Is Seattle’s restrictive zoning worsening the lack of affordable housing?

May 14, 2018, 6:24 PM | Updated: May 15, 2018, 5:55 am
Restrictive zoning may be worsening the homeless issue.

While Seattle is in the throws of controversy over a head tax and affordable housing, Downtown Seattle Association president Jon Scholes thinks much of the focus is misguided.

RELATED: Seattle council approves controversial head tax on business

“Spending more money is not the best way to create affordable housing,” Scholes told The Overcast. “They should look for other things like changing zoning laws.”

On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved the controversial head tax, which in its final form was amended to reduce the total tax on large local companies like Amazon. The tax will target businesses grossing in excess of $20 million annually. Proponents see it as a means of raising funds for homeless shelters and low-income housing.

But the desire to retain historic buildings and neighborhood character may also be having an impact.

“You follow San Francisco’s calamity of errors when it comes to zoning there. It’s a similar situation,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “They want to continue having historic neighborhoods, and somebody wants put in 25 units or 50 units. They wouldn’t be able to do it, because the zoning wouldn’t allow it.”

“A lot of NIMBY [not in my backyard] folks screaming about how too much density is going to cause too many problems when it comes to parking, traffic, and everything else. And they also want to keep to keep, historically, what San Francisco looks like.”

For Scholes and other critics of the head tax, the existing budget has grown along with spending, and we’re not seeing results from the current taxes already in place.

“We need to relax the restrictions we have on housing across the city. It’s illegal in about 90 percent of the city to build apartments,” Scholes told The Overcast. “Multi-family housing is restricted to very few areas. That is a key part of why we’re in the situation we’re in. We’ve had lots of jobs, and the housing hasn’t kept up.”

Finding the balance between affordable housing and preservation

Of issue is the line between preserving Seattle’s character, and creating a housing environment that’s accessible to low-income families. This breaks down differently in neighborhoods across the city.

“That’s the balance you have here,” KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney said. “And that’s why we have this urban village notion, so there are certain areas which are allowed to turn into these urban, dense jungles. But the idea was to somehow preserve a part of the neighborhood aspect of Seattle, while also allowing for high-rises.”

“All the construction is happening in certain spots, like Capitol Hill, Ballard, and the U District, and not in Magnolia, or say Laurelhurst.”

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

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Is Seattle’s restrictive zoning worsening the lack of affordable housing?