#HALA Part 3 - 6%

Since the original post that led to this series, I've had some pretty great (and pretty awful) conversations with folks about HALA. Looking at the first two installments of this series, there definitely has been an education all around. Most recently, someone pointed me in the direction of the Community Housing Caucus report, which was described as an "Alternative to HALA." I skimmed that again (I read it in 2015, I swear!), and I've always viewed it as a potential addition to HALA. Some of the recommendations are substantially identical to HALA recommendations, and others are not a short-term, immediate solution (rent stabilization and a millionaires' tax - both of which I support generally - will take years to wind through the courts. Relying on these ideas means over those years, more families will be displaced due to rising rents). For good measure, though, I'm going to follow this series up with one based on that report, and highlight the areas of similarity. 

Today, however, I begin on page 21. Based on my cursory review, my guess is this is where some of the biggest consternation with HALA begins. Today we go into "II. More Housing: Recommended Strategies to Increase and Diversify Seattle's Housing Supply."

Which begins: Increase Opportunities for Multifamily Housing

"Many Seattle residents and people who want to live in Seattle are frustrated in their search for an apartment, townhome, duplex or similar housing. Their opportunities are limited by the relatively small portion of Seattle's land zoned for multifamily housing (such as apartment buildings, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, etc). In addition, only about 10% of the parcel land area is zoned for Lowrise (LR), Midrise (MR) or Highrise (HR) multifamily housing. In areas of the city where new multifamily development is feasible and where demand is highest (i.e., where people want to live, based on access to amenities, transit and other livability factors), development sites are in short supply."

Put another way - There just isn't a lot of land that people can actually build multifamily housing, much less "missing middle" housing, in Seattle. There has been notes that, in theory, if all areas were built to their maximum zoning potential under current zoning, we would see development of 100,000 more units of housing. However, as noted, that assumes that there is the desire to do that building. Like it or not, housing is treated much like a commodity, and placement matters for a project to pencil out. Many of the properties to the west of Magnuson Park, for instance, are currently zoned LR3, but not few properties has been developed to maximum potential. 

MF.1 - Increase the amount of land zoned for multifamily housing

Basically, this would see 6% of the land currently zoned as SF rezoned to LR (half for properties that are currently in urban villages, half that are in walksheds to transit centers, notably light rail). While noting this will not have an immediate impact, the recognition in the report is that this change would help to ensure ongoing creation of the structures that become "naturally affordable." In order to implement this change, the report states that there must also be "strategies to preserve quality affordable multifamily housing and mitigate displacement." Notably, this includes not only a recommendations that upzones be directly linked to affordable housing production, but also additional strategies to mitigate displacement not caught in the MHA requirement. 

MF.2 - Expand the boundaries of Urban Villages to reflect walksheds for transit, amenities and services

This basically proposes what it says. Looking at the map, the impacted areas are mostly near light rail stations. The exceptions: West Seattle Junction (on a Rapid Ride route), Ballard (on a Rapid Ride route), Crown Hill (on a Rapid Ride route)...and that's it (potentially Pinehurst/Hallar Lake if there is a light rail station built at NE 130th). 

MF.3 - Increase housing options on single family zoned land within Urban Villages

Basically this calls for rezoning SF areas within Urban Villages to RSL, LR, or multifamily, to conform with existing plans dating back to the 1990's about growth strategies in Seattle. 

MF.4 - Add multifamily zoning to create transitions next to more intensive zones

If you've been around some neighborhoods in Seattle, you notice a stark change from the multifamily sections and the single-family sections. Sometimes referred to as "Missing Middle Housing", the lack of small multi-family apartment buildings, duplexes/triplexes, courtyard apartments, etc., is often one of the attributes of lack of affordable housing. Put another way - if your choice is mid-rise/high-rise or single family, that limitation of choice creates a cost barrier for many families in Seattle. This proposal envisions more of this "Missing Middle" being built not only to ensure more affordability, but to also act as a buffer between low-density parts of the city, and increasingly denser portions (particularly around light rail and Rapid Ride stations). 

MF.5 - Modify height limits and codes to maximize economical wood frame construction

This gets into the economics of multifamily construction. There are three distinct pieces. The first is to increase 65' height limit zones to 75', which is the maximum height for Type V wood frame construction in the building code. Wood frame is the most economical construction form, and makes up 65% of all MF zones in the city. This recommendation adds one story. There is also the consideration of going to 85' in some areas, but that would require building code adjustments. 

This is the section that also recommends adding 10' to current 30' and 40' limited areas. This modifies development capacity, and lowers the cost per square foot of construction for multifamily housing. 

Finally, this recommendation include a nod to modification of the building and fire codes to allow up to 85' wood frame construction and Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), which at certain heights and above, is a more economical building material, while also much more environmentally friendly (both in material production and sealing in of heat) than steel frame.

MF.6 - Remove code barriers to small flats or apartments in some multifamily zones

Currently, some code requirements favor side-by-side construction of townhomes and the like. This would keep the same bulk, but allow for more diversity in design to have homes stacked instead of side-by-side.

MF.7 - Focus on existing multifamily zoned areas with significant underused development capacity

Above I noted that there are parts of the city that just aren't being developed despite being zoned for multifamily. This recommendation calls that out, and suggests that the city review these areas, and see what amenities are missing, and what street and park improvements should be made to encourage development in these currently MF zoned areas.

MF.8 - Remove recently created barriers to the creation of congregate micro-housing

Currently, microhousing is limited to areas that are zoned NC-3 or above. This recommendation calls for allowing microhousing in dense areas within Urban Villages that have 30-40' height limits (and above). This does not include a recommendation to remove the two sink requirement. (note: parking is addressed later in the document, and will be addressed later in this series). 

So, there you have it. In short, this section calls for rezoning 6% of the city from SF to RSL or LR (mostly LR1, in some instances LR2 or 3), adding 10 feet to LR zones and NC zones, creating more missing middle housing to buffer between medium-high density and low-density areas of the city, and a focus on currently underutilized MF areas, plus recommendation for code changes to allow more housing types within existing zoning regulations. 

My guess is a lot of folks who are adamantly opposed to HALA are specifically objecting to MF.1, MF.3, MF.4, MF.5, and MF.8. Personally, I don't find these changes to be particularly dramatic. Cities change. These proposals would have relatively minor change occur in the zoning code. However, as we all know, just because a property has its zoning limitations changed does not mean that it is immediately redeveloped. It still requires a sale of the property, permitting, design review, etc. etc. The actual noticeable impacts of these proposed changes, from my perspective, would be pretty non-existent for most in the near-term.