Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Double-header: Incentive Zoning in Seattle and Next Steps for a Capitol Hill Tree Map

I started my evening attending an Incentive Zoning Public Meeting at City Hall at the behest of Elana Dix and Puget Sound SAGE. The City Council and the Mayor's Office have separately developed legislation that would create a comprhensive incentive zoning plan for the City of Seattle, IZ being the fancy way of saying that if developer's build some affordable housing into their project they'll get a carrot.

Mayor's Proposal
  • Amount of BFA Required to be Set Aside for Workforce Housing: 11%
  • In-lieu Payment for BFA: Minimum=$15/sq.ft., Maximum=$18.94/sq.ft., Tiered cost schedule by floor
  • Affordability Levels: 80% of AMI for Rental Units, 100% of AMI for Condo Units
  • Replacement Housing: NA
  • Other Bonus Provisions: This bill contains regulations for achieving residential and non-residential BFA. Proposed bonus provisions contemplate provision of open space, physical public amenities, transferable development rights, and other public benefits
City Council's (Sally Clark's) Proposal
  • Amount of BFA Required to be Set Aside for Workforce Housing: 20%
  • In-lieu Payment for BFA: No minimum, maximum, or tiered cost by floor - flat $18.94/sq.ft. fee. Automatic fee escalation begins in 2010.
  • Affordability Levels: 80% of AMI for Rental Units, 100% of AMI for Condo Units. Deeper affordability down to 50% of AMI in exchange for a reduced set aside (lower % of BFA).
  • Replacement Housing: Units in buildings proposed to be demolished for which tenant relocation assistance is required must be replaced.
  • Other Bonus Provisions: Not included. The Council Chair proposes to draft a resolution outlining how these and other public benefits will be incorporated as the City considers upcoming legislative rezones. This resolution will be drafted this fall and will be a companion piece to the incentive zoning bill the Council considers this December
Some definitions:
  • BFA: Bonused Floor Area - floor area above and beyond what is allowed by regular zoning. At least that's what I gathered at the meeting. Let's say a developer puts an extra story on a building above what was usually allowed by the zoning for the area, and the square footage of that floor was 10,000 sq.ft. According to Sally Clark's proposal the area that would need to be set aside in that building for affordable housing would be 2,000 sq.ft. (20% of the BFA)
  • AMI: Area Median Income. For Seattle, it's about $57,000 to $65,000 a year depending on household size. 80% of median income is about $42,000 to $56,000 depending on household size. When the Mayor and the Council say that affordability levels are set at 80% AMI, they mean that the affordable housing will be affordable to those families of one or more making $42,000 to $56,000 a year.
  • In-lieu payment or fees: the amount of money that a developer would pay (per sq.ft.) if they chose not to build affordable housing on site.
I and most of my friends, who are not considered impoverished by most standards, make maybe 30-40% of the Area Median Income. Also, most market-rate apartments in Seattle are already affordable for those at 80% AMI (according to some of the speakers at the public meeting). This is a pretty fucking useless plan.

I'd also like to note both parties set the affordability level on condos at 100% AMI. I have a friend who's a beginning computer programmer, and she makes $60,000 a year. She'll be able to buy a condo after she's worked at her present job for three years.

She saves a big chunk of her income, mind you, but $60,000/year is about the level at which one has enough money so one can save a lot of it. I don't think that 100% AMI is "affordable housing" by any standards. It leaves poor working class peons (like myself) without any chance of owning their own homes, and gives developers a present for doing it.

Themes repeated time and again by the members of the public who spoke to the Council:
  1. Please delay immediate action on incentive zoning so that voices outside the development community/those who are most affected by IZ/the poor can be heard.
  2. The workforce doesn't make 80% AMI (I sure as hell don't). Don't give rewards to developers for creating housing that isn't truly affordable - affordability levels should be set for 60% of AMI and below.
  3. Please, for the love of God, don't let development equal displacement. We like development, but it's unjust if economic growth pushes out current residents.
Other speaker highlights:
  1. Affordable housing built on the site is preferable to in-lieu fee buyouts, which don't work. (Emily Patterson, Tenant's Union)
  2. If in-lieu fees are used, the should be set according to how much it costs to build below market rate housing (re-evaluate the present arbitrary-looking fee amounts).
  3. 11 and 20% are too low - 30% of the BFA should be set aside for affordable housing.
  4. All medium and large projects should be required to set aside 10% of their area for affordable housing. All these projects would then be entitled to a density bonus. (#2-4 = Howard from Puget Sound SAGE)
With all the issues that were pointed out in the meeting, I can't help agreeing that the City Council and Mayor's Office need to take some time and create an IZ plan that's actually useful. There is one small problem. The Housing Levy is coming up in the first quarter of next year. If the IZ legislation is pushed off for a few months, it'll have to be decided on at about the same time as the Levy.

The concern I heard at the meeting was that if uninformed Seattle voters hear that two pieces of affordable housing legislation are coming up for a vote at the same, they'll decide we only need one of them. Which is really stupid, and I hope for the sake of mankind that Seattlites aren't paying just enough attention to actually give a shit and but not enough to not know what's going on. It's a sad day when apathy is on our side.

The next stop in the evening was Office Nomads for a Sustainable Capitol Hill meeting on street tree mapping for Capitol Hill. Our ultimate goal is mapping the parking strips on the west side of Capitol Hill so we can tell SDOT all the good places to plant more street trees.

Four of us picked out test mapping areas so we could try out Brennon of SCH's mapping notation (Paved/Unpaved, Width, Wire Height/No Wire) and see how much area we could conveniently cover in one go (turns out that's about six blocks). Everybody's maps turned out well - Success! Now Brennon will run the maps by the SDOT arborist to see if he likes them, make up some more maps, and review our suggestions for locations where we can do a community tree planting event. Yay trees!

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