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Historic Preservation as a Tool of Exclusion

The push for historic preservation districts often amounts to exclusionary zoning that exacerbates the housing affordability crisis.
February 14, 2021, 9am PST | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Seattle Municipal Archives

Seattle's Mandatory Housing Affordability Program includes a provision that protects federally designated historic districts from zoning changes. Writing in The Urbanist, Mike Eliason argues that this protection amounts to a new form of restrictive covenant that will prevent denser development in many parts of the city and lead to an even bigger affordability crisis.

One such zone, Wallingford, is proposing a historic preservation district that would effectively freeze development in almost half of the Wallingford Urban Village Planning Area. The zone's proponents have also opposed more permissive accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations, reduced parking requirements, and affordable housing requirements.

Eliason contends that opposition to zoning changes that would increase density in a neighborhood central to transit and urban amenities hinders the city's efforts to make housing more affordable and meet climate goals. "From a historic standpoint, this is just another attempt by wealthy homeowners —who ironically are a minority of the Wallingford Urban Village—to keep those less well off out of their neighborhood." In the 1980s, local homeowners fought to have parts of the area downzoned to even further reduce opportunities for multi-family and student housing, despite the neighborhood's proximity to a university. Eliason admonishes readers to oppose the Wallington project and prevent historic preservation from becoming "yet another tool wielded by those living in exclusive enclaves to prevent rezoning for a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable city."

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Published on Monday, February 8, 2021 in The Urbanist
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