HALA in full swing, pleads for community support

Facing dramatic increases in population and rising demands for more affordable housing, as well as a homelessness crisis, a year-long process is finally complete.

Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) has 65 recommendations for city and state officials to vote into law. Those recommendations are designed to be implemented together in a package approach to address affordable housing availability, while creating more housing opportunities and access.

Once put in place, the package is slated to “create 50,000 new homes, with 20,000 income-qualified affordable homes, over the next decade.”

With the help of the Puget Sound Sage coalition to build support and facilitate understanding and new ideas, members of the HALA task force formed Seattle for Everyone to reach out to communities, businesses and developers.

The Seattle for Everyone coalition launched its HALA efforts on March 2, at the Sole Repair Shop (1001 E. Pike St.), inviting community members, neighbors, residents and homeowners, as well as developers and property owners, to join the conversation. During the event, working groups were formed from each district and neighborhood to generate support for the initiative. So many people showed up to take part that several people were initially turned away due to capacity.

“I want to talk about how important the HALA work is,” Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson said, recalling a neighborhood meeting he had attended to help residents and community members understand what the city was doing about their concerns. “It turned out to be much worse than we all thought it was going to be.”

He said that the zoning in the city had roots in racial and class discrimination, reading a statement from the HALA recommendations, and said that the report was on the dartboards of several people within the city.

“In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic levels of single-family zoning are no longer either realistic or sustainable,” he quoted.

Johnson said that there was a great sense of resistance building against changing the zoning and including more people. Much of the resistance was coming from areas considered green, with access to public transit, parks, schools, libraries and other amenities.

“These are the places that rapidly need more affordable housing. These are the places we need to be making more investments. These are the places that I think are going to be the battleground for us over the next few months,” Johnson said. “I need folks to show up at community meetings, at City Council meetings. I need folks engaging their neighbors. I need us to be taking over all manner of civic government over the next few months if we’re going to make this real.”

What’s ahead

The next step is to present recommendations to both the City Council and state Legislature for the creation of ordinances and laws designed for implementation. Chief among the recommendations is a mandatory inclusion of affordable housing units or funds set aside to provide those units when new developments are approved.

In addition, the HALA recommendations also include increasing the Seattle Housing Levy to fund desperately needed assistance and services.

Other recommendations include tax levies and credits designed to bring everyone to the table to negotiate, as well as policy changes and incentives to encourage participation.

“It’s obvious as you look around that we are experiencing an unprecedented boom here in Seattle. One thousand people a month are moving into this city and we know what that means: It’s great, it’s fabulous for our economy,” said Downtown Seattle Association board chairperson Mark Barbieri. “But it’s also creating amazing challenges, in that people are competing for housing and getting priced out of this housing market, and people are getting priced out of their own communities.”

Barbieri said that the mayor’s task force worked diligently to create a series of solutions to address housing affordability while protecting the market rate and fair value for property owners and developers.

Multiple city, state and federal policies also pose a hurdle as many requirements and funding guidelines prohibit efforts to increase available housing. According to the HALA package, single-family zoning takes up the majority of the area, while communities and neighborhoods are resistant to increased housing density.

A growing need

Over recent months, the number of homeless individuals has skyrocketed, climbing 19 percent over last year’s One Night Count, which counted 4,505 people without shelter in King County. Last year’s count was 20-percent higher than the previous year, alluding to a rapidly growing number of people in need of services where only limited availability is reported.

Of the current homeless shelters and three homeless encampments, most are limited to fewer than 100 beds for needy families and seniors. Separate shelters for youths total fewer than 50 beds per facility.

During a recent People’s Assembly, it was reported that low-income workers — such as hotel, restaurant and service employees — faced incredible challenges with meeting rent, some staying with multiple individuals so they have a place to live. Average rents in the Seattle area are as high as $2,000 for a single-bedroom apartment or even a studio.

Visit seattleforeveryone.org for more information or to help.

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