On Wednesday, the eight Seattle City Council candidates in open seat races faced off in a forum held at First Baptist Church. Questions were focused on housing, land use, and the once-a-decade “Major Update” to the Comprehensive Plan due in 2024.

The forum was hosted by the Complete Communities Coalition (CCC), of which The Urbanist is a member. Other CCC members include Real Change, Habitat for Humanity of Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, Futurewise, Housing Development Consortium, Tech 4 Housing, Chief Seattle Club, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. The coalition came together to advocate for a good Comprehensive Plan that promotes pro-housing and pro-affordability policies.

Cliff Cawthon from Habitat for Humanity of Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties and Tiffani McCoy from Real Change moderated the forum, which was the second in a two-part series. The first forum on Tuesday included candidates from Districts 2, 6, and 7, each of which has an incumbent running for re-election. The second forum included the open seat races: Districts 1, 3, 4, and 5.

The matchups are listed below with The Urbanist’s endorsements indicated in bold and their respective share of the primary vote after their name.

  • D1 – Maren Costa 33% versus Rob Saka 24%.
  • D3 – Joy Hollingsworth 37% versus Alex Hudson 37%.
  • D4 – Ron Davis 45% versus Maritza Rivera 32%.
  • D5 – Cathy Moore 31% versus ChrisTiana ObeySumner 24%.

The Urbanist live tweeted the forum event for a stream of conscious take, but below is some additional reflections.

Broad agreement about need for more housing, a bold Comp Plan

Much like the first forum covering the other three races, Seattle council candidates broadly supported adding more housing, and many identified the most ambitious option officially in consideration, Alternative 5, or gave a shoutout to adding an Alterative 6 that adds even more housing capacity. The Alternative 6 candidates were the ones who won the endorsement of The Urbanist Elections Committee (of which I am a member.)

Still, wide support for Alternative 5, even among the more centrist candidates, showed how far the needle has moved toward housing abundance in Seattle politics.

  • Costa: Alternative 6
  • Saka: Alternative 5
  • Hollingsworth: Alternative 5
  • Hudson: Alternative 6
  • Davis: Alternative 6
  • Rivera: No firm commitment.
  • Moore: Alternative 5 curious
  • ObeySumner: Alternative 6

In particular, Davis, Hudson, and Costa were unabashedly for more housing and displayed a firm grasp of the issues at play to make it happen and a knack for laying out a captivating vision of a greener Seattle with more homes, transit, walkability, and amenities.

“If you want to know the kind of housing that I support in my neighborhood, you can walk out the front door and see many examples of it,” Hudson said, noting the diversity of housing of all shapes and sizes on First Hill, which is in her District 3. “And so we need to have housing that looks like what’s beautiful around here, right, like seven stories, 37 stories, all of it. We need to have templated type housing so that we can have six- and eight- 12-plexes and above, and our neighborhoods that we used to have, that are beautiful, that are inclusive, that are affordable.”

Davis gave a shoutout to single stair apartments

Ron Davis gave a nod to single stair apartments, which allow developers to work with smaller sites and build more economically and efficiently while providing more family-sized homes with better ventilation and light exposure. Urbanist columnist Mike Eliason has written about the importance of single stairway apartment construction and helped the lobby the City and state legislature to allow it. Most building codes default to promoting double-loaded corridors, which leads to poor ventilation, less light exposure, and awkward layouts.

“My heart goes a flutter for four- to seven-story single-stairway walk-up flats,” Davis said. “It’s our greatest new build for family-sized houses; they can be built with smaller housing. There should be market-rate versions of those. There should be subsidized versions of those — whether those be traditional affordable housing, but mostly mixed income social housing. We should be building those everywhere and they can be built in ways that are essentially pushed to the front of properties, the more we preserve green space and move towards significant density everywhere.”

Rivera was the most tentative and argued for single-family zoning

The exception was Maritza Rivera, who neither expressed support for Alternative 5 at the forum or in her Urbanist questionnaire, in which she opposed “abolishing single-family zoning.” Rivera was also blowing some dog whistles with respect to process, and giving neighborhood groups veto points to block housing.

“We need to be thoughtful when we do development, because we know that in some cases, there are some blocks where an apartment complex won’t work,” Rivera said. “But we do need to have the conversation and it does need to be thoughtful. We do need to look at the neighborhoods.”

Saka is a fan of parking requirements

Saka seemed to be having a solid forum and had shared some pro-housing views. He framed his opponent Costa and himself as agreeing on the need to add density and green space. That made the decision to close the forum by stressing the importance of requiring costly parking stalls to be included with new housing projects all the more odd. Those parking stalls can conflict with green space and with keeping trees in missing middle projects, and they also present a financial challenge to homebuilders already struggling with high financing and building costs. Parking requirements lead to fewer homes, which is why Seattle began reforming requirements in 2018.

“I think I would potentially diverge a little bit with respect to parking,” Saka said. “I support a thoughtful approach that phases out parking, but I don’t think that’s something we could turn off overnight. And yes, we need to get people out of single-occupancy vehicles, and yes, we need to get more people into transit and expand the transit options so they can actually take it reliably, but we also need to understand that for some people that have the privilege to use cars today there is a need.”

Hollingsworth used pro-housing rhetoric, but has a history of housing opposition

In the forum, Hollingsworth stressed senior housing and aging in place by adding missing middle housing like triplexes in single-family areas. In general, she struck a pro-housing tone, while noting some hesitation around displacement. However, shortly after the forum, The Stranger ran an article noting her opposition to housing near a Hollingsworth family property in Miller Park. Hollingsworth submitted public comment against a proposal for a five-story apartment building next door and urging the City to cap the proposed neighboring building at two stories. Hannah Kreig of The Stranger noted Hollingsworth stressed views of Bellevue rather than displacement in her complaint.

“However, in the 2017 letter, which she wrote as the property manager for three neighboring lots that her relatives own, Hollingsworth did not mention gentrification or displacement,” Kreig wrote. “Instead, she complained that new buildings obstructed her view of Bellevue and Lake Washington and deprived her of natural light. She asked SDCI (Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections)  to cap the project at two stories, which would have slashed the number of the building’s units by 70%. When the agency ended up approving the apartment construction in 2020, she wrote in an email, ‘…Soon won’t have a backyard but looking up at buildings. It’s trash.'”

The small efficiency dwelling unit (SEDU) building would have provided 17 moderately-priced homes, but Hollingsworth expressed worries about traffic and parking in a letter to Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections Director Nathan Torgelson.

“She added that the new SEDU building would be ‘incredibly invasive’ because it would increase foot and car traffic in the area,” Kreig wrote. “Moreover, the developers did not include parking spaces in their plans, which she worried would lead to even more drivers blocking or parking in their driveways.”

The developer ended up not pursuing the proposal, but the site is situated near the intersection of Madison Street and 23rd Avenue E and thus two major bus corridors. In fact, the RapidRide G Line set to open on Madison Street in 2024 would represent some of the best bus service in the city and reflects a decision to reshuffle routes and decrease bus frequencies in other parts of Capitol Hill in order to focus it on the Madison corridor. It’s a good place to add dense multifamily housing.

In short, the question for Hollingsworth is whether she would apply the housing principles she has shared on the campaign trail or those she’s displayed when lobbying against a proposal in her family’s own backyard.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.