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Using other cities’ solutions won’t fix Seattle’s housing problems


Minneapolis recently eliminated single-family zoning in the hopes of creating more housing options. But can this actually help Seattle, or is it simply a case of civic envy?

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“These ideas are really decent ideas when they’re siloed, but when you add other factors in, they’re not always such a great idea,” said KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis, filling in for Tom Tangney on the Tom and Curley Show.

Let’s rewind a bit for some context. In Seattle, roughly 75 percent of residential land is composed of single-family zones, restricting the construction of town homes and duplexes, and in turn producing thriving, high income, and predominantly white neighborhoods.

With Seattle’s housing crisis being what it is, Minneapolis’s own decision to eliminate single-family zoning seems like slam dunk of an idea any and everywhere, right? Not so fast, cautioned Lewis.

“In Seattle for example, when you have the firehose of cash pointed at your town, it changes the dynamic pretty rapidly from places like Portland or Minneapolis, that have nowhere near the economic drivers in terms of money and income,” he outlined.

Essentially, he argued, Minneapolis is its own city, in a different region, with a smaller population, and its own set of problems unique to all of these factors.

Lewis compared that to Seattle, where a single-family home is often Frankensteined into something far more expensive and onerous for anyone in search of affordable housing.

“In Seattle, what has happened is that relatively affordable rental homes have been turned into $700,000 four-townhouse lots,” he said. “This has driven people out who can no longer afford this.

“Our increase in density in Seattle has not increased our affordability,” he added.

Meanwhile, closer to Seattle, Oregon is weighing its own an end to single-family zones, as the rest of the Pacific Northwest watches intently to see exactly what such a strategy actually does for housing.

“What are the additional complications that come in?” John Curley asked Lewis. “Of course you’ll be able to bring the price of the homes down, then you’re going to have to start to provide more public transportation and investment in infrastructure, because people will not have cars, and if they do have cars, they’ll have no place to park the thing.”

For Lewis, the issue requires looking at all the various facets that make a city unique, especially when it comes to seemingly catch-all solutions.

“You have to look at the holistic situation, not just at the fact that we want to make more housing,” he advised.

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