Last week, amid much histrionics, The Seattle Times leaked a draft report of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee. Owen chimed in on the absurd Time article in the week while I shared my take on the recommendations and Scott added some in depth context and analysis.Today, the final HALA recommendations were publicly released, and they’re quite extensive with 76 pages of policy priorities and analysis.

I’m a pro-rent control, pro-linkage fee, pro-inclusionary zoning, and pro-social housing nerd–which obviously puts me on really good terms with developers and market urbanists. I was initially skeptical of the composition of HALA. But, I also realized that the only way for my list of housing priorities to have any shot at succeeding, we needed to liberalize our planning and zoning codes. So I was amazed and shocked that the recommendations were so progressive–but there is work to be done, because we can make them even better.

What follows is the e-mail I sent Mayor Murray and sitting Councilmembers late last week to argue for making Seattle more accessible to all. I stand by this in light of today’s final recommendations. I’m tired of visionless charlatans championing failed policies and continuance of the rampant (49% of the city!) exclusionary zoning practices that have lead to rising land prices, rising housing costs, and are pricing people out of the city. We passed $15 per hour. We righteously won gay marriage. We can win an inclusive city, and walk back the injustice of 92 years of exclusionary zoning.

I hope you’ll join me in calling for a more diverse, more equitable, more creative, more beautiful, more just, and more visionary city.

Mayor Murray, Council Members,

I’m writing in full support of the HALA draft recommendations. Every. Single. One.

Seattle’s original zoning plan was a snapshot as things existed, haphazardly, in 1923 – shortly after the surrounding cities – villages, really – had been incorporated into the City. In subsequent years, especially outside the downtown core, much of that plan has – confoundedly, immorally, unjustly – been downzoned and adjusted to be even more exclusionary.

This is incredible, as Seattle’s population has nearly double since then – and continues to grow. The original zoning plan was not a means to allow the city to innovate, build, grow, adapt as zoning plans should.

The sum total of 92 years of exclusionary zoning through widespread adoption and protectionism of single family zoning has increased the real value of detached homes in this city 400, 500, 600, 700% in as little as 20-30 years. That equity has come at the expense of ever-increasing rents for tenants, citywide. It has come from the ever-increasing costs to own a home for newcomers and those attempting to move up the economic ladder, regionally. I’m sick of watching my friends have to leave the city or struggle to afford – let alone find – housing. I’m appalled that we’ve made it nearly impossible for those without means to find adequate housing in this city.

Tragically, this was entirely avoidable. We have some of the worst land use policies in the U.S., if not the world.

At Barcelona’s density, Seattle could house over three and a quarter million people – imagine!

The City of Stuttgart, roughly the same area and population of Seattle, has less than 5% of it’s land dedicated to single family housing – and 50% dedicated to green space, forest. Beautiful!

Less than 10% of Berlin’s 340 square miles are dedicated to single family housing – Seattle has more total area dedicated to single family housing than a city FOUR times its size! Ridiculous!

Thankfully, the zoning code is not built in stone! Let’s correct the travesty of 92 years of zoning designed for EXCLUSION, by aiming for a century (or more!) zoned for INCLUSION.

Let’s support the means for developers to build more housing, of all types, everywhere.

Let’s find ways to allow non-profit housing to flourish: co-ops, co-housing, baugruppen, community land trusts, land-leases for affordable housing, public housing!

Let’s build a city for all, a city that stops the displacement of very low, low and even moderate income residents to South King County, to Pierce County.

Let’s champion innovation! Europe is building twenty story wood towers, Paris might hit thirty five!

Let’s allow families and residents like those above, below and beside mine on the economic ladder to be able to share in the privilege, security of tenure, and equity of this city – and not just those privileged or lucky enough to have moved here before us. Equity that is created and increased by folks moving to the city, many of which ultimately are priced out by 19th century zoning.

Stop pricing us out. Share the city. Share the equity. Don’t punish newcomers and children to protect the inequity-increasing status quo.

Support the full HALA recommendations!

With the greatest of hope,
Michael Eliason

Final HALA Report

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  1. If developers build similar homes to what they are currently building, none are going to be for low income people. The homes they tear down might have been though.

  2. Did you say sorry to Danny Westneat for telling him he was wrong about the end of Single Family Zoning?

  3. Sent mine as a former and potentially future Seattle resident. HALA’s recommendations recognize the importance of providing a place that’s affordable and accessible for people like me who may not live in Seattle right now but might like to in the future, so I hope my comments in support help make the case.

  4. Should we get a Baron Haussmann to rebuild Seattle like he did Paris 150 years ago? But Ed Murray is no Louis-Napoleon, so it probably won’t happen.

    • We don’t need a hobrecht or a haussmann, we just need neighborhood exclusionists from preventing property owners from exercising their rights, and to stop using city goverment as a de facto HOA to exclude folks from the right to the city.

      Share the city!

      • The nature of Euclidean zoning is exclusionist. Should we just do away with zoning codes, so nobody gets “excluded”?

        Where is the study that documents that Seattle’s future housing needs (over the next 20 years) cannot be met within our 45 or so urban centers and urban villages?

        • Not to extent it was in seattle, nice revisionism tho. some people think so. Why shouldn’t whomever wants to live here be able to? What’s point of enacting progressive policies if we are just going to shut the door?

          What’s to study? We’ll need that too.

          Share the city!

        • How is our zoning Euclidean? Property lines are based on Euclidean geometry and the use of survey points, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how the city regulates uses.

          We could do away with most zoning if we chose to. “Zero-based” zoning isn’t the end of the world. Or we could just alter our current zoning to properly accommodate the growth we are seeing and the low income people it is displacing.

          • Euclidean zoning is named after the town of Euclid, Ohio. The town zoning code was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1926 in the case of Euclid vs. Ambler Realty Company, which removed all doubt as to the constitutionality of zoning.

            Of course we could “do away with most zoning” as you argue. It would certainly make developers happy, being able to build as high as they want and as wide as their property. NYC tenements were first developed on that model. In Seattle, the downside costs of no zoning are too obvious to bother discussing.

          • Ah yes. If we don’t have zoning, seattle will be filled with tenements.

            Berlin and vienna are great places to live. Also very affordable. Seattle could easily hold three million people. Why not let it? Why exclude people who have a right to the city, and not just til shift change? because a handful of ‘social justice advocates’ pushing policies of exclusion and self enrichment say so?

            We can be more creative than that, more inclusive. Nee, we HAVE to.

          • Is there no happy medium, Mike? Nothing between those wonderful high-density cities like Berlin and Vienna (yes, I’ve been to both) and what Seattle is today? Can’t we build upon and respect what we have, what’s here today, and forget the aspirations to be some other city?

          • not without opening up the single family zones. hence ‘missing middle’

            and yes, we will have to ‘build upon it’ – that’s how cities grow.

            it’s not that hard. share the city!

          • Nope. Gotta say no to getting the developers into bidding wars over SF houses in SF neighborhoods. That would not be building upon what we have, it would be morphing it into something it isn’t and doesn’t want to be. I do not subscribe to your “no price too high” notion when it comes to changing Seattle.

            When developers have run out of sites to build housing in MF and mixed use zones, they you can re-open this conversation.

          • Berlin and Vienna aren’t that affordable, especially if you consider the much lower salaries there. Unfortunately for zealots like Mike, there are no — repeat no — examples of rapidly growing, unaffordable cities that have become more affordable through zoning changes. But I’m sure that won’t stop Mike’s entertaining sloganeering.

          • berlin’s average wages are about a quarter less than munich or hamburg, if i recall correctly.

            according to die zeit from last dec., these are percent of NET income spent on rent, by city.

            berlin – 22.9%
            hamburg – 21.4%
            muenchen – 23.7%
            stuttgart – 22.3%
            frankfurt – 20.2%

            and those figures line up w/ this report from immobilienreport


            i don’t know vienna’s offhand – in general the cost of housing is lower in germany than the rest of EU, and austria is around the average. i can dig around later.

            seattle was about 31% of gross in 2014, so much higher as percentage of income.

            anyone name any affordable growing cities that have allowed 50% of their land to stay dedicated to suburban housing for last century? buehler? buehler, anyone?

          • I dont argue that we should get rid of zoning. You were proping up that strawman, and I was just pointing out that many cities do fine with that zoning scheme.

            Or we could do what we are doing, which is alter our current zoning to properly accommodate the growth we are seeing and the low income people it is displacing.

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