Councilmember Clark left office on April 14, 2015.
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No rest for the wicked

Or maybe we’re just the weary. I have to admit that yesterday’s Veteran’s Day holiday was much appreciated. Between the budget, the Dravus rezone and ongoing work on the Workforce Housing Incentive Program, I’ve savored unprogrammed time. Not only is my house vacuumed, but we also saw a movie in a real movie theater. “W” is worth the ticket price, by the way.

Now it’s back to work on the budget and on the last major Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee work program item for 2008 – Workforce Housing Incentive Program. Budget will wrap up in the next week (more on that later). Next Wednesday, Nov. 19, we have a special PLUNC to work on this incentive zoning proposal and to work through an exaltation of appointments to boards and commissions. We then have two PLUNC meetings, Dec. 4 and Dec. 10, before buttoning things up for the end of the year.

As a reminder to anyone who hasn’t been watching, we have incentive zoning Downtown and are considering applying similar rules to substantial upzones in other parts of the city. Under incentive zoning, you can build to a base height outright or you can elect to build to a higher limit if you set aside some housing units for people who earn a little less (click here for a more detailed explanation of the proposal). We’ve spent a year investigating the ins and outs of incentive zoning if expanded beyond downtown – the art and science of development, the need for housing affordable to “regular” people, the trick of building an expanded program that truly fits neighborhoods, and much more have been discussed and debated sine January. A few things are clear to me:

  1. There will be area-wide, proactive upzones put forward by the Mayor’s staff in the next few years—South Lake Union, South Downtown and Northgate are already on the horizon.
  2. The demand for middle-income housing is outpacing its production.
  3. Many neighborhood advocates are concerned about new development changing the character (and housing prices) of our neighborhoods.
  4. Neighborhoods with housing that meets the needs of people from a range of incomes make for a healthier city.
  5. We are surrounded by new housing that rents or has sold at prices far beyond what a person earning the area median income can afford.
  6. When we, city government, change the zoning of an area it’s almost always to increase development capacity, creating a potential windfall for the owner and developer.

That all leads me to believe that requiring a modest set-aside of more affordable apartments or condos when there is a substantial upzone makes sense. We are in a recession now, but Seattle will likely continue to be a hot place to live (assuming we can make our school system solvent and successful, but that’s another subject). This is about the long-term affordability and livability of our city.

Next Wednesday we start working our way through a series of questions about how an expanded program would work. No rest.