Tag: Growth Management Act

Growth Is Coming. The Legislature Needs to Plan for It.

David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Brennan

When I was growing up here in the 1980s, Seattle was one of the most affordable cities in the country. My parents rented a house for $100 a month, allowing them to save enough for a down payment before I was born. Since then, the city’s unique combination of affordability, natural beauty, and economic dynamism has attracted people from all over the world to our region, further enriching our cultural diversity, civic engagement, and economy.

Unfortunately, housing has not kept up with growth—especially where we need it most. Now Seattle’s housing is some of the most expensive in the world. Many of my childhood friends have been priced out and many beloved newer friends are struggling to stay. These problems extend across the state.

Since the 1950s, popular culture has sold us a vision of prosperity where you get a big house with a big yard and drive everywhere. Suburban property owners, developers, and other powerful interests rigged a land use system that stripped away other options. This growth pattern has damaged critical wildlife habitat and prime farmland, strained infrastructure, isolated households, and priced out whole communities. We were sold a bad bill of goods.

Standing in the way are a handful of small but powerful suburban cities, home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. Many welcoming people live in these places, but the organized voices representing them in Olympia are saying no—no to taking their share of growth, no to affordable housing options, no to people who do not have cars or cannot drive, and no to sharing their parks and schools.

This old model for growth is broken and cannot meet our needs. We need a new model that offers housing for Washingtonians at every income level—especially near jobs, transit, and essential goods and services. That is why this year, a broad, unlikely coalition of business and labor, environmentalists and developers, affordable housing providers and social justice advocates have come together to support new housing options in addition to new ways to design and invest in our communities. Our success moving past the House-of-origin cutoff shows that, after years of advocacy and coalition building, we finally have an opportunity to make this new vision a reality. Right now, legislators have three important bills before them:

HB 1110 would allow duplexes in most single family neighborhoods across the state, and triplexes, fourplexes, and some sixplexes in larger cities. These more diverse housing types, often termed “missing middle” because they fill in the gap between single-family homes and larger apartment buildings, are essential for providing lower cost options in all our neighborhoods.

SB 5466 would set minimum densities near light rail stations and other high-capacity transit. We need to let more people live near the transit that can provide access to major job centers and essential goods and services without getting stuck in traffic. This legislation, which  also provides incentives and funding for affordability and requires that cities develop anti-displacement plans for high displacement neighborhoods that are impacted.

HB 1181 incorporates climate change into the State Growth Management Act, the framework for how our state, cities, and counties plan for growth. Local governments will be directed to implement local policies and investments that will create more compact, walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods that reduce the need to drive.

These three policies are also part of a broader package of housing policies including the Covenant Homeownership Act, which addresses past racial discrimination in mortgage lending and makes record investments in the state housing trust fund. Together, this broader package will move Washington toward a more sustainable and inclusive future.

Standing in the way are a handful of small but powerful suburban cities, home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. Many welcoming people live in these places, but the organized voices representing them in Olympia are saying no—no to taking their share of growth, no to affordable housing options, no to people who do not have cars or cannot drive, and no to sharing their parks and schools.

But we can make a different choice. We can ensure that working class communities from all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds have a place in our state. Our housing options, just like our communities, should be plentiful and diverse with everything you need—fresh groceries, the doctor’s office, your favorite restaurant, parks and libraries—available within easy reach of your home. Whether you want to live in a big city or a small town, we all deserve an affordable home in a neighborhood built for people and communities.

I feel lucky to live in the city where I grew up. I want other long-time residents to be able to stay and thrive in their communities and I want to welcome new people to come here and enjoy what makes Washington such a great state. We have the tools. Now it is our legislators’ turn to fulfill this promise and pass these important bills this session.

Alex Brennan is the Executive Director of Futurewise. Born and raised in Seattle, he now resides in Capitol Hill and works across the state. Futurewise is leading campaigns to pass HB 1181, HB 1110, and SB 5466.


Washington Can’t Wait for Action on Equitable Housing and Climate Change

Tents on 4th Avenue, downtown Seattle

By Deborah Beckwin

Last January, I moved to Seattle from Florida and was disheartened by the lack of affordable housing—not only for me, but for unhoused folks.

A couple of weeks after my arrival, I was welcomed with about a foot of snow—an example of the kind of extreme weather that’s becoming more common in our region due to climate change. Although this was a temporary inconvenience and a little bit of fun for most of us, our unhoused neighbors were dealing with colder temps and a lot of snow, wet, and cold.

These two issues, climate change and a lack of affordable housing, collide and create unlivable conditions for everyone, but especially those experiencing homelessness.

As I started to venture out into Seattle, I started to see the tents and the RVs, as well as the places where unhoused folks called home, like downtown, SoDo, Ballard, and Belltown. As someone who has worked as a social worker with people who have a history of homelessness and severe mental health issues, I found it a very bewildering experience. Seattle is so wealthy and progressive. How is this happening? Why is it continuing to happen?

And then, a few months later, there was record heat in late June and wildfires. Choking smoke kept me indoors and had me purchasing an air filtration system. I was lucky to even have air conditioning.

But other people were not so lucky. Other people died—at least 13 people due to heat exposure. Our unhoused neighbors took the brunt of those unseasonably hot and smoky days.

And then, there was the recent deep freeze which brought Christmas snow and ice that didn’t melt for a week. Then the snow melted and there was yet another atmospheric river, bringing down inches of rain, causing flooding.

House Bill 1099, which came close to passing last year, would require local governments to address the impacts of climate change in their comprehensive plans by reducing vehicle miles traveled and cutting greenhouse gas emissions—offering local governments an array of options to help stem the tide of climate change.

You can look at all this and feel helpless and demoralized. It can be scary and overwhelming. But there is so much we can do to tackle our current climate emergency and to make sure that everyone is in safe and affordable housing.

One immediate thing we can do, right now, is support two pending bills in the Washington state legislature. We have a unique opportunity to shape the next 10 years and beyond and create a more equitable city and state by updating Washington’s Growth Management Act, which limits sprawl beyond city boundaries.

So let’s start with what’s already been accomplished.

Legislators passed HB 1220 in 2021, forging a way for creating more equitable housing by dismantling the racist and income-based discriminatory state housing policies that have caused people to become displaced, including our unhoused neighbors. The new law prohibits cities from banning shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness and encourages the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), such as backyard cottages, in cities. It also requires cities with comprehensive plans, such as Seattle, to plan for more affordable housing for people at all income levels, establish anti-displacement policies, and address discriminatory and exclusionary housing rules and regulations. Continue reading “Washington Can’t Wait for Action on Equitable Housing and Climate Change”

Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive

[REDACTED]: Emails confirm Durkan directive.
1. In what may be a final act before the wheels of the citywide participatory budgeting process begin to turn, the Black Brilliance Research Project’s (BBRP) team—specifically, longtime research leads Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe—are working with the Seattle City Council to develop a spending plan for the participatory budgeting rollout. The city plans to use participatory budgeting to select programs that will replace some functions of the Seattle Police Department.

Any money the city spends on staffing and infrastructure for participatory budgeting will come out of the $30 million set aside in the city’s 2021 budget for PB; that means it will reduce the dollar amount available to finance the projects for which Seattle residents will eventually be able to vote.

A draft spending plan written by the BBRP team outlines $8.3 million in overhead costs—roughly 28 percent of the project’s total budget, and 40 percent more than the entire budget of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights. The BBRP’s final report to council also suggested setting aside another 20 percent of the budget to cover any unexpected future costs, which would leave just under $16 million to pay for project proposals.

The largest portion of that spending would go to 35 staff members, all identified as “Strategic Advisor 2″-level employees (a city employment tier that comes with a six-figure salary), including a seven-person steering committee to set the rules and procedures for participatory budgeting as well as 25 full-time members of five “work groups” who will provide administrative support to the steering committee.

The draft spending plan also outlines plans to address inequitable access to the internet that might hinder efforts to give BIPOC and low-income residents a voice in the participatory budgeting process. Some digital access-related budget items fit within the current $8.3 million spending plan, but others don’t, including a $2.75 million program called the “Digital Navigator Program” that would involve hiring 50 people to provide one-on-one “assistance in getting to and using online resources, low-income internet [and] device programs, and developing digital skills” to BIPOC residents.

The BBRP and its supporters are still advocating for the city to spend additional dollars to the participatory budgeting process. At the moment, their focus is on a proposal before the council’s Public Safety Committee to cut $5.4 million from the Seattle Police Department’s budget to account for an equivalent amount that the department overspent in 2020. In an email sent on Monday, supporters of the participatory budgeting process suggested that the dollars taken from SPD’s budget could enable the city to hire the team of digital navigators, among other expenses. 

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2. Representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) is working to pass legislation (HB 1220) that updates the Growth Management Act with rules that would require more affordable housing stock. The bill says Washington cities should plan for upcoming growth by requiring cities to incorporate affordable housing into their comprehensive plans.

However, representatives from several suburban cities, including Renton and Auburn, testified against sections of the bill that would prohibit jurisdictions from banning homeless shelters and transitional housing, as the city of Renton effectively did earlier this year. The bill would prohibit such bans in any area where other types of short-term housing, such as motels, is allowed. Critics argue that the bill is an overreach of state authority, and cities should be able to deal with homelessness as they see fit.

Macri doesn’t buy it. “It seems like local control hasn’t led to inclusive zoning in the last 50 years, so why would I think that it would [now]?” she said, adding that while planning for more housing to accommodate growth is “good policy,” the proposed affordable housing mandates make the policy “real.”

Even though the bill passed the House on March 3 with unanimous Democratic support, Rep. Macri says she’s still worried about how the bill will fare in the Senate. Rep. Macri is currently trying to have conversations with cities, trying to find out what resources they need to “be inclusive to all people in all the zones where [cities] currently allow some people.” She says those conversations are not going great.

On March 11, the Sound Cities Association, which represents suburban cities, sent a letter opposing the bill signed by the mayors of Vancouver, Renton, Sammamish and 21 other mid-sized cities. The Sound Cities Association is a major player in the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to devise a region-wide approach to homelessness.

Conversations with the mid-size cities started out fine, Macri said, but as the legislation continued to move, cities kept coming up with new objections to the bill, before finally acknowledging their real beef, which Macri paraphrases as: “We don’t want certain kinds of people in certain kinds of neighborhoods because they can’t meet those people’s needs.”

Seattle’s City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan both sent letters to Seattle’s legislative delegation last week expressing their support for the bill. “All cities play a part in establishing affordable housing and remedying the homelessness crisis that is gripping our county, our region, and our state, and appreciate your support for HB 1220,” the council wrote.

3. Records obtained through a public disclosure request, though heavily redacted, appear to confirm that it was Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, not Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings or finance director Glen Lee, who decided to pressure the state auditor’s office to expand the scope of its performance audit of the city council’s contract with the Freedom Project, which served as the “fiscal agent” for the initial $3 million participatory budgeting research project. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive”