wrote:
I just spoke with someone at the Seattle Animal Shelter. She suggested that we go down to the shelter and list the canary as a found bird, give our contact info, yet if we have a setup for the canary, to go ahead and foster it. That way the owner will have a chance to find his/her pet, and the canary will not have to go through any more stress of being handled. So, Ariel and I are open to foster the bird, if it’s a canary. If it’s a lovebird, well, that’s another story, as lovebirds can be extremely aggressive (except to other lovebirds).
Please take it to the Seattle Animal Shelter. Someone may be looking for it and they will attempt to connect to an owner before putting it up for adoption.
On Thursday, June 26, 2014 9:32 PM, Lawrence H <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I found a little bird (maybe a canary?) on my front porch just about 15 minutes ago. I put it in a shoe box and will keep it until mid day tomorrow. If no one claims it, I’ll take it to the pet store and let them have it. Nothing seems to be wrong with it. I think it’s just lost.mIt’s very cute and seems quite tame. I fed it some millet (hope that’s ok) which it seemed to enjoy. If you or someone you know lost a bird today, let me know what color it is and it’s yours. If it’s not yours and you want it, let me know also and it the owner doesn’t claim it, you can have it.
I just wrote an article for CNN about why we raised our minimum wage in Seattle. Take a look:
Over the past several months of minimum wage debate I’ve been told to adopt $15 now “because the rent won’t wait.”
I’ve been told raising the minimum wage will cost jobs.
In meetings I’ve heard questions, positions, opinions, pleadings, demands and accusations.
I’ve heard about what was compromised, what was horse-traded and what was a bait-and-switch.
I’ve heard heartfelt stories about small businesses and their “family” of workers.
I’ve heard ghastly stories of exploitation and manipulation.
I’ve heard compelling stories about small manufacturers and international cost competitiveness.
I’ve heard this is not an issue a city on its own can solve.
I’ve heard change must start in the cities.
I’ve heard pleas for an hour’s pay for an hour worked, nothing more nothing less.
I’ve heard compensation includes everything in box 1 of the W2, including tips.
I’ve heard raising the minimum wage will erase poverty and I’ve heard it will do nothing but move us toward being another San Francisco (a code term now for a pretty, expensive place imbued with nostalgia for a simpler, less expensive time).
I’ve heard we should “do the right thing” from every side.
When I try to apply the “do no harm” principle I’m left without knowing exactly what that means in this case. We voted today to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to a greater level than any other city in the country. That committee recommendation goes to the Full Council this coming Monday, June 2.
While it’s too soon to tell if we did the “right thing” what I do know is this: someone has to work the counter at the dry cleaners, someone has to learn to be a mechanic, and someone has to bus tables. People in these jobs have an increasingly tougher time making a life in Seattle. And after today, those someones will have more money to make everyday living just a little easier.
We adopted new rules on small lot infill houses Monday, rules I believe will stop the terrible “grain silo” and “alley skyscraper” houses that popped up on previously unrecognized lots all over the city. More on these new rules in a moment, though. First, context setting.
At a breakfast Monday someone asked me “what’s hot” in Seattle right now besides minimum wage and the nomination of a new chief of police. I almost always reply solving homelessness, but this morning I said “development.” Reaction (most often negative) to development in neighborhoods all over the city; the concern for trees as we densify; the desire for jobs in outer neighborhoods; the desire for affordability; the demand for good, respectful design – all of these fill and refill my inbox these days.
We live today in another development boom. The pace and scale can make you dizzy — and angry – depending upon where you stand. I hear from people in Capitol Hill, Wallingford, West Seattle, Ballard and elsewhere about quaint, older houses coming down and new apartments or micros going in; about poor transitions in the low-rise areas, view blockage and jagged height differences between old and new.
I also hear about the difficulty in finding a reasonably affordable place to live in Seattle, and about having great rhetoric about growth, but then not having the stomach for it.
Maybe I should have replied that the rhetoric about development is hot. Most Seattle-ites I talk with recognize that cities grow and change over time. Most people I talk with say they’re not anti-density; they just want density done right. And quite a few people these days are fed-up, organizing, protesting and lobbying for change. One Home Per Lot is an example of a new group focused on improving development standards and alerting neighbors earlier about neighborhood development.
Those voices helped shape the small lot development rules we put in place today and will help shape the Council’s upcoming action on new development rules for micro apartments and revisions to the low-rise zone regulations adopted in 2010.
Out of various conversations and emails I’ve defined a few guiding principles for this work.
OK, with those principles in mind, back to the small lot development rules we adopted today. As a reminder, I joined with colleagues in 2012 to severely curtail development on under-sized lots. We’d seen in the preceding year a new way of defining these smaller lots using historic tax records. Houses appeared on property neighbors never thought could accommodate a house. The negative impact on development patterns and the shock to neighbors was “significant” (bureaucrat-speak for really big).
Since the interim development controls were passed in 2012, Department of Planning & Development staff worked with neighborhood advocates and developers on a set of rules to guide development of under-sized lots – including defining how under-sized lots come to be.
Seattle’s single family neighborhoods are comprised of SF 5000, SF 7,200 and SF 9,600 (all square feet). You’d think that means that the lots in these zones are those sizes. Surprise – 45% of the lots in the SF 5000 zone measure less than 5,000 square feet. Plenty of you reading this live in houses on lots measuring less than 5,000 square feet. Many of you live next door to someone with a larger lot, one that could be divided.
There are unscrupulous developers looking for those opportunities and there are great developers looking for those opportunities. There are also perfectly well-meaning property owners who have planned retirement based on gain from an undeveloped small lot. The rules we passed need to yield good scale and “fit,” no matter the intentions of the owner.
The rules we passed today cure the most egregious of the fouls we saw before the 2012 interim controls.
One much debated proposal that was killed at Full Council would have allowed a builder to build a house on a smaller lot at least equal in size to the average size of the surrounding lots. This new proposal would have primarily allowed development on lots in neighborhoods where the existing lot size was between 3,750 and 2,500 square feet. This was called the 100% rule. I supported the idea because, for me, it matched my goal of better scale and fit. If an area is already small-scale, and if we have the hard stop of 2,500 square feet, why not allow development that matches the existing scale? A majority of councilmembers felt differently and the provision was stripped from the final legislation.
That’s it for small lots for now. Get ready for micros. They’re next up for Council review.
A few years ago architect Rex Hohlbein arrived at his office on the ship canal in Fremont and saw a guy sleeping, a few possessions around him, on the grass by the canal wall edge. That proved to be the end of his architecture career.
Rex built a friendship of sorts with the homeless man after many days taking his coffee or lunch outside and striking up conversations with the man. After a while he offered Chiaka bathroom and indoor rest privileges. After learning more about the man and his art, Rex let him store his supplies and even sleep in part of the building.
After posting and selling some of Chiaka’s art for him via Facebook and, ultimately, helping him reconnect with the family he lost a decade ago, Rex heard a new calling. That calling is to reshape how you and I “see” someone when they’re sleeping in a doorway, asking for change on a sidewalk, heading in and out of a shelter or camped along a place like the ship canal.
Through Homeless in Seattle (Just Say Hello) on Facebook, Rex posts rich black and white portraits and a bit of the stories of the homeless people he meets. He meets a lot of them because he works at it and because through this work his office has become an informal drop-in center. When I visited last Friday morning, I met a half dozen or more men, usually bent and hobbled in some way, looking for a cup of coffee, maybe a package of new socks and a little time with Rex. He listens wholly and engages with them in ways most of us don’t as we go about our lives.
In addition to the photos on Facebook, the site has proven to be an effective place to crowd-course help to solve emergency problems. Paying off parking tickets in order to avoid losing an RV/home, new shoes, some way to get into case management, temporary home for a dog while someone gets a hospital procedure – all of it gets posted with hope that social media will link the ask to someone who can.
Rex’s is the most grassroots of grassroots endeavors. Homeless in Seattle has started on the path to becoming a non-profit organization and he has great help in his board members, like public defender and former Seattle School Boardmember Nancy Waldman. Rex will move his office to Ballard this spring due and likely connect with a whole new set of faces in the neighborhood. Lucky for them.
Below are the notes I used in today’s Full Council vote on Seattle’s first rules expanding access to taxi ownership and defining operating rules for transportation network companies (TNCs) and their affiliated drivers. The Council, after debating several amendments, voted unanimously to put in place a framework for legal TNC operations in Seattle.
My experience on Council has been that every few years something about taxi regulations gets to the point where something has to be fixed; we can’t dodge it any longer. This seems true in most cities. Government performs a quick, band-aid fix, avoiding acknowledgement that the regulatory system is old and heavier than needed, then government jumps away from taxi regulatory reform as quickly as possible.
Avoiding a comprehensive fix is no longer possible. What we’re voting on today isn’t a complete fix, but it’s a start.
First meeting of the Taxi, Limo, For-Hire Committee – March 14, 2013.
We started not to address the operational rules for the new companies, but out of a need to resolve conflict between the taxis and the flat-rates and to better fund enforcement of the rules governing the existing, legacy players.
Previously, the laws of the universe were simple and constant – the taxis have been angry at the flat-rates, both have been angry at the limos.
Then, the laws of the universe changed.
The question for the committee quickly came to be: how do we bring new players with different business models into a regulatory framework built for a different time.
We met pretty much once a month, taking a break during Council’s consideration of the budget, then twice last month.
Through all of this we’ve attempted to ground our work in three goals:
A lingering question is whether the City should regulate taxis and flat-rate cars – and now TNC cars — in order to accomplish a fourth goal:
Ensure drivers can make a living. This was a goal of re-regulation in the early 90’s and has been an underpinning of the cap on the number of taxi licenses up to now. Charge people a fair, managed rate – and allow as many operators as can make a decent living. That idea is greatly challenged in 2014.
A reminder that two state code definitions determine the boundaries of our work:
Rideshare: limited definition in state code to carpools and vanpools for commuters between home and work or school. Maybe you’re splitting gas. IRS keeps that at 56 cents/mile.
For-hire vehicle: any vehicle used for the transportation of persons for compensation.
UberX and Lyft aren’t ridesharing under state definitions. They are for-hire transportation – charging more than a share of the gas. That triggers a host of safety, training and operational requirements – requirements that admittedly need an overhaul.
Unfortunately, the limited access to taxi licenses in Seattle and King County coupled with driver and vehicle regulations that haven’t kept up with contemporary service expectations and technology, make disruption not only inevitable, but welcomed by many drivers and riders.
And disruption there has been – in cities across the United States and other parts of the globe. The companies have chosen to launch first, ask questions later. Every city and state looks to be playing out the same debate as we’re having here.
In Seattle, we’re about to define the regulatory framework under which UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and their followers can operate legally in the city. These rules recognize that times are changing – and that safety and consumer protection never go out of style.
What does this legislation do?
I like to think it hits on safety, consumer protection and expanded mobility choices from multiple angles.
Starting with the Council Bill:
The companies’ announcements last week that they recognize the pre-match, trolling time live on the app as requiring their coverage is a step in the right direction. The companies should further recognize that people should have the same security in case of an accident in a car with a pink mustache as they do in a taxi.
The cap during the pilot phase allows a transition. It allows operations at a significant scale and minimizes the possible “rush to drive” seen in San Francisco. On the one hand, the migration of drivers to TNC work meets new demand. On the down side, it may sap drivers from modes other people depend upon. Crashing the taxi system isn’t a desired outcome. Too many people in our city depend upon taxis. The cap allows us a controlled test and transition.
We’re not regulating the fare that TNC’s can charge. Fares will have to be filed with the City, they’ll be public record, but it will be up to consumers to decide who they want to pay.
The great news is that we have much more work to do.
SideCar reported a new harvest of $10 million in investment capital a few weeks ago.
Uber raised $237 million last year.
Lyft has raised $83 million in the last year.
I don’t bring these numbers up to say these massively successful funding rounds are necessarily a bad thing (that all depends upon how you treat drivers and passengers in the long run). But it does beg a question –
You’re doing so many things right. You have a lot to teach regulators about how to strip back over-weight and redundant regulatory constraints. If only you would communicate and collaborate.
How can you raise this much money, have what I imagine are battalions of lawyers and not have a better plan for how to engage with policymakers? It’s amazing how many simultaneous city and state-level wars you’re waging.
To the taxi owners, this is a wake-up call. Or shout. Or cannon shot. Thousands of taxi trips happen in our city each day. Most are great are at least unremarkable. Too many involve poor dispatch, poor driver comportment, a battle over presentation of a credit card or out-right refusal of a short hop ride.
We are moving several dials at the same time. We will be working with Mayor Murray as we track the impacts on passengers and drivers. I’m very glad to see his commitment to quick and focused revamping of the city’s for-hire regulations. I hope King County regulators, our partners in all of this, are as excited as we are to crack open licensing.
What is before Council today is not the complete fix, but it’s a start.