City Sally Clark: A Welcome Exception
posted by October 14 at 11:02 AMon
In a city notorious for drawn-out decision-making, City Council Member Sally Clark is pushing two housing bills through her committee with refreshing speed. Her agenda is sure to upset some housing advocates, developers, and the mayor’s office—but she’s deftly striking a balance.
Clark received two proposals from the mayor’s office within the past six weeks. The first—already four years in the sausage grinder—would increase height limits in the Interbay neighborhood. The second would allow developers, as the city increases height limits in neighborhood centers, to build taller buildings as long as they include a set amount of “workforce housing” (housing affordable to the middle class) in the additional space.
Clark responded to the mayor’s proposals by almost doubling the affordable housing requirement, and sending the Interbay legislation to the council for a full vote on October 27.
But the divergent political agendas facing Clark may have frozen many Seattle politicians, particularly after a hearing last Tuesday. Affordable housing advocates and developers joined forces—with opposite goals, of course—to delay both bills.
Michael Woo, representing the Construction Clearing House, which advocates for low-income renters, said, “We are asking that the council slow the process down and allow us to have the time to reevaluate the proposals.”
“It would be hard to be slower than we’ve been, Michael, but we hear you,” said Clark.
Woo and other affordable housing advocates, such as the housing and labor group Sage, are also pushing for “development with justice,” which would bundle the workforce housing legislation with a requirement for better pay and benefits for construction workers. They say Clark should postpone the Interbay proposal until the citywide housing legislation is complete.
Developers, meanwhile, argue that the new affordable housing program, when applied around the city’s patchwork of existing height limits, would provide a disincentive to build in places where the city has said it wants taller buildings. For example, the city has identified South Lake Union as a target for greater density.
Lyn Tangen, a spokeswoman for South Lake Union developer Vulcan, says, “If it costs more to develop north of Denny as opposed to south of Denny, that is a problem for us.”
Despite pressure from advocates (who will likely never reach a consensus), Clark says it makes sense to pass the affordable housing legislation now, setting “clear rules that are easy for us to follow.” With the intention to pass the legislation before the end of the year, she is holding another meeting next week. She acknowledges the importance of better conditions for construction workers. Still, she’s unsure that issue should share an ordinance with affordable housing requirements. In the meantime, she pushing an increased affordable housing standard—20 percent of additional space required as workforce housing—that could be applied around the city, but which would still allow flexibility in places like South Lake Union. “I wouldn’t want this to be a sign that we don’t have the political will to set a threshold number,” says Clark.