Gwen Davis
Participants view maps to determine how the zoning changes will impact their neck of the woods during presentation to Morgan Junction neighbors on the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda from the City of Seattle.

Morgan Junction gets an earful of HALA

By Gwen Davis

With tens of thousands of new families projected to move to Seattle within the next decade, city officials are gearing up to ensure there is enough housing, and that it’s affordable.

The Seattle of City is in the initial phases of gathering community input for the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), and HALA's Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) zoning program. (Read our previous coverage about MHA.)

On Monday evening, March 6, the city held a workshop to inform Morgan Junction residents about the zoning changes in the area, and to gather their input.

Understandably, people are wary of the city’s plans. During the first half of the workshop, city facilitators took the audience through a PowerPoint presentation of HALA and MHA. When questions were taken at the end, frustration among attendees was evident. People asked why the city is putting these plans in place now, what the city will do to ensure more housing doesn’t escalate chances of fires, and how the plans will effect seniors. Groans and accusations “alternative facts” echoed throughout the meeting.

However, facilitators said that waves of new people will move into the area whether the city wants that to happen or not. And right now, Seattle is experiencing a “housing crisis”. Homelessness is at an all-time high and more than 45,000 people are paying over half of their income on rent.

“This program is about people,” a city facilitator said. “It’s about Seattle being welcoming for all people at all income levels.”

In the next 10 years, HALA’s goal is to have 30,000 new market-rate homes, and 20,000 affordable homes.

Under MHA, developers must accommodate people who are teachers, administrative assistants, and others who don’t make a relatively high salary.

“All new multifamily and commercial development must either build or pay into a fund for affordable housing,” the facilitator said.

What is “affordable housing”? It’s housing that costs no more than around $1,000 per month. Currently, an average one-room apartment in Seattle is $2,000 per month. An attendee pointed out that even apodments — which are tiny studios — still average $2,000 per month, making them unaffordable for many.

Families making around $50,000 per year or less would qualify for affordable housing (exact amounts depend on the number of family members).

“There are strategies in preventing displacement and foresting equitable communities,” facilitators said. Indeed, a disquieting trend that has been occurring around the city is intensified gentrification. As neighborhoods develop they are becoming more expensive, forcing the people who have been living there for decades to move out — usually people who are low-income and are people of color. Seattle is becoming whiter and richer, while those who aren’t Amazon engineers for example, are moving south to places like Tacoma. Such trends make traffic worse, as Seattle still offers the bulk of jobs, and those that can’t live in the city need to commute long distances. Additionally, most Seattleites share values related to equity and diversity.

But growing pains are painful and real, nonetheless. The meeting highlighted people’s stresses about their neighborhood changing.

There are currently about 1,342 homes in the Morgan Junction. Without the MHA program, there would be 400 new homes in the next 20 years. With MHA there would be 778 homes over 20 years.

The Junction is what’s called an “urban village” which is an area where there are many businesses, transportation options, parks and open spaces. There are about 30 urban villages in the city. These areas will receive a larger share of new housing requirements than areas without as many living necessities.

During the second half of the meeting, attendees had the opportunity to view maps in order to determine what changes would occur where they live. They also could ask city officials more questions and voice further concerns.

The meeting concluded the first round of HALA public meetings. There will be another round of meetings in April.

Before the city begins implementing HALA and MHA, it will need to do an environmental impact study (EIS) to determine if plans would harm the environment. The first draft of the EIS will be made available for public comment in May. A final draft will be written in the summer. By later summer or early fall of 2017, the city council will vote to potentially move forward with the plans. The city council, along with West Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold already voted to allow HALA planning to commence last year.

Herbold was in attendance at the meeting.

One attendee asked about parking accommodations.

“With greater amount of people living here, will developers be required to put in more parking?”

The simple answer is no. The city might work with Sound Transit to put in place more residential parking zones, but as as the city is betting on more people relying on public transportation — especially with expanded light rail coverage — vehicle parking has not been a priority for the city’s administration.

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