Seattle's Housing Crisis Affects Single-Family Homes


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By Ludwig Hurtado

Maher Abed works as a security officer at Seattle's iconic Space Needle.

He moved to Seattle with his wife and four sons in 2017 after years of persecution by the Islamic State group and Iraqi militia in Baghdad, his hometown.

Abed worked as a liaison officer between the US and Iraq armies. He moved his family while he was being persecuted by the Iraqi militia. His brother was kidnapped by a militia.

Abed finally came to the United States as a refugee and chose Seattle because it was the only city in the United States where he had family or friends. He was hopeful, knowing that the city was ripe with work opportunities. But he would soon learn that the job offer in Seattle was not accompanied by a supply of affordable housing.

"When I climb to the top of the Space Needle and look at the city, I see a lot of construction work, but I see that everything is done to work," he said. "Not to live."

To address this problem, Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, enacted a Housing Affordability Policy in March that would change zoning rules in 27 neighborhoods. The policy is expected to generate 6,000 new homes over the next decade.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan at a press conference at the United States Courthouse on February 21, 2018.Lindsey Wasson / Reuters File

Due to the success of tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, the city has attracted more than 105,000 new residents since 2010, an increase of 16% of its population.

Real estate in the city is booming. But almost none of the new developments in Seattle are affordable for the majority of residents.

As in most cities, Seattle defines specific zoning rules that determine what can and can not be built in each of its neighborhoods. That's why a skyscraper will not be built in the suburbs, nor a sprawling suburban mansion in the heart of the city center.

However, as 75% of its residential land is for family use, a large majority of Seattle land is largely inaccessible to the development of apartment buildings, duplexes, and other types of structures that may respond to the high demand. request of the city.

This means that denser dwellings are limited to the smaller pockets of the city. For working-class families like Abed, this shortage makes it nearly impossible to find affordable, multi-family housing in the city.

Zoning a single-family neighborhood to multi-family is what city planners call "zoning."

Teresa Mosqueda, a city council member and labor activist, was one of Seattle's most prominent advocates for zoning diversification throughout the city.

Mosqueda said the massive population growth of the city did not go hand in hand with an effort to house its new residents. In fact, said Mosqueda, Seattle has zoned backwards, defensively in the basement, with even more land destined for single-family use, as the population grew.

Mosqueda says that the main reason Seattle's zoning has stagnated is that its neighborhood councils are mostly owner-managed, while the general population is mostly tenants.

"We want more people of color. We want more women. We want more tenants. We want more young people. We want more LGBTQ people to sit on these neighborhood councils and actually inform the city's policies, "Mosqueda said.

From Philadelphia to Portland, housing advocates across the United States have gained momentum in their efforts to reduce single-family neighborhoods. In December, Minneapolis became the first major US city to completely eliminate single-family zoning, voting to allow the creation of complexes comprising up to three homes in all its neighborhoods. In California, a major housing bill aimed at reducing the zoning of single-family homes in the state has progressed through the state Senate.

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