From the 1920s through the 1990s, people in Seattle made some harmful choices we need to set right.
They chose to cover the vast majority of the city’s residential land with zoning that prohibits anything except single family, detached houses on lots 5,000 square feet or larger.
In the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s this may not have seemed like a problem. The suburbs looked to be where the number of jobs was increasing and young people wanted to live. Many assumed the Earth was resilient enough to handle “Sunday drives” as a recreational activity.
Today we know we must decrease carbon emissions to avoid a global crisis. Seattle has become a center of opportunity to get jobs with higher wages and better benefits than most anywhere. And there is renewed enthusiasm for living in center cities.
So decades of downzones making familiar elements of Seattle’s older neighborhoods like corner stores, duplexes and triplexes, and homes on small lots illegal on most of the city’s land is taking its toll.
It’s making it hard for Individuals and families who can’t afford a detached house on a big piece of land or small businesses and arts organizations who can’t pay a premium for space on major streets to find a place here.
When people live far from their jobs or can’t walk to a local business, it leads to needless miles driven our planet can’t bear or hours spent in transit away from family.
And we know that because of disparities in household income and wealth, single-family, large-lot zoning has a disparate impact on African-Americans, recent immigrants, and others with less rather than more money finding a home wherever apartments are banned.
The city’s 2017 analysis of fair housing identifies “[l]and use and zoning laws” as a contributing factor to “cause, increase, contribute to, maintain, or perpetuate segregation, racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, significant disparities in access to opportunity, and disproportionate housing needs.”
Specifically, “persons of color disproportionately live in areas of the city with zoning for multifamily housing or ‘commercial’ zoning (which allows a combination of multifamily housing and commercial uses).” And because of where we’ve chosen to allow apartments, “[i]n Seattle, this housing is primarily located along, or otherwise in proximity to, major roadways.”
We can change this by opening land currently locked up in single-family, large lot zoning to multi-family homes like duplexes, stacked flats, cottage and row houses (all at the same overall size and scale allowed today), and allowing “corner store” commercial and cultural space.
This is why we need to step up and #RezoneSeattle now.
More than 21,000 acres of the city’s buildable land are zoned single family 5,000 square foot lot size or larger (by comparison, any form of multi-family home from duplexes to high-rises are allowed on only 3,697 acres). Seattle’s current definition of single family zoning is here.
To learn more:
Zoning that prohibits multi-family homes and requires large lot sizes is called “exclusionary zoning”– learn why here.
About the header photos:
These photos are examples from Wallingford and Tangletown of what can’t be built today as a result of downzoning. From left to right: corner commercial with apartments above; homes on lots as small as 2,500 square feet; and a grandfathered duplex and row house in what’s now a single-family only zone.