Commentary

For Your Consideration: Cabin in the Sky


[EDITOR’S NOTE: Our newest column – by Janice Taylor – is her personal viewpoint of current issues and the City of SeaTac. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The SeaTac Blog nor its staff. We are seeking additional regular columnists to reflect different opinions and views of SeaTac residents. Those interested can e-mail us at [email protected].

by Janice Taylor

In July 7th’s Seattle Times, Danny Westneat, a regular “opinionist” for that media took a look at the draft policy ideas Mayor Ed Murray’s advisory committee on housing is debating (read his column here). The most dramatic aspect of the plan is to eliminate single-family zoning, thus making way for every part of every neighborhood to replace houses with high-rises.

This proposal, according to those who contend they care about the moderate income groups, stems from the reality of Seattle’s housing market. Like our weather, it’s raging hot with properties subject to bidding wars and selling for tens of thousands over original list price. Rents are escalating as fast as sales. Young professional people complain they cannot afford to buy near their work. Poor and homeless advocates are on the bandwagon of more cost-subsidized units.

This situation is not new to Seattle. When I moved here in the mid-1980’s, those awful Californians were the culprits behind escalating property values. (Remember the “Don’t Californicate Washington” bumper stickers?) In the late 1990’s, the dot.commers were at fault, followed by the flippers of the mid-20-aughts. Unlike previous market dips, after the crash of 2008-9, banks, in their sudden awakening of fiscal responsibility, have made it damn-near impossible to qualify for a loan or afford the down-payment. According to HSH.com and Curbed Seattle, you have to make over $75,000 per year to afford the median Seattle price of $359,900. And do bring that $72,000 down plus closing costs.

So, should Seattle and the rest of the area do away with single-family homes? Opponents say the new zoning will alter the dynamics that make their neighborhoods neighborly. Proponents say the changes are necessary because “we are currently confronted by the reality of more dollars chasing a limited supply of housing than ever before in our history.” Therein lies the heart of the matter—dollars.

Years ago, my father told me to find the real driving force behind something – follow the money. Here’s the money reality of Seattle and most of the surrounding communities: land is finite. We no longer can expand out, so we must expand up. Our cities need more property tax revenue to pay for all the programs and services they want to offer—light rail expansion, subsidized preschool, bike lanes, etc.

Also, it’s no great secret King County caters to developers. For example, imploding the Alaska Way Viaduct has less to do with earthquake damage mitigation, and way more to do with downtown property development. A viable, paid-for arterial yields no income, but rows of high-rises will make many people much money. Will those units be affordable? I doubt it because developers do insist on profiting from their efforts. Interestingly, many of the housing committee advisors are developers with much to gain from the zoning change. But people need places to live, and apartments are better than nothing, right?

In my microcosm of SeaTac, the city seems to ignore code complaints by home-owners, yet is gung-ho on cleaning up and redeveloping property on International Boulevard to accommodate high rises. Silly city! SeaTac’s single-home neighborhoods could become perfect bedroom communities for young buyers out-priced in Seattle. A little city TLC would yield more attractive properties, leading to stable owners, leading to more community involvement and less crime, leading to better neighborhoods with higher property values, leading to the kicker–more money from property taxes! (Now, many of my neighbors will complain mightily about property taxes. Our officials will raise them anyway, so we owners might as well get something out of it.)

The bottom line is our cities will neglect and discourage single-family home neighborhoods in favor of high rises. Be prepared. Citizens, if you are concerned about this trend, you need to tell your officials. They get lobbied heavily by developers who promise great monetary returns. I’m not opposed to development because our little worlds must accept the realities of change. I am opposed to the manipulation of viable traditional neighborhoods to enrich a few already wealthy developers who do not live in the community.


Comments

2 Responses to “For Your Consideration: Cabin in the Sky”
  1. Vicki Lockwood says:

    Janice’s article makes this situation easily understandable and she is spot on. The laws of supply and demand are the reason for this change, and we must ‘follow the money’.

    If the inner city becomes denser and denser (crowding out single family dwellings), then the infra-structure required to support this density becomes affordable. If there’s high-rise condos/high rent apartments on the limited property in the core of our city, then each occupant pays a LOT of property tax (directly or indirectly). This means the occupants are making a LOT of money, and obviously they will spend some of that on the luxuries of life like fine dining, the arts, good entertainment, etc. So now the city has more to offer to the tourists and locals who visit the area. Entertainment is taxed at a higher rate than necessities, so now there’s enough tax money to develop mass transit, to maintain the public right-of-ways and utilities, etc.

    The infra-structure gets built to support the higher density and those desiring single-family dwellings move a bit further out from the core city. This results in managed growth, managed not by government but rather by supply and demand. And the cost of that growth is not a burden to those living outside of the core city.

    This isn’t ‘magic’ … it’s supply and demand! It’s return on investment. It’s capitalism.

    The folks who can’t afford to live close-in or who desire single family dwellings migrate outside of the core, and the boundaries of the core change continuously.

    Those looking for more affordable housing have already discovered that it’s cheaper to live south of the core than it is north or east, so it follows that the property to the south will escalate in price as the demand for it increases. None of this is static, and it’s certainly not a mystery. The wildcards only come in to play when government messes with the natural balance of supply and demand.

    Thank you, Janice, for your thoughtful in-depth analysis and explanations! I enjoy your contributions to the Blog.

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  2. Pam F says:

    Thank you for writing on this subject article, Janice.

    Besides what you have written about, when I read the article in the paper, a few different fundamental issues relating to the way government operates caught my eye as well:

    “We can still be a city for everyone, but only if we give up our outdated ideal of every family living in their own home on a 5,000 square foot lot,” a draft letter from the committee co-chairs reads.”

    Give up our ideals?

    “Later, the committee co-chairs issued a statement saying the group “has no intention of recommending the elimination of all single family zones in the city.” But the draft report suggests the committee was considering exactly that.
    “In fact, (the committee) recommends we abandon the term ‘single family zone,’ ” the draft reads.”

    Abandon single family zone? They will probably want to call it ‘communal zone.’

    “The final scheduled meeting of the advisory committee is Wednesday. It is not open to the public.”

    Not open to the public? Not open to the taxpayers and the people it will ultimately affect?

    Here is something to remember folks:

    RCW 42.30.010
    Legislative declaration.

    The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

    The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

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