Collaborative efforts a key to success

Skyline from Belvedere Park, West Seattle. By Jordan Jackson, Seattle Urban Landscapes blog

On July 31, the Seattle City Council approved legislation applying Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements to the Chinatown-International District. Similar legislation was passed for the Central Area in July, for downtown and South Lake Union in April, and for the University District in March.

Much of the impetus for the current legislation grew out of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing and Livability Agenda (HALA). This initiative examined the issue of inclusionary zoning—a land use tool that links the production of affordable housing to the production of market-rate housing in exchange for increases in building height and density—for the first time since the 1980s. Earlier attempts at inclusionary zoning were struck down by court challenges.

While the issue of mandatory housing affordability was being discussed, the City also began revising the Comprehensive Plan. Early research emphasized that, faced with inevitable growth, the City needed to examine how equity could also be achieved. City staff produced an analysis showing that certain communities were threatened by growth. While residents in these communities had high access to opportunity, they were also at high risk of displacement. All the communities bordering Yesler Terrace—the Chinatown-International District, Capitol Hill, the Central Area and First Hill—were in this category.

This situation prompted YCC to get involved in helping organizations in these communities to identify their issues and speak up about City policies and actions. Having at its geographical center the model of equitable development at Yesler Terrace, other neighborhoods were inspired to examine the issues and opportunities for equitable development open to them.

Leaders across these neighborhoods worked with YCC to develop anti-displacement strategies and began educating City departments and Council Members about them. These strategies included application of higher MHA requirements, better use of city-owned land for housing, the importance of commercial affordability and the need to address the retrofit of unreinforced masonry buildings to make them safer in the event of earthquake.

“Once we could articulate a shared vision, we met as a group with City staff and Council members. We organized a tour of key neighborhood landmarks and at-risk areas for City Department directors. This helped them see the implications of policy on the ground,” reflected YCC’s Doris Koo.

“One result of this ambitious education program is that the City has now taken historic steps—not only passing MHA but also passing companion resolutions supporting many of our anti-displacement strategies:  recognizing the lasting effects of red-lining, racism, and discriminatory real estate practices and addressing other long-standing community needs. The legislation also includes strong statements about conveying public land to community ownership, including landmark firehouses, and other city-owned lands. “

When YCC was formed in 2014, several important goals were articulated to define what a successful collaborative might achieve. That vision included the following:

  • All communities within and around the Yesler neighborhood will have an influential voice.
  • YCC partners will achieve their shared goals.
  • Pilot projects launched by partners will have secured additional funding.

The passage of MHA legislation, and the collaborative efforts that led up to it, represent considerable progress toward these goals. “The work of developing a unified voice is not easy,” stressed Koo, “but the results are powerful. We succeeded in increasing the percentage of affordable units set aside under MHA for the Central District and Chinatown-International District. We supported an innovative partnership to purchase and redevelop the Midtown Center site. We have seen our anti-displacement strategies make a visible difference in policy-making.

“But, we won’t conclude our work yet! We plan to continue working with our partners to support our shared vision of Seattle as a city for the many.”