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The End of Single-Family Housing? Seattle Housing Committee Creates a Stir

A draft report, by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee created by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, includes language about single-family zoning that has provoked debate.
July 8, 2015, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Danny Westneat pens an op-ed in response to the news that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee had approved a recommendation that the city should do away with single-family zoning. 

According to Westneat, "[t]he committee of citizen volunteers voted 19-3 to recommend replacing single-family zoning with a “lower density residential zone” that would allow duplexes, triplexes, rooming houses and more backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in areas now dominated by single houses on lots with a yards [sic]."

As Westneat goes on to discover how much of the city the recommendation would impact, he finds that the committee recommends abandoning the term "single family zone" and installing higher density throughout the city.

As Westneat notes, the advisory committee's report is highly speculative and far removed rom achieving any effect through legislative action. And speaking of legislative action, the Seattle City Council has been taking the opposite approach, by making it harder to build multi-family units in certain neighborhoods around the city.

The op-ed provoked a strong response from Owen Pickford at The Urbanist, who calls Westneat's work "inflammatory and factually inaccurate" and unpacks the editorializing of Westneat's writing.

A key point by Pickford is the extent of the recommendation's reach, which is far less impactful than how Westneat described it:

"To begin, the proposed changes would likely only apply to Urban Villages and/or their surrounding areas. This is nowhere close to eliminating the 65% of zoned land in Seattle devoted to suburban-style housing. This isn’t radical. It’s also unclear how a place can be an Urban Village while only allowing suburban housing types and virtually no other uses. A more accurate headline might state, 'HALA Committee Recommends Actually Allowing Urban Villages.'"

At the heart of the issue is how public discussions like this should be, but then the debate that has ensued debate also raises about how well-prepared the public (and the media for that matter) are to discuss issues as complex as zoning in a fast-growing city.

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Published on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 in The Seattle Times
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