The Seattle Planning Commission, a volunteer 16-member body that advises the Mayor and City Council, has released a white paper on family-sized housing. The commission’s white paper offers an action agenda to make it easier to find affordable family-sized housing in Seattle. Describing family-size housing as “an essential ingredient to attract and retain families with children in Seattle,” the commission is asking City leaders to pursue an action plan to increase the availability of housing for low- and middle-income families.
Dave Cutler, Seattle Planning Commission Co-Chair, said the Family-Sized Housing white paper grew out of the Housing Seattle report the commission completed in 2011 on housing affordability. “One of the most concerning takeaways from that report was the lack of housing in Seattle that’s suitably sized and affordable for low- and middle-income families with children.” Of large cities in the United States, Seattle has the second lowest percentage of households made up of families with children; only San Francisco has a lower percentage.
One of the commission’s recommendations is to allow added flexibility in some single-family zoned areas. The commission says that many forms of housing—such as duplexes, cottage housing, and small-scale courtyard housing—can provide attractive, affordable housing choices and still blend in well in existing single-family neighborhoods. Amelia Leighton, Seattle Planning Commission Co-Chair, stated, “The commission believes that allowing a broader mix of housing options will make it possible for more families with a wider range of incomes to live in these neighborhoods.”
The commission’s recommendations also include fostering a larger supply of family-sized multifamily housing with amenities such as children’s play areas. Vice-Chair Catherine Benotto noted, “It’s especially important to increase housing for families near frequent transit service. Living in a transit community with easy access to family-oriented services and parents’ jobs can save hundreds of dollars each month in transportation costs.”
The City’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program and Incentive Zoning programs also need to be recalibrated, says the commission, so that those programs can provide meaningful incentives for developers to build family-friendly developments. A related suggestion is to use revenues from bonus development programs to support the long-term affordability of existing family-sized units.
Many of the actions the commission is proposing are aimed at making it easier or more attractive for private developers to build housing that is sized and designed for families. The commission also cites the critical role that subsidized housing plays in enabling low-income families to access housing in Seattle and recommends that serving families with children needs to continue to be a priority in these programs. The commission also makes several detailed suggestions in this regard.
“Making meaningful progress on this issue,” noted Benotto, “will require a variety of tools: the City will need to both reinforce current efforts to encourage family-friendly housing and explore some strategies it has not yet tried.”