Nearly every seat in the room was filled for last night’s Ballard District Council meeting at the Nordic Museum, where Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien spoke and answered questions from the audience for over an hour.
O’Brien opened the meeting with a short update on proposed new legislation for backyard cottage and basement unit/mother-in-law guidelines and updates on the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan.
The proposed change to guidelines for backyard cottages, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), is in regard to owner occupancy requirements. Under the current regulations, a property owner must live on-site for at least six months of the year in order to rent out an ADU. Under the new legislation, the owner would not have to live on-site, but must instead have continuous ownership of the property for a minimum of one year before adding an ADU.
There are also proposed changes to floor area ratio (FAR), which would limit one-story buildings to 50-percent lot-coverage, two-story buildings to 25-percent coverage, and three-story buildings to just 17-percent coverage.
“We see that there’s a market for people to tear down older homes in single-family zones,” O’Brien said. “And how they maximize their profit is they build ‘McMansions’. What I’ve heard from a lot of folks is that’s not what we want to see happening in our neighborhoods. What that tends to do is make neighborhoods less affordable. What we prefer is to say, keep the existing house, touch it up and remodel it. If you want to add value, why don’t you build an accessory unit in the basement, or a backyard cottage. That adds two housing units that would certainly be less expensive than one, big housing unit.”
After O’Brien’s update, the microphone went around the room for questions from the audience, many of which revolved around housing, development and homelessness.
District 6 resident Mike Carr raised concerns that the MHA would allow developers to pay a relatively small fee to avoid offering affordable units in their buildings. “Builders could come into a neighborhood, buy all the buildings, pay a very small percentage fee to the city, and force everybody who was living there to move elsewhere.”
O’Brien recognized the potential for displacement in spite of the MHA — the legislation calls for 5 to 7 percent affordable housing per development, which O’Brien argues is better than nothing. “Should it be 25 percent? Would I like to see 25 percent? Absolutely. The concern you raise about displacement happening, I absolutely share with you. But I would point back and say, that’s what’s happening under our current law.”
Several in the audience asked questions about homelessness, and for tangible evidence that the city is responding. While O’Brien pointed out several statistics that are positive — 350 new affordable housing units this year, more shelter options, and 2500 households that have transitioned out of homelessness and into housing — he still recognized that the problem is out of control.
“We have more housing, we have more shelters, we’re doing a better job of getting people into housing. Unfortunately, we still have more people living outdoors, and more people dying. There’s something broken in our system, that despite doing better work at the local level, there are more and more people entering homelessness every year,” O’Brien said. “We haven’t been able to keep up with the demand.”
Wednesday’s meeting was the last of the year — the Ballard District Council will meet again January 9.
Thanks to James Passey for posting the above photo in the My Ballard Group