A Quickie on the #CHC Report (I Guess #HALA Part 9?)

During the #HALA series, I found myself engaged in many conversations with folks who are less than enthused about HALA. In one instance, I was pointed to the Community Housing Caucus report. So I looked it over, saw some stuff that was similar to HALA, but promised to do a more in-depth look at this "alternative" to HALA. While the HALA committee included people who work in private development (along with nonprofit developers, community members, tenant activists, and so on and so on), this committee did not. Instead, the CHC included staff from two City Council member offices, and various advocates from various organizations, along with two nonprofit developers. 

This goes to an important question - who are the appropriate people to have engaged in a group discussing affordable housing (or any issue, for that matter)? I think it is important to have representatives from many points of view. And while that does not necessarily mean representatives from a trade organization or lobby group, having folks who experience the day-to-day of building a city are important for information that folks who advocate for more affordable housing might not have. 

But enough yammering - 

1. Financing

This starts with a call to dive into Seattle's bonding capacity to build more housing for folks at 0-50% of AMI. I love this idea. However, so far there is nothing to say where that housing (and there's a lot of potential) would go. With many folks who say "look to CHC instead!" opposing zoning changes, there is a concern about doing these great ideas, but having nowhere to put the housing or, worse, having to cluster it all in already poor parts of the city that have jobs and can't constantly take time off of work and family to argue against zoning changes. 

Next is a call for a "Growth Related Housing Fund." This is in HALA. 

Following is a call to dedicated 20% of REET revenue to housing production for folks exiting homelessness (again, with no recommendation of where to put the housing). This would be about $0.106 more than the HALA plan (which is $0.25 additional REET). 

"Dedicate an amount from the City's General Fund" for low-income housing, in addition to the housing levy. Again, no ideas of where to put the housing, or which programs should be cut in order to pay for this. However, there are also calls in HALA to use some general fund dollars on staffing and other purposes, but I believe there it all pays for itself with fee recovery later. 

"Millionaires' Tax" - Anyone who knows me knows I'm all-in on a high-earner income tax in Seattle. I would support a lower number than income of $1,000,000.00 per year, but none of that really matters, because this is a long-term strategy that will do nothing in the immediate term to actually impact affordability in the city due to multiple legal implications. 

"Launch a new private sector initiative to raise $50 million to end homelessness" I'm going to say a hard and unpopular truth: we'll never end homelessness. We can make significant and meaningful impacts, but "ending" is just not an option with the limited resources as a city. However, there is a similar call for private sector investment for more affordable housing, which has a direct impact on homelessness and housing availability for the very poor in HALA. 

"Housing Linkage Fees and Renewed Housing Levy" Housing Levy (doubling) was part of HALA (this just says renewal, nothing about how much to renew by, so I am led to believe that means at the previous rate). The Linkage Fee is also part of HALA, just with a different name (Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning). 

Other Ideas - 

"Limited Equity Cooperative" There is a lot in HALA to leverage the city's credit rating and other resources, along with the Housing Levy, to provide more options for folks to enter homeownership, and to support nonprofit developers. Whatever function this is seeking is already part of HALA, as I'm reading it. 

"Acquisition of significant units" This is part of HALA

"Bridge financing" This is part of HALA, and was part of the Housing Levy

"Prioritize serving the city's poorest households" While not explicit in HALA, this is pretty explicit in the Housing Levy. This does raise a separate question, though - what risk are we placing on folks in the 40-60% AMI range of falling into homelessness if we divert resources to 30% and below? What is the right balance? I don't have the answer, but I have heard from many providers that they see folks going from bad to worse because they weren't worse when they came for services, so were denied. Had they received services when things were "bad," it would have been shorter and much less expensive, with a better outcome. It's a tough balancing test. 

"Options for production of affordable housing" This asserts that nonprofit developers can only develop housing that has 50+ units. However, I don't believe that is accurate. Regardless, more types of housing is included in HALA. 

"Establish a Loan and Bond Guarantee Pool" Something similar is in HALA

"Seattle Housing Impact Note Program" Also known as "Impact Investing," this is part of HALA

2. Zoning and Housing Types

"1-for-1 replacement" I believe that the city should shoot for a 1-for-1 (or better) plan for replacement of affordable housing in areas seeking significant zoning changes. Through a combination of the MFTE, the PTE (if it is authorized), Housing Levy, Commercial Linkage Fee, and MHA, I think we have that ability. As I have written before, just because something is affordable now does not mean it will be forever (unless it is required as a result of public funding for the building). The combination of the programs noted above can create that 1-for-1 plan. This recommendation would amend SEPA to require all developers demolishing four or more units of housing priced as "affordable" to folks at 80% or below AMI to do a 1-for-1 replacement, along with similar requirements for any air or street or alley vacation. While functionally similar, I'm not sure if this plan would pass constitutional muster under the takings clause. 

"Place a hold on up-zones where low income housing is threatened" Earlier in this report, there is a call for massive funding of production of affordable housing units. However, with this portion, that would deny the ability to build that housing near light rail or high-capacity transit. The fact is low-income housing is threatened throughout the city because more people are moving here. Those people often have money and good paying jobs here. They are not the ones who will be turned away from the city - the folks who are low-income are the ones who will be economically evicted. This recommendation sounds good, but would have long-term impacts that would be disastrous for the environment and future generations ability to call Seattle home. 

"Zoning manufactured housing" There are five manufactured home communities in Seattle, with 270 units spread among them. Adding this zoning change would disallow anything else to be built on these properties. I agree that mobile homes are one affordable option, but so are condominiums, row houses, town houses, and co-operative duplex/triplex situations. Absent allowing for more of these options, I'm not 100% why we would set aside large swaths of urban areas for a separate housing type. I'm not opposed, either, but feel this misses other affordable housing options that have been killed in recent years. 

"Geographic spread of housing for all income levels throughout the City" This would change L2-L3 to "Family Housing" zones to encourage family type units, and calls for a buffer between SF and mid-rise NC and Commercial zones. This is basically in HALA, and many of the proposed zoning changes in Seattle create the buffer zones. There is also a lot in HALA to encourage more "family size" development (and actually define the term). Suffice it to say, this is, in effect, a part of HALA

"Expand Housing TDR Program" This would expand the TDR program city-wide. But, as noted above, there is a desire to block up-zones, so where the increased density in "designated areas" would be is unclear. 

3. Tenant Access/Protections

"Rent stabilization" Aside from lobbying the state to allow Seattle to implement a rent stabilization program, this would also require all developers who receive a discretionary land use decision in their favor to include rent stabilization (what type is unclear) in their building. I'm a fan of rent stabilization, depending on the specifics. I'm not sure that it would be the best policy, however, to include rent stabilization as a requirement for discretionary land-use decisions. I'd need to see more info, along with the impact of other programs already required by the city. 

"Tenant eligibility for receiving relation assistance" Mostly part of HALA. This would increase eligibility to 80% AMI, as well. 

"Support and seek State passage of a 90-day notice for all rent increases." I'm 100% in on this, and think most people should be. You either know that you're doing a rent increase or you don't. 90 days is not unreasonable. And it gives tenants who are going to be priced out the opportunity to save for moving costs. 

"Restore Just Cause Eviction Ordinance" This would require 90-days notice for a no-fault lease termination and non-renewal. Not unreasonable. 

"Deposit & Fee Reform" Not part of HALA, but a lot of these were recently passed by the Council as part of the move-in fee reform legislation. 

"Right to Organize (RTO) enforcement" A call for the city to enforce its RTO legislation. 

4. Preservation of Existing Subsidized Housing

"Preserving Subsidized Units" This basically calls for what it says. I don't believe this is explicitly in HALA. 

5. Preservation/Creation of Affordability in existing Market Rate Housing

"Pass a 'Right of First Notice' ordinance" An ROFN requires certain property owners to alert the city (and subsequently nonprofit developers) of an intent to sell before placing a property on the market, giving the nonprofit an opportunity to make an early offer before a bidding war begins, and potentially purchasing a property and maintaining affordability in the otherwise non-subsidized units (affordability that would ostensibly be lost with a profit-driven purchaser). Council Member Tim Burgess spearheaded something similar back in 2015. 

"Housing Preservation" Preservation is a pretty big part of HALA. This would simply add a commission (because we're Seattle) to inventory privately owned buildings that may be affordable without a subsidy. 

"Amend the City's Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE)" This is fascinating. This says we should either limit MFTE to nonprofit developers, or limit it to areas that are not experiencing significant growth. That would literally produce fewer affordable units of housing for folks around 80% AMI, making Seattle less affordable for many working families. I agree that MFTE needs some tweaks (some of which are proposed in HALA), but not allowing MFTE in high-growth areas near light rail and transit is classist af. 

"Future condominium conversion" This would limit the ability of rental properties to convert to condos. While I agree there should be some safeguards for tenants, if we are going to promote more homeownership opportunities (as called for above with mobile homes), then condo conversations are a natural way to look to create more affordable opportunities. I'm not sure how intellectually consistent this document is. 

"City authority over SHA" Seattle Housing Authority is an interesting thing, and it has its issues. This would require SHA to seek explicit city approval of any actions that would reduce its housing portfolio. Not part of HALA

6. New Affordable Housing Resources

"Public land availability" part of HALA

"Inventory low-income housing" This isn't part of HALA, but it's something that is already being done through the Office of Housing. 

"Develop strategy to identify and make use of suitable land and resources for low income housing" part of HALA

"Annual low-income housing targets" This is sort of part of HALA. HALA has a target for total units, and while not laid out on an annual basis as this calls for, the function is basically the same. But, again, with calls to limit where housing can be built throughout this document, it's difficult to understand how this document purports to meet these goals. 

"Land for encampments" This is not, and should not, be part of HALA. Encampments are an interesting and difficult conversation. With the influx of Tiny House Villages (THVs), I personally believe that we should set up city-sanctioned THVs throughout the city, and work to get people out of unsanctioned encampments into THVs and, ultimately, into permanent housing. Replacing tent encampments with THVs would provide more protection from the elements for folks, and is a direction I would like the city to move toward. I have heard there are some in Nicklesville and SHARE/WHEEL encampments who prefer to be in tents over THVs or permanent housing. I am hard pressed to support funding tent encampments further if/when there are sufficient THVs to replace tents in all of the city-sanctioned encampments. 

"Vehicle residency" I am supportive of RV and Car Camper lots, with access to services and toilets and trash collection and the like. We've tried this in Seattle, and it didn't go too well, but I think it is worth exploring how we can do it better, and cheaper, to help meet people where they are prior to providing people with permanent housing. 

7. Place Based Strategies (OH and DPD)

"Special Review Districts" This would create a zoning overlay that would have boards reviewing the impact on existing affordable housing of any new development, with veto power over any permit. This would add another layer to the review process, and necessarily slow all development in the city, raising the cost of development, and raising the cost of housing that is not rent or income restricted. This is a terrible idea. 

"Advisory groups" This would be "in lieu" of the above recommendation, and have neighborhood/tenant based advisory groups review the status of low-income housing and recommend ways to preserve and grow low-income housing stock. This is not part of HALA, but there are a series of commissions that will have similar tasks as part of their purview (CIC and Renters' Commission). 

"Take action to address 'Student Housing Needs'" Why they put quotes around student housing needs is unclear. It's a real thing. But basically this calls for OH to work with the colleges and universities to make suggestions to address the need for more affordable student housing throughout Seattle. Not part of HALA, not a bad idea. 

8. Sustainable Homeownership - OH

"A principal reduction program" This would have the city purchase underwater homes from the bank, and then re-sell them at an "affordable" market price to the people about to lose their house. There was foreclosure assistance funds added to the Housing Levy. I'm not sure how I feel about this specific idea, however. Absent turning over the property to a Land Trust and placing covenants around the future resale price, I'm not convinced it is good policy to use taxpayer dollars to benefit banks and individuals without a permanent benefit to affordable homeowership opportunities in the future. 

9. Additional Strategy Focus

"Work to End Homelessness" Build more housing for folks transitioning out of housing. But again - where???

"Homeless Families" Build more housing for homeless families - and with a regional approach. But again - where???

"Homeless Youth and Young Adults" Increasing resources for services and supportive housing for this often neglected population sounds like a fantastic idea, and I will always be on board! 

"Expand Shelter Capacity" We are already doing this. In addition, I think we should have more oversight of how the funds are being spent, a priority of funding for low-barrier shelters that have services to connect people with permanent supportive housing, day shelter options with storage lockers, and drop-in inspections of shelters to ensure that we are providing sanitary emergency places to sleep. 

"Purchase Hotels for Voucher Program" Basically, instead of funding hotel vouchers, just buy some damned hotels and save in the long-term. Not a terrible idea, especially if it could be combined with plans to re-develop the site to build permanent housing. 

"Shared housing" This is an interesting one. "Consider shared housing for people moving out of homelessness." Would this include microhousing developments? 

"Size of Units" While much of the HALA report (and some of this) focuses on more family size housing, this specifically says we should encourage building more studio apartments for singles. As I've noted before, microhousing is a great option, as well. Many singles that I know, and have met during my time volunteering in encampments and tent cities, aren't looking for a lot of space, and many have specifically stated they would love a micro unit. So just keep that in mind, I guess. But also - WE NEED MORE FAMILY SIZE UNITS.

"Small houses" Not the THVs, but Tiny Houses that include bathrooms and the like, are a hipster dream. This would allow for more of those to be built throughout Seattle. I'm guessing in RSL zones. Whatever. 

"Companion congregations" I think this calls for creating a program where a church can work with a landlord to place a church member in need of immediate housing for a year or less. I think. 

10. State Issues for Advocacy

"Housing Finance Reform" This is basically in HALA

"Utilize land at Fircrest" The Fircrest Residential Facility provides a home for about 200 adults with developmental disabilities. This recommendation would redevelop some of the property that is not being used for housing for housing for specific populations, "such as low-income seniors." Not part of HALA

"Basic standard for cities in developing homelessness remedies" Some cities restrict the ability of homeless shelters to be built, or services to be visible to those in need. This calls for the City to call on the State to intervene. 

"Regional housing plans" A call to require Metropolitan Planning Organizations to produce a housing plan with the currently mandating transportation plan, with the idea that we have a regional problem. 

And that's it. The Community Housing Caucus report has some good ideas that are not part of HALA, a lot of stuff that is explicitly in HALA, and a lot of stuff that HALA actually does. There isn't anything about livability in this report, though, and it doesn't touch on things like parking that have a direct impact on the cost of production of housing. Further, there are many places where it calls for pretty significant investment in production of new housing, while at the same time seeking to limit the ability to build any new housing. The amount of contradictions and lack of intellectual consistency is troubling and surprising. 

Also: I totally lied when I thought this would be quick. Regardless, this just about concludes the overall series on HALA!