Pass MHA without Delay

If, like me, you are unable to take time off for the MHA hearing tomorrow, which will likely be dominated by well off homeowners opposed to affordable housing, please write all of the councilmembers today. Below is my email if you need a template to begin.

Council emails:
lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
kshama.sawant@seattle.gov
rob.johnson@seattle.gov
debora.juarez@seattle.gov
mike.obrien@seattle.gov
sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov
lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov;

Dear Councilmember,

MHA has been a nearly 4 year process at this point — even when it was released, we knew it was a step in the right direction. Since HALA and MHA were announced, countless jurisdictions have followed suit in order to begin to tackle the broad and deep housing crises afflicting their cities. It is long past time to pass MHA.

MHA is not perfect, it alone will not solve our housing crisis, but it is smart policy. It is a massive step in the right direction. Tomorrow, you will hear a lot of testimony from homeowners who oppose affordable housing. Seattle is a city that is majority renter, but out housing policy has long been dictated by those who were well off. A century ago, the kinds of housing MHA will legalize in a sliver more of the city, were legal in literally every part of the city, even industrial zones. We will need to think this broadly in the future, to get closer to addressing our housing crisis, but that is a conversation for another day.

The ‘Citywide’ MHA is anything but. Even duplexes are illegal from two thirds of our city that are zoned single family, and almost none of that changes with this legislation. MHA will allow for a nominal increase in zoning capacity for an increase in affordable housing. The effects are different in every zone, but none are massive or large. In fact, in most zones, due to the upper level setbacks, the increase in height will not be noticeable from the street.

You will also likely hear a renewed call for more neighborhood planning. The neighborhood planning of the 90s was an inequitable mess dominated by less than 2% of the city (just 12,000 people!), largely homeowners, who killed a 25% affordable housing requirement for urban villages, and reduced boundaries to prevent affordable housing from being built near single family homes. Complaints about MHA being a ‘grand bargain’ pale in comparison to the grand bargain that the city initiated with homeowners in the 90s when preventing any affordable housing from being built in single family zones.

MHA should be passed immediately. After nearly 4 years with hundreds of community meetings, information sessions, notifications, and a lengthy legal process initiated by well off homeowners — it is time to move forward so we can start to address this crisis. We have even seen the most vocal community councils attempt to reduce again the size of urban villages to prevent affordable housing from being built in single family zones. This is the opposite tack our city should be taking on affordability and equitable development.

Please don’t redefine family-sized bedrooms to 3 bedrooms only. Our middle class, union-affiliated family of 4 lives in a 950 square foot 2-bedroom and it is adequate. We know many families who live in smaller units. We should be legalizing more diverse forms of housing instead — duplexes, triplexes, quads, small scale condos, cooperatives, and cohousing. Unfortunately, these forms of housing are illegal in nearly 85% of the city, a major contributor to our housing crisis.

Lastly, please ignore comments arguing to limit housing to arterials. There should be no single family zoning in this city at all, just as there isn’t in Tokyo, Vienna, Paris or Berlin — and just as there wasn’t a century ago. Small scale, missing middle housing should be legal in more of the city — especially near schools and parks — and not confined to the polluted, dangerous, and loud arterials where families are least wanting to raise children and grow old.

We are struggling to remain in this city, the cost of childcare is higher than the cost of housing. We should be thinking at a much greater scale, following in the footsteps of cities like Vienna — prioritizing social housing, allowing greater densities of housing everywhere. Vienna’s motto of ‘More, Better, Faster, and more cost effectively’ is one we should strive for. MHA starts to get us on that path. Please pass it without delay.