By Jack Mayne
SeaTac City Council approved 7 to 0 an ordinance that creates performance standards for indoor emergency housing, including permanent supportive housing, along with transitional housing at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.
All of that is collectively termed “supportive housing facilities.”
Last May, the Washington Legislature passed legislation requiring that cities allow “transitional housing” and “permanent supportive housing” anywhere that allows residential or hotel development. After Sept. 30 cities are required to allow indoor emergency shelters and housing in any zone in which hotels are allowed, or within one mile of transit.
The city can impose reasonable occupancy, spacing, and intensity of use requirements to protect public health and safety. But, it can’t prevent allowing a sufficient number of supportive housing facilities needed to moderate city’s need. SeaTac is not required to produce any of this housing, only to allow it said SeaTac planning manager Jen Kester.
Councilmember Stanley Tombs moved the Council to approve the resolution authorizing the emergency housing legislation.
“First of all I want to thank the planning staff for this herculean effort, also our legal staff,” said Tombs. “This is an effort that should have taken well over a year if we had had the time to do it. This was a mandate from the Legislature to get this done in a very, very short time.”
Tombs said the homelessness rate is growing at a rate of 40 percent. It is not just a local problem, everywhere on the west coast is facing the problem.
“This is not addressing the affordable housing issue,” he said, “This is basically addressing the emergency housing, the supportive housing that is required by he state.”
City staff provided Council with an overview of the federal Housing Action Plan Implementation (HAPI) grant program to explain how the grant funding could be used to study parking requirements for multi-family development in the Metro station area and in urban villages. Because much is already known about parking woes in the area and staff wanted Council feedback because it has heard many differing opinions. In story, city staff wanted to know whether it should apply for the “HAPI” grant.
Senior Planner Kate Kaehny said she wanted to give Council an overview of the potential $80,000 grant and direction on whether a grant should be applied for to “identify potential changes to parking requirements that could foster development while preserving quality of life.”
While no formal Council action was requested, staff said it was interested in Council feedback on whether the City should pursue this grant opportunity.
Council says no
Councilmember Stanley Tombs says the study is not needed.
“I think we already know where this grant is going to take us,” Tombs said. “It is going take us to a consultant who is going to give us a finding that is exactly what the Department of Commerce has dictated for the City of SeaTac.” He suggested that the city would be better to hire its own consultant to give the result the city is looking for “which hopefully would be objective rather than directive.”
Councilmember Clyde Hill said the city would be better off to finance its own study rather than one with “strings attached.”
“Truly look at the situation and what we can do about it,” Hill said.
Councilmember Pam Fernald said she could “I do not want the (state) Department of Commerce involved in our city any more. We can figure out what our residents want.”
Consultants ‘know nothing’
Councilmember Peter Kwon said “We know there is a shortage of parking availability in our city.” Light rail exacerbates the problem, he said, adding that a study now during the pandemic affects parking and wondered if a study now would reflect needs after the pandemic recedes.
Kwon also wondered what the state strings on the potential grant were and if it were to reduce parking that would likely not work in SeaTac, basically because of SeaTac airport and the compact size of the city.
Sitterley said she felt that consultants “know nothing about SeaTac and I don’t think they care. I prefer to see would own staff and get out of the building and come out and take a look around at what your policies and suggestions are doing to our neighborhoods.
“I don’t believe that the people who are working at (a consultant) really care. They wanted a deliverable and they gave us our deliverable,” the mayor said. “There are people who live in our city that are human beings with needs and desires who don’t get listened to by consultants.”
The mayor said that people don’t want to talk with consultants, people that they don’t know.
She added that too many Department of Commerce studies “have told us nothing.” She said, “I say no on pursuing the $80,000” grant” and “a waste of staff time.” She said she preferred the city do its own study with its own staff.
Use city money to do any study needed, Sitterley said.
Senior Planner Kaehny said she has heard there is interest in doing a “very specific SeaTac specific parking study that will serve the needs of the residents” and that she is “happy to hear that.” She says works with people who want to use Seattle’s “right size” parking study made “a few years ago.”
She said she heard the message that Council didn’t want to use the state Commerce study and “that is absolutely fair.” Local staff know what the city needs.
Mayor Erin Sitterley was awarded the Association of Washington Cities’s Certificate of Municipal Leadership. The program recognizes mayors and councilmembers for accomplishing training in four core areas they need to effectively operate within the law, plan for the future, secure and manage funds, and foster community and staff relationships.