The City of Seattle has come out with its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Accessory Dwelling Units, and is now accepting public comment. Comments are due by Monday, June 25, 2018. If you have time, writing a personal note (to firstname.lastname@example.org, or using their form) makes a big difference (you can use the talking points below). If you don’t, here’s our form letter. Want to dig deep and see our comprehensive comments to the city? They’re here.
ADU’s are a solution that nearly everyone can love. By increasing housing stock, they help keep rental prices down—and they provide flexibility for homeowners, who can leverage their positions to help defray their cost of living, while also providing housing for others. Because of this, ADU’s and DADU’s (the first D is for “detached”) reduce displacement; lower-income homeowners can afford to stay in their homes (if they can cover the building costs—we’re working on that angle too!), and that means fewer older homes torn down and replaced by McMansions. Because ADU’s are “gentle density”, they also change the look and feel of a neighborhood less than high-rises, while still having the potential of doubling or tripling the number of people who can live in those neighborhoods…which also means that frequent transit becomes more financially viable, and neighborhood businesses can thrive. According to this report, households living in dense, transit-rich cities will typically generate ¼ to ½ the climate-destroying CO2 compared to those displaced to the suburbs. We need ADUs to stop involuntary displacement to the suburbs.
There are many things to like in the possible changes, especially in Alternative 2….but neither “alternative” maximizes the benefits and flexibility. Happily, the city tells us that the final “preferred” alternative can contain combine elements from the alternatives. Our choices are rooted in the questions of how to make sure that homeowners can build ADU’s (which means we could substantially increase our housing stock in short order), and what we need to do to encourage them to actually do so in a way that’s likely to lead to greater equity (as opposed to cash-cow AirBnB units, for example) and a greener city.
We strongly urge these changes (put them in your comments!), but make sure to specify that you support only those that wouldn’t trigger another round of EIS (we can’t afford the delay):
No parking requirement!
Requiring parking for ADUs that means we’re privileging space for cars over housing for people. People sometimes worry that adding more housing to their neighborhoods without requiring off-street parking will mean that life is more difficult—and it’s true that parking may not be as easy if neighborhoods have more people and fewer parking spaces. But fewer people are choosing to have cars in the city, and it’s important that we nudge that shift instead of prioritizing cars over housing by linking the two as though the latter requires the former. (For more on parking, watch this video.) Fundamentally, giving so much free space to cars means that we’re building less housing, having fewer sidewalks and bike lanes, and—of course—encouraging the use of fossil fuels that are devastating the climate. It’s time to start thinking about how we move people, not cars.
Lots should be allowed 2 ADU’s and a DADU
Currently, Alternative 3 allows either 2 ADU’s or one ADU and one DADU); we want to encourage the subdivision of existing large houses, especially for empty-nesters, and we want flexibility for more units. If someone has divorced or their kids have left home and they have space for a DADU and also a 2500 square foot house, it’s good for everyone if they can do 2 ADU’s as well as the DADU: it creates more affordable units, and allows people to stay in their own homes when circumstances change. See this Portland study about “internal conversions”.
Remove the owner-occupancy requirement
It discriminates against renters and and disincentivizes building ADUs. Would you build and rent out a backyard cottage if you knew that its existence would block you from later moving out and renting your main house? Additionally, why shouldn’t existing rental houses also be able to add ADUs?
Incentivize affordable rentals by eliminating development charges when owners commit to holding them as rentals affordable to people making under 60% AMI for 15 years
We need more affordable rentals! This would allow owners to build more easily, and their units would bring in a steady flow rather than a flood of rental income.
Incentivize green building standards like passivhaus and “living buildings”, by eliminating development charges on any units built to those standards
These units may be market rate, but because they’re extremely low-energy-use, they’re a benefit to the city.
Incentivize rentals of more than one month by lowering development charges for homeowners who commit to month-plus-long rentals for at least 10 years
This encourages rentals for residents, rather than AirBnB units.
Streamline permitting by dedicating specialized reviewers to ADU/ DADU projects
With just three dedicated staff positions, DCI could reduce the turnaround on permit reviews to a matter of weeks rather than months. If the city pre-approved stock plans with a list of available zoning departures, such as 2 extra feet of allowable height for sloping lots or green roofs, residents who want to build an ADU have a clear and predictable pathway through permitting.
No MHA fees for ADU's
MHA fees can add 15K+ to the cost of an ADU, thus making it less likely people will build them. Much better to lower costs on ADU’s held affordable, as mentioned above.
Lower the minimum square footage for lots that can support DADU’s and ADU’s to 2500
A 2500 sq. ft.lot can easily support a 2-story house with a footprint of 800 sq. ft. and an ADU inside, and also a DADU with a 400 sq. foot footprint.