Don’t believe HALA upzone hype

Originally published December 6, 2017 at 1:03 pm Updated December 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm. Why more than two dozen community groups from across Seattle are filing a legal appeal, claiming the city’s environmental impact study on HALA was woefully inadequate.

By Susanna Lin

Special to The Times

Our city is growing, and everyone is feeling the growing pains. But are city policies exacerbating the problem by catering to for-profit developers and urbanist ideologies?

Since former Mayor Ed Murray introduced his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, known as HALA, in 2015, the city has been on an aggressive public relations campaign to sell HALA as a deeply necessary solution to our affordable-housing woes. And, of course, everyone wants a Seattle that is affordable and livable — who wouldn’t? But while the city claims this plan, which is now proposing significant zoning changes across 27 urban villages, will increase affordability, many community groups and residents don’t believe the hype.

The upzones proposed under HALA allow developers to increase their profits by building denser and taller. In exchange for the ability to build more lucrative buildings, developers are supposed to contribute to a fund to build affordable housing elsewhere or set aside a small percentage of the units in their building as affordable (most will likely chose the fee option). But the major flaw in this plan is that the upzones increase the value of the land, which will likely increase the rate that our older, most affordable housing stock is torn down and replaced with luxury apartments. And the replacement affordable units we are promised from the HALA upzone plan will likely be too few, too late and built somewhere else.

Because the HALA upzones, which are known as Mandatory Housing Affordability, are such a large change in our land-use codes, the city was required to complete an environmental-impact study.

The city has produced a biased study that does not honestly or accurately assess the impacts of those zoning changes on displacement, the loss of tree canopy, school capacity, historic and cultural resources, transportation, small businesses and infrastructure. The city’s document also fails to study alternatives beyond upzones that could better address our affordability crisis with fewer adverse impacts.

The concern about the city’s upzone proposals are so great it has spurred more than two dozen community groups from across Seattle to come together to file a legal appeal challenging the adequacy of the study. The new coalition is called Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity. It is composed of neighborhood, housing and homeless advocacy groups, small business and environmental groups from across Seattle.

We all know the city is growing. As part of this coalition of concerned neighbors, we seek to maintain and enhance every neighborhood’s character and livability while accepting the new neighbors that are joining Seattle every day.

Susanna Lin