The Seattle Department of Planning and Development last night presented to the public a plan they said could improve the quality of townhouses without adding substantial costs, while also streamlining the design process and addressing common problems.
Currently, most townhouses do not undergo design review, unless the applicant volunteers for administrative review in order to seek departures from city land use code development standards. The city says this has created townhome developments that are poorly designed and or do not fit in with the character of the neighborhoods.
Following a directive last summer from Mayor Greg Nickels, who proposed new regulations for building townhouses, the department said the more streamlined version of the current Administrative Design Review could reduce permit process time and costs associated with it while still addressing design issues, said Geoff Wentlandt, senior planning and development specialist for the planning department.
Nickels' proposal for new regulations for building townhouses aims to ease concerns to those who oppose so-called cookie cutter town homes.
Northwest Multiple Listing Service members reported pending sales for April surged 11.4 percent compared to twelve months ago – and rose 21.3 percent from March, according to a press release from the service.
Brokers reported 6,918 pending sales during April across the 19 counties that make up the Northwest MLS market area. That’s up from the year-ago total of 6,208, and the March figure of 5,701 pending sales (offers made and accepted, but not yet closed).
For the four-county Puget Sound area (King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish), brokers notched 5,372 pending sales, the highest total since August 2007 and a jump of 26 percent from March.
Inventory is shrinking and prices are showing some signs of stabilizing, according to data in the latest report from Northwest MLS. The median price for last month’s closed sales of single family homes and condominiums area-wide was $270,000. That matched the figure for March, but still lagged prices of a year ago (down 12.9 percent).
Mayor Greg Nickels announced his proposal today in Wallingford to renew the Seattle Housing Levy, which expires at the end of 2009.
“Seattle voters have always voted to help house our most vulnerable neighbors," said Nickels in a statement. "This levy renewal will ensure struggling families, seniors and other vulnerable people keep a roof over their heads."
Nickels said that more than half of the proposed seven-year, $145 million levy will be dedicated to families and individuals earning mimumum wage or less -including retail, restaurant and hotel workers, as well as seniors living on fixed incomes. For the average homeowner, the property tax would cost $79 annually - about $6.60 a month.
A recent survey showed that 73 percent of Seattle residents surveyed believed that, in this economic downturn, it’s more important than ever to keep investing in low-income housing programs and assistance.
The way to solve increasing homelessness, and it can be solved, will come through community organization and sacrifice, not through government policies or practices, according to two local homeless advocates.
Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, and Rev. Craig Rennebohm, who has worked with people living on the streets of Seattle for more than 20 years, talked and answered questions about why homelessness is the problem that it is and what can be done about it at an April 19 forum hosted by Ballard's Trinity United Methodist Church.
Harris said members of the community need to build an infrastructure that will allow for organization across classes to help those living on the streets.
Rennebohm said Ballard needs a community organization that includes those community members who are living on the streets.
The neighborhood needs a grassroots, mobile outreach team with background in nursing, mental health and social work that can engage with those people who are most troubled, he said.
"I guess what I'm asking is to really take hold of our communities and organize block by block," Rennebohm said.
On April 19, at 7 p.m. the Trinity United Methodist Church will host a "homeless forum" at 6512 23rd Ave. N.W.
Questions that will be explored include:
- Why is homelessness growing in Ballard?
- Who are the homeless? Are they all moochers, drunks and jerks?
- What can be done politically to end homelessness?
- How can our neighborhood care but not enable?
- How can church and neighborhood work together?
The forum will feature Tim Harris, Editor and Publisher of Real Change speaking about the structural, political reasons for homelessness.
Rev. Craig Rennebohm, Mental Health Chaplain and author of "Souls in the Hands of a Tender God," will speak about the personal, behavioral reasons for homelessness.
According to the church, this is the first of several neighborhood forums aimed at creating strategies geared toward solutions for the growing issue in the community.
In an effort to slow down the increasing number of homeless individuals in Seattle, a joint effort by the city of Seattle, United Way of King County and the Committee to End Homelessness in King County have trained more than 500 Seattleites to survey unsheltered people in Seattle next Monday night.
Taking a cue from Toronto, which first started the survey, Seattle will be sending volunteers to designated areas in teams of three, where they will approach every single person they see to participate in the assessment.
“We’re making absolutely no assumptions or using typical stereotypes of what homeless people may look like,” Julie Moore, communications director of the Office of Housing said. “That’s something Toronto found, that when they did this survey you may be surprised when you come up to someone in business attire who just came out of work but actually may not have a home.”
Volunteers will ask citizens if they are sleeping indoors that evening, between the hours of 9 p.m. to midnight on Monday April 13. They will also ask those who are not staying in a home or shelter to participate in the confidential voluntary survey.
In the second recommendation meeting for a mixed-use complex at 4532 42nd Ave. S.W., the Southwest Design Review Board requested that architects return for another review after making changes to the first level of the building.
The complex, located near the Alaska Junction, will measure six stories high and with 35 unit apartments and two levels of underground parking containing 55 parking stalls.
In his presentation, architect Roger Newell explained how the project's design had been modified to address concerns presented by the board in June of 2008. He explained that the building's mass at the ground level had been set back and aligned with the west property line.
To accommodate previous board recommendations, commercial retail space in the building had also been moved to the first level of the complex. Continuous overhead canopies have been added along the sidewalk.
But Joe Hurley, the only acting board member who had been present at the project's previous recommendation meeting, was not satisfied with the changes he saw in Newell's design.
The housing shortfall has grown for people below 40 percent of county-wide median and the King County 2008 Housing Benchmarks Report shows similar growing gap for Seattle's very low income households.
• By contrast there is a surplus county-wide of rental units serving those at 80 percent of median of 100,000 plus units at that rent level.
• In Seattle, 81 percent of all rentals are affordable to those at 80 percent of median - for a surplus of over 30,000 city-wide at that rent level.
• But for the 40,000 households in Seattle earning at or below 40 percent of median, there are only about 10,000 units affordable to them at that rent level - for a shortfall of more than 30,000 units.
• The crisis grows for those at the bottom and that's where our priority should remain.
Though Seattle's housing and economic situation are not good, it's not as dire as some parts of the country, said experts in the industries at a panel discussion in front of the Seattle City Council Monday.
Susan Greenwald, director of single-family operations at Homestreet Bank, said nationally the percentage of homes either in foreclosure or with loans in delinquency is roughly just below 12 percent. In Washington State, it's 6.58 percent.
While it's better than the national average, Greenwald said she has never seen numbers that high in Seattle during her 30 years in the business.
"We have some real challenges ahead," she said.
Greenwald spoke with four other panelists from 10 a.m to noon, March 23 at a special council briefing titled,“The State of the Regional Economy: A Panel Discussion Among Local Experts," chaired by council president Richard Conlin.
Greenwald attributes the state's lower number to less mortgage fraud against lenders here than other parts of the nation, such as Michigan.