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City Announces Housing Affordability Committee, With Capitol Hill On The Agenda

In light of rapidly increasing rents and a surge of housing construction projects throughout the city, Mayor Ed Murray and members of City Council have announced the development of an agenda to address affordability and availability of housing in Seattle by forming the “Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee.”

It aims to target neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, where housing prices continue to rise and result in shifting demography.

The Advisory Committee is meant to seek solutions to create more available housing for people of all income levels, via community engagement and policy reform, starting with holding a series of three public meetings in the months of November and December. One of those three meetings is to be hosted at the Garfield Community Center on Nov. 20.

“Seattle’s future growth can and will bring unprecedented challenges for our city, but we can choose our path forward,” Murray said in a press release. “This can be a moment to engage in battles over density and fear of change, or this can be a moment full of opportunity to create walkable, livable, and affordable mixed-income neighborhoods for everyone.”

Goals and Values

Of the many goals and values of the committee, extending housing opportunities to those of all income levels, racial backgrounds, and abilities, is at the top of the agenda. According to Councilmember Sally J. Clark, who is the Chair of the City Council Housing Human Services and Economic Resiliency Committee, hosting a meeting targeting the Capitol Hill and Central District neighborhoods is especially important as the neighborhoods undergo rapid changes.

“Capitol Hill has changed — it’s more expensive, and old housing stock is being replaced with newer, more expensive dwelling units,” Clark said. “The Committee wants to hear experiences, perspectives, and answers from the community.”

Clark said that things have drastically changed since the 1990s, when she was able to hold a lower income job and afford a studio apartment on Capitol Hill.

“You’ve got a lot of folks who are wondering if you can still do that in your 20s or 30s in Seattle,” Clark said. “There are variations of that story all through Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the especially the Central Area, where you hear a lot about gentrification and displacement.  We want a place where people can choose to build their lives no matter who they are.”

Making strides

Clark believes that efforts made through organizations like Capitol Hill Housing have made strides in ensuring that units that are permanently affordable to those with different income levels on Capitol Hill, but that the committee wants to work towards finding ways to match the pace of development with demand. She says that ideas are to be implemented as soon as spring of 2015.

“We will see if this advisory committee is able to come up with some creative suggestions that we haven’t explored to build more affordable units,” Clark said. “In the coming months we want these public meetings to help us see what people think we should focus on, and pool together a plan to start test driving ideas in March and April.”

Capitol Hill Community Council member Zachary Pullin was recently appointed to the Seattle Housing Authority Board of Commissioners by Mayor Murray. Pullin echoed that sentiment with rents averaging about $1,550 to $1,700 for a studio/one-bedroom on the Hill, it’s becoming evident that a plan is needed to increase the number of units.

“Over the next 20 years, Seattle will need to add close to 70,000 new units of housing, and will need to add 28,000 affordable units–Capitol Hill has already added around 2,200 units with about 2,500 forthcoming,” Pullin said.

“That’s great news, but there must be focus on building affordable housing because the cost of housing disproportionately affects many marginalized communities: seniors, especially LGBTQ and disabled seniors, people with disabilities, people of color, immigrant and refugee populations, students, and women.”

Pullin hopes that these communities will be of great focus to the committee, and housing reform in general around the city.

“The reality is that as housing becomes less and less affordable, not only are we losing the diversity that our city thrives on, but we are requiring people to live while looking back over their shoulder at an immensely devastating reality of homelessness and poor quality of life, instead of looking forward to a brighter future for themselves and their families,” Pullin said.

Capitol Hill has certainly changed — with its landscape of luxury apartments becoming increasingly inaccessible, the committee is hoping to begin addressing the issues with community-generated suggestions. The committee will be meeting at Garfield Community Center at 2323 E Cherry St., this Thursday, Nov. 20, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm.