seattle backyard cottage blog

Backyard cottages (DADUs) provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock density and diversity. Continue reading for more information about Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage..

Monday, July 24

HALA comment period on extended until August 7th

Have you heard of HALA? MHA? What about DEIS? If these acronyms are not familiar to you, they should be! All will affect your life and your city's future.

What can you do? We're asking our community to review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policy and submit your comments to the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) by MHA public comment .The DEIS evaluates MHA implementation in urban villages, proposed urban village expansion areas, and all other multifamily and commercial areas throughout the city.

After a review of the environmental impact statement for mandatory housing affordability (MHA), we support Alternative 1 - No Action.   MHA has too great a reliance on new development and increased density to lower costs of living.  Based on census data, there is a strong correlation between increased density and size of a city to increased cost of living both as a total cost and as percentage of household income.  Alternative 2 and 3 rely on both up-zoning and MHA to increase allowable density beyond that allocated for under current comprehensive plan and will disproportionately impact those earning less than AMI.  Up-zoning increases land values and ownership costs for existing naturally occurring affordable housing.  For investment properties, this ultimately results in increased rent or when the property can no longer remain profitable, redevelopment and displacement for the tenants.  This is true for residential tenants but also for small business located in older buildings which are more likely to be locally owned and to hire lower income workers.  

New rental housing produced at market prices, results in market rate rentals with pro formas that require a higher rate of rental income to offset financing, taxes and other expenses. Fully depreciated older properties can operate much less expensively.  Using MHA to offset the higher cost of new construction may reduce costs for those that ultimately receive subsidized housing. However, the funds from MHA will increasing the cost of development and thereby increase the costs for the tenants who are not subsidized by an equal amount. The city data suggests that the economic group earning between 30% and 80% of AMI have been and will be most affected by the increase in housing costs.  This group, who consists of workers with modest incomes, have increasingly been forced out of Seattle.

The city, and one would hope with the consent of the people who own the land, dictate land-use and can increase the value of the land by easing restrictions placed on it.  Up-zoning properties as proposed under Alternatives 2 and 3 gives away this value and is a mistake.  Incentive zoning is better and can be expanded. It creates funding for affordable housing without necessarily increasing the underlying value of the land.  Thus, preserving naturally occurring affordable housing and commercial properties.

Our neighborhood single family zones contribute the character and vitality of our city and should be supported. In single family zones, particularly in those areas with proximity to access to good schools and amenities, residences are being demolished and replaced with larger homes, often times by speculative developers.  These new houses sell for approximately three times the value of the existing older home.  This trend is driven by lending practices and the market and ultimately makes it harder for those even earning AMI to own a home.  Under Alternative 2 and 3 the city proposes increased in development in single family zones. This will accelerate this trend unless measures are taken to insure development occurs at a smaller scale and in a way that protects more modest homes from redevelopment.  Backyard cottages and ADU’s are part of this solution. 

Cottage housing is another tested method that remains largely unrealized. A Seattle demonstration project for cottage housing in single family zones was ultimately discontinued.  However, the housing built under the project shows that it can provide attractive affordable housing in a scale with single family neighborhoods.  As a building type, it provides shared open space which is a real amenity for those with young children and also seniors. These two groups are under increasing economic pressure to leave the city. Currently, cottage housing is allowed in multi-family zones but because it is competing with other forms of multi-family housing with higher allowable floor area ratios (FAR)s cottage housing is seldom if ever built. The land-use code should be modified to limit the size of houses built by adding FAR limits in single family zones but also to allow for the division of lots given the increased limitations on size.  Smaller lots and smaller houses will result in more family friendly affordable housing in areas with amenities for families while preserving and enhancing the character of neighborhoods.

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