Seattle King County REALTORS® Urges Increased Housing Supply in Seattle

This article is featured in the latest edition of Issues & Impacts.

Seattle King County REALTORS® submitted specific recommendations for the city of Seattle to create new housing opportunities around station areas, in multifamily zones and in single family zones.

Related to the Housing and Livability Agenda (HALA) process is the update to the Comprehensive Plan.  In addition to our support for the HALA Grand Bargain, which includes a set of strategies to increase the supply of both income-qualified and market-rate housing, President Tyler McKenzie and President-elect Patti Hill have submitted a set of specific recommendations to the city for creating new housing opportunities around station areas, in multifamily zones and in single family zones.

Included in SKCR’s recommendations are the following:

Grow the urban villages

We have many low density areas in which a greater intensity of use could improve housing options and improve community character and quality.  The following measures should be implemented:

More ADUs
Encourage more accessory dwelling units and backyard cottages. Existing regulations are relatively restrictive.  Explore removing the owner-occupancy requirement.

Thoughtful urban village transition
At the edges of urban villages, encourage a transition in scale, height and bulk of buildings between higher-intensity and single-family areas. The transition area would allow low-rise housing types (duplexes, triplexes, cottage housing).

Simpler code
Remove duplicative single-family rezone criteria.  Including rezone criteria in both the Land Use Code and in the Comprehensive Plan is unnecessary. It creates a longer, more expensive, two-step process to consider rezoning single-family parcels.

Encourage multifamily housing

To protect Seattle’s legacy single family neighborhoods, it will be necessary to accommodate the vast majority of new growth in multifamily housing.  To do so effectively demands a number of measures.

Increase the land available to multifamily housing.

HALA recommendation: New multifamily zoned land should be prioritized near green belts, open space and parks; near schools and community centers; and within walking distance of the frequent transit network.

Increase building heights in multifamily zones.

HALA recommendation:  Modify height limits and codes to maximize economical wood frame construction

Change 65’ zoning code height limits to 75’ or 85’.   This change would allow buildings to maximize cost efficiencies in “Five over Two” construction and would allow another story of housing on some sites without dramatically changing the scale of development. An 85’ height limit could also be explored in conjunction with other adjustments to the building code to allow a sixth story of wood frame construction.

Consider increasing 30’ and 40’ zones: Upzones within this increment would significantly lower the per square foot cost of building new housing. The same or similar investments in construction of a base story and infrastructure could support five stories of housing instead of two or three with this change.

Consider building and fire code modifications to allow six stories of wood frame construction: Distinct from the proposals above, the City should review the possibility of stretching economical wood frame construction even further. This could take the form of building code changes to increase the height limit or allowed number of wood frame stories. This action needs careful vetting to ensure fire and life safety protection.

Increase flexibility on multifamily type

Remove code barriers to small flats or apartments in some multifamily zones.  In some of the Lowrise multifamily zones, townhouse or rowhouse forms of development are favored by the code over stacked flats (apartments or condominiums located on different levels in a building). This can limit production of potentially greater numbers of housing units, or limit the housing product to ownership units instead of rental units. The City should change the code to allow more stacked flats in all Lowrise zones.

Remove recently created barriers to the creation of congregate micro-housing

Increase Zoned Capacity in Light Rail Station Areas
Seattle has underzoned its station areas.  Greater intensity is needed to support ridership and leverage the major, long-term investment in light rail. Increase zoned capacity in these areas provides a golden opportunity for the city to promote more affordable housing units.  As a matter of policy, station area density should be zoned for 50-year growth or more, rather than the 20-year GMA planning horizon.

Public property

HALA recommendation: Where feasible, make City owned property available for housing.

Simpler regulation, smoother process
For too many projects, design review adds costs and creates project delays with no added benefit for the project proponent or the public.  In many instances, constraints placed on projects by design review make it difficult to meet the zoned density.    The design review process should be revised to meet the aesthetic objectives of the program without adding undue costs or restrictions to the project.