Seattle’s city council and mayor seriously considered getting rid of traditional neighborhoods of single family homes in an effort to encourage or pressure people to live in apartments and other types of multi-family housing.
A rejected change to the city’s zoning regulations would have allowed the construction of multi-family housing such as apartments and duplexes in all of the city’s neighborhoods.
The idea was so outrageous that some have labeled it an Internet rumor, but it indeed is true.
“We can still be a city for everyone, but only if we give up our outdated ideal of every family living in their own home  on a 5,000 square foot lot,” a letter from the co-chairs of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA, stated. It was tasked with finding solutions to the city’s housing problems.
The same letter asserted that “Seattle (single-family) zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the city’s goals for equity and affordability.
The draft letter, passed by HALA along a vote of 19-3, was obtained by The Seattle Times.
“In fact, (the committee) recommends we abandon the term ‘single family zone,’” the letter read.
Not surprisingly the newspaper’s revelation prompted Seattle Mayor Ed Murray mostly to distance himself from HALA  and its recommendations.
“To advance the broader conversation about affordable housing and equity, I will no longer pursue changes that could allow more types of housing in 94 percent of single-family zones,” Murray said in a press release.
HALA apparently met in secret and did not involve the public in its planning process until Seattle Times reporter Danny Westneat got his hands on the letter and published it. Murray and the committee’s chairs criticized Westneat and the newspaper.
“My co-chair and I are very disappointed that you and The Seattle Times have chosen to undermine the efforts of the HALA, a citizen advisory group, by prematurely releasing an unapproved draft of our report,” the chairs, Faith Pettis and David Wertheimer, wrote in a statement to The Times.
Said Murray, “The Council and I created the HALA process because our city is facing a housing affordability crisis. In the weeks since the HALA recommendations were released, sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets has created a significant distraction and derailed the conversation that we need to have on affordability and equity.”
Seattle is currently in the middle of a serious housing crisis, and it now costs around $1,501 a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city, The Stranger reported. Many working people can no longer afford to live in the area.
The most controversial suggestions included:
- Increase the maximum height of buildings in residential areas to allow for more apartment houses.
- Allow the construction of six-story wood buildings in some areas.
- Make it easier for property owners to subdivide existing houses into apartments.
- Allow more high-rise apartments in some neighborhoods.
- Allow property owners to build cottages and other structures in the backyards of existing single family homes.
- Abolish a regulation that requires all residences to have off-street parking.
- Abolish an ownership requirement that keeps many owners from renting out their property.
- Make zoning more flexible so it will be able to redevelop properties into multi-family rentals.
The popular website Change.org actually includes a petition calling for a nationwide ban on single-family homes because they “pollute the environment by increasing commuting distances, damage housing affordability, infringe on private property rights and cause the very overpopulation they were created to prevent by encouraging large houses with room for too many children.”
Thankfully, the petition has fewer than 200 signatures.
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