We need more housing—here’s our chance!
Dear Seattle City Light,
Please don’t sell the substation properties on the open market!
Seattle desperately needs housing—especially housing that doesn’t displace anyone. We know these “surplus” properties don’t currently pencil out for even nonprofit developers of affordable housing, so if you sell them, they’ll just be a few more market-rate units….when they could be leased out by the City in a way that allows for creative approaches to more housing, more affordably: solutions like a City-owned Community Land Trust, community-owned group rental housing, or tiny houses.
This way, they’ll remain under City control, and can also be utilized for the highest good as zoning changes are implemented: where they might have been used for as few as four market-rate single-family homes (one is zoned industrial), totaling about 12-15 people, they could instead be used for group housing for dozens of people, for example, and then shifted to, say, four-story, eight-unit affordable apartment or condo buildings for 65+ people if the zoning changes.
These are taxpayer-owned, and we need to shepherd the City’s resources. Selling them now means a one-time windfall, and the guarantee that these will be developed as market-rate housing. Keeping them gives us many options to experiment with small-lot affordable housing that can work for our neighborhoods. When considering “surplus” properties, the City’s first priority should be to think whether and how these properties can be used to mitigate our housing crisis.
More explanation: As you know Seattle has a housing problem—and as many of you know, this is a key climate issue, because when we don’t build enough housing in the city, we lose forests and meadows to sprawl, and people have bigger houses that require them to drive more to get anywhere.
Seattle also, it turns out, owns city land that it isn’t using. This is a little complicated, but bear with us—it’s important!
Here’s the story: State law requires that these properties (seven old substations in North Seattle, from 4,000 to 8,800 sq. ft.) be sold or leased at Fair Market Value (FMV), even if another City department needs them; the Office of Housing is looking to purchase two of them…that’s a good thing.
The rest of the lots are small, and zoned in a way that currently makes developing affordable housing on them impossible—because building costs are high, even a nonprofit developer getting land at no cost needs to be able to build more units in order to keep them affordable to people making 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
Why shouldn’t we sell them? Legally, the City can choose to lease these properties for nearly nothing (because the FMV for leases would be very low)— in that case, they’ll remain in the City’s control, and can be leased by community-based groups (or even a City-owned Community Land Trust) and utilized for creative solutions like group rental housing or tiny houses. Because they’ll remain under City control, they can be utilized for the highest good as zoning changes are implemented: where they might have been used for as few as four market-rate single-family homes (one is zoned industrial), each for about 3-4 people, they can now instead be used for group housing for 35 people, for example, and then shifted to, say, four-story, eight-unit affordable apartment or condo buildings for 65+ people if the zoning changes.
Our twin moral imperatives right now are to build housing and to minimize displacement. Because no one currently lives on these properties, this is a rare opportunity to do both.
Asking the City to keep them and find creative ways to use them for much-needed housing is the right thing to do!