As a follow-up to this morning’s post about the future of single-family housing in Seattle, here’s the final report from the Mayor’s “Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee”: Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (pdf)
There are a few relevant portions of the report that address single-family zoning.
From page 21 of the report:
MF.1 Increase the amount of land zoned for multifamily housing
The HALA Committee recommends devoting more land to multifamily housing especially in areas near amenities and services such as transit and schools. Any increase in development capacity should be tied to requirements for providing affordable housing.
There is a wide range of circumstances that present good opportunities to add or expand multifamily zoning in ways that complement neighborhoods, leverage existing resources and help the environment. New multifamily zoned land should be prioritized near green belts, open space and parks; near schools and community centers; and within walking distance of the frequent transit network. While an increase in multifamily zoned land to spur production of new multifamily housing is not expected to immediately decrease rents in the short-term, ensuring a growing supply of larger multifamily housing across the city can help to stem rent increases over the long-term. This strategy, which is expected to impact 6% of Seattle’s Single Family zones (3% in urban villages and 3% in the walksheds described above) should be viewed as an investment in Seattle’s overall housing market affordability for both current and future generations.
Strategies to preserve quality affordable multifamily housing and mitigate displacement must be a critical component of any plan for short- and long-term growth. There is risk of some increased displacement pressure in areas that are upzoned (that is, where zoning is changed to increase development capacity on a site). However, linking upzones directly to a requirement for affordable housing responds to some of the need that is fueled in part by growth. Additional strategies focused specifically on mitigating displacement will also be needed.
In my opinion, there’s no way that re-zoning just six percent of the land in Seattle that’s currently zoned for single-family is going to be sufficient for the kind of growth Seattle is expecting over the next few decades and is in fact already experiencing.
However, while the report doesn’t seem to be suggesting an actual re-zoning of most of Seattle’s single-family areas, it does recommend things like “increasing supply of accessory dwelling units” and “allow a broader mix of lower density housing types within single family areas.”
From page 24 of the report:
Increase Access, Diversity and Inclusion within Single Family Areas
Approximately 65% of Seattle’s land – not just its residential land but all its land – is zoned single family, severely constraining how much the City can increase housing supply. Among its peer cities, Seattle has one of the highest percentages of land dedicated exclusively to detached single family structures and a small number of accessory dwelling units. The exclusivity of Single Family Zones limits the type of housing available for sale or rent, limits the presence of smaller format housing and limits access for those with less income. Seattle’s zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the City’s goals for equity and affordability. In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic level of Single Family zoning is no longer either realistic or sustainable.
SF.1 Increase Supply of Accessory Dwelling Units and Backyard Cottages
SF.1a Remove Barriers Code Barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units and Backyard Cottages
Although both Accessory Dwelling Units and Backyard Cottages are allowed in Single Family zones, several of the associated land use regulations are deterring their production in significant quantities. Some of the land use code regulations that are in place function as a barrier for a homeowner to take on adding an accessory unit to their home. The same code barriers may not be providing a strong public policy benefit. Therefore, in order to boost production, the City should remove specific code barriers that make it difficult to build ADUs and DADUs:
- Remove the parking requirement. Currently, an off-street parking space must be created for an additional ADU or DADU.
- Remove the ownership requirement. Allow both the accessory and principal unit to be rented. Currently, the owner must live in one of the two. The ownership requirement is a barrier to securing financing to build an ADU/DADU. Explore the opportunities and implications of Unit Lot Subdivision which would allow separate ownership of the primary dwelling and the accessory dwelling.
- Allow a single lot to have both an ADU and a DADU. Currently only one is allowed.
- Make minor modifications to remove barriers within existing development standards for DADUs, such as height limits, setbacks, maximum square footage, and minimum lot size to ensure constructability.
Removing these barriers is expected to boost production of ADUs and DADUs to levels in the range of 5% or more of all single family lots within 10 years, which could produce 4,000 or more new homes.
Oooh, 4,000 new homes in ten years! An even more impotent “solution” to housing shortages than dumping imaginary “sitting around” foreclosures on the market.
SF.2 Allow a Broader Mix of Lower Density Housing Types within Single Family Areas
The City should allow more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional single-family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity of those who are able to live in these family oriented neighborhoods. The broader mix of housing would include small lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, rowhouses, duplexes, triplexes, and stacked flats. Although a broader variety of housing would be permitted, the total amount of “massing” or building area on a single lot should remain the same (excluding ADUs and DADUs). This does not eliminate the option of single family housing; rather, it increases the opportunities for more efficient use of very limited land resources. The program could take the form of land use code changes, or it could begin as a pilot program with a limited time period and a maximum number of units.
SF.4 Oppose Neighborhood Conservation Districts
During 2015, a proposal to establish a Neighborhood Conservation District program was brought for Council consideration. The program would allow groups of property owners in single family areas and lowrise multifamily zoned areas to establish conservation design guidelines that would be specific to areas as small as a block or two. As proposed, the guidelines would limit architectural style of new development in those areas and the program would set up an additional review panel that would need to give approval before building permits could be issued for infill development or alterations. The HALA recommends that the City not establish a Neighborhood Conservation District program as currently proposed. Such a program could reduce the areas of the city available to increase housing supply and affordability, and is thus at cross purposes with other recommendations in this report. The program could make approvals for new housing more time consuming and expensive. The program could also be used to limit the diversification of lower density areas of the city by creating a new avenue for existing homeowners to oppose the addition of new infill housing in their neighborhoods.
Frankly the recommendations in this report seem pretty tepid to me. I have no doubt it will be met with extreme opposition by all the typical NIMBY groups, regardless.