Officials in King County, Washington, are fighting over whether to funnel $180 million in future tax revenue toward the development of affordable housing or for upgrades to the Seattle Mariners baseball stadium. The County, which owns Safeco Field where the Mariners play, has been attempting to hammer out a new 25-year lease agreement with the team for the facility for several months and was near a deal as recently as May of this year. That was when King County executive Dow Constantine proposed to earmark roughly $180 million in funds to be generated by a county-wide hotel/motel tax toward the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, the county-administered entity that presides over the stadium, for facilities upgrades. Specifically, The Stranger reports, the funds would be used to pay for maintenance and capital improvements to the building, including, potentially, new concession areas, a new hall of fame space, luxury box upgrades, and additional parking. The $180 million in public funds would augment $205 million in private funding provided by the team toward renovations for the 19-year-old stadium. The hotel/motel tax was originally enacted to help pay off debt resulting from public financing for the construction of the nearby CenturyLink Field football stadium in the late 1990s. The football stadium was designed by Ellerbe Becket, LMN Architects, and Streeter & Associates and currently hosts the Seattle Seahawks NFL team and Seattle Sounders MLS team. Famously, the new stadium replaced the mid-century modern-era Seattle Kingdome, which was designed by architects Naramore, Skilling, & Praeger in 1972 and was spectacularly imploded in 2000. The Seattle Times reports that the debt for CenturyLink Field will be paid off in 2020 and that following that, state law requires 75% of the funds generated by the motel-hotel tax be divided evenly between affordable housing and arts-focused initiatives. The remainder is up for targeted but ultimately discretionary use. Constantine argues that the funds should be earmarked for tourism-supporting initiatives—including stadium renovations, as proposed—but other King County Council members would rather see the funds diverted toward helping to alleviate the County’s raging housing and homelessness crisis. The disagreement has escalated in recent weeks as the Mariners have hinted that the viability of their long-term lease is contingent on the $180 million hand out, though the team has not explicitly threatened to move from Seattle if a deal can’t be worked out. In particular, Councilman Dave Upthegrove opposes Constantine’s funding request and has argued publicly for funneling the $180 million toward housing based partly on the idea that the team—worth $1.45 billion, according to Forbes—can afford the repairs itself. Upthegrove told The Seattle Times, “There is no reason they would walk away from a business enterprise that is generating so much wealth for them. The threat is nonsense.” Upthegrove continued: “We have a simple choice—We can invest this money in public needs, or we can use it to allow these business owners to make even more money.” After a council meeting last week, support for the housing plan seemed shaky among councilmembers, but as the week wore on, some officials began to rethink their options. A recent report by The Seattle Times added fuel to the fire by questioning whether public money should go toward pricey luxury box upgrades and other high-end line items. There are currently over 12,000 Seattleites experiencing homelessness according to the most recent count, and while regional efforts to boost affordable housing production have ramped up over the last two years, the efforts have done little yet to change housing conditions for a significant portion of that population. There is an urgent need for affordable housing in the region and local leaders are trying a variety of outside-the-box approaches as they attempt to boost affordability. The latest tussle over affordable housing funding comes weeks after Seattle’s corporate elite, including Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft, successfully pushed back against a proposed “head tax” that would have levied a modest fee on major employers in the city to fund housing efforts. As far as the Mariners plan is concerned, the King County Council met last week with no resolution on the issue. Additional meetings are scheduled for late August and throughout the Fall.
Posts tagged with "Housing Crisis":
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has announced his intention to declare a so-called “shelter crisis” in the city, announcing $20 million in new funding for emergency shelter services like tents, trailers, and temporary shelters. The new program—called “A Bridge Home”—will pave the way for the municipality to speed up the approval of new emergency shelter and transitional housing projects, as well, The Los Angeles Times reports. The announcement, made during Garcetti’s annual “State of the City” address, comes amid ever-increasing rates of homelessness among the city’s residents. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were at least 34,189 Angelenos experiencing homelessness in 2017, up 20 percent from the previous year. In Los Angeles County, the number was much higher, with 57,794 county residents living in unsheltered conditions. With millions of Angelenos overly burdened by their rents and a state-wide housing affordability crisis that has no end in site, the extent of the city’s homelessness crisis is likely to continue to grow. That is, unless new efforts undertaken by city leaders can prove to be effective. Garcetti’s declaration comes on the heels of a series of new initiatives following the passage of Proposition HHH and Measure H in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The two homelessness alleviation measures aim, respectively, to utilize a $1.2 billion bond to build 10,000 new supportive housing units but while also directing resources toward preventing rent-burdened and recently-rehoused households from falling back into homelessness. While those 10,000 units make their way through the planning, design, and construction process, Measure H initiatives will work toward addressing the causes of homelessness on the ground today. The measure consists of 21 interconnected strategies aimed at tackling affordability issues and includes rental subsidies, job training programs, and funding for case management services while also promoting County-wide coordination between agencies on where new transitional and supportive housing developments can be located. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council moved to untangle regulatory approval for new shelters from conventional community review processes, a move that will convert these developments into by-right projects that do not require the types of tedious reviews that have slowed down their development across the city. The City Council also moved to pass a new ordinance allowing for existing motel properties across the city to be converted to rapid-rehousing sites. Los Angeles County is working to facilitate the rental of Accessory Dwelling Units to individuals and families who were formerly experiencing homelessness by allowing homeowners with ADUs on their properties to accept housing vouchers, as well. The pilot project is currently underway. All told, Garcetti aims to earmark nearly $430 million toward homelessness alleviation measures next year, including more than $238 million in funds generated from the Measure HHH funds.
California State Senator Scott Weiner has unveiled a slate of new amendments aimed at shoring up support behind his controversial housing bill—SB-827—that could potentially spell the beginning of a detente between pro-housing and social justice-focused advocacy groups in the state. In a Medium post published Monday night, Weiner laid the groundwork for this potential reconciliation by addressing some of the thorniest aspects of the bill critics have lamented thus far, while also proposing the addition of key new elements. Additions to SB-827 include mandatory affordable housing requirements, strengthening demolition controls outlined specifically by the bill, and doing away with the most significant height increases allowed by SB-827. Weiner’s bill has been heavily criticized from multiple angles since it was introduced earlier this year. On one side, NIMBY groups have decried the intended effects of the measure—densification along transit stops and an erosion of parking and height limits associated with development in these areas—while groups that represent low-income residents and communities of color have targeted the bill as yet another instance of top-down exploitation. In response to the latter set of critiques, Weiner added a bevy of pro-tenant fixes to the legislation several weeks ago, proposing a so-called “right to remain” that would require developers to offer new units to existing tenants for projects that benefit from the bill’s new development standards, among other fixes. The most recent crop of changes aims to further soften the edges of the bill, while making explicit elements that were only hinted at before. The biggest change comes from the addition of an affordable housing requirement for all but the smallest projects. The bill will now require between 10 and 20 percent of new units constructed to be set aside as deed-restricted affordable housing, with specific allotments made for “low income” and “very low income” households within these new guidelines. The highest inclusionary requirements are triggered for mixed-use projects consisting of 25 percent or more office space, according to the post, with projects made up of nine or fewer units exempt from inclusionary rules. While the proposed bill did not initially propose to strip away local control over building demolitions, the updated language would penalize developers who utilize California’s controversial Ellis Act provision to evict tenants from rent-controlled units. In a significant win for rent-stabilized households, the bill will halt the issuance of a demolition permit on properties that have recorded an Ellis Act eviction within the last five years, meaning that landlords will not be allowed to evict rent-controlled tenants in order to demolish an existing structure to make way for market-rate or luxury development. Going one step further, the bill will also aim for a so-called “no net loss” strategy that will force developers to replace any demolished rent controlled units lost in the process of redevelopment. These protections will apply in addition to the right-to-remain and inclusionary requirements, so if, for example, an existing 10-unit, rent-controlled structure is demolished, the new development must include 10 new rent-controlled units, add roughly one new deed-restricted affordable unit, and allow all ten existing tenants to take up their old leases at similar rents as before, with however many remaining new units set aside as market-rate homes. The new compromises represent a victory for social justice groups and low-income tenants and could potentially smooth out opposition to the bill in some of these communities, though that is yet to be seen. Another key change is that the bill would no longer totally eliminate parking requirements for transit-adjacent areas, but allows up to 0.5 parking stalls per unit for developments located along high-frequency bus routes and for developments located more than a quarter-mile from a rail stop or a ferry terminal. The bill will also require developers to issue monthly transit passes to building tenants. The new bill would also scrap a previous 85-foot height limit imposed on transit-adjacent properties in order to “focus the bill on 45- to 55-foot wood frame buildings,” which Weiner contends are more affordable to build than the steel structure buildings that would be required at the higher limit. The additional height limits will also no longer apply to rapid bus-adjacent sites, though those parcels will still benefit from lower parking and higher density restrictions. The bill is making its way toward formal hearings on the California State Senate floor. For more information on the changes, see Weiner’s post.
If California’s gubernatorial candidates are to fulfill their ambituous goal of adding up to 3.5 million new housing units across the state over the next eight years, new efforts will need to be undertaken to streamline and reform the state’s sagging construction industry—Could this effort create an opening for mass timber construction to take hold in the Golden State? It might, and here are a few reasons why. For one, there’s a growing push for new urban housing in California that could soon make the mid-rise apartment the state’s quintessential dwelling type. There’s strong reason to believe that if proposed regulatory changes go as planned, cities in the state could see a flowering of the kinds of four- to eight-story multi-family structures mass timber excels at delivering. With construction times running 15 to 20 percent faster than conventional building, there’s a potential mass timber technologies could help bring new units online very quickly, especially if minimum dwelling standards are set and municipalities streamline permitting and approval. Secondly, mass timber is becoming more widely-accepted as a building approach, reflecting a growing awareness of its inherent structural and fire-safety benefits. The nascent industry is cheering recent changes to the 2021 version of the International Building Code that will allow mass timber construction for structures up to 18-stories high. The shift could bring down the cost of building dense housing in the medium-sized city centers—downtown Long Beach, Glendale, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland, for example—where lots of growth could happen but has so far been lacking. At these heights, it’s possible mass timber buildings could be more affordable to build than conventional structures while still delivering the height and structural resilience formerly only possible through concrete and steel frame construction. With San Francisco and L.A. building out larger transit systems and the state’s high-speed trail line on the way, it will be important to add high density nodes throughout the state to meet climate and housing goals. Cory Scrivner, a mass timber specialist with Structurlam, explained via email that with the coming changes to IBC and looming reforms to local zoning, “The market for mass timber will be growing significantly over the next few years.” With disruptive and new tariffs on foreign-grown softwood and imported steel and aluminum, its possible there could be further financial incentives to build structures made from regionally-grown timber, as well. Katerra, a Menlo Park, California-based construction technology and services start-up, is busy constructing a 250,000-square-foot factory in Spokane, Washington where it will produce mass timber products including cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. The company, which seeks to bring many aspects of the construction process—design, engineering, materials, manufacturing, and assembly—under one name while also modernizing the construction trades, is well-poised to play a role in California’s housing recovery. The company—which already has a functioning factory in Arizona—is growing, having just received a boost of $865 million in investment capital as it seeks to build out its network of regional manufacturing facilities Furthermore, because mass timber manufacturing is typically performed indoors with fewer workers and in advance of job site installation, mass timber construction also potentially holds the promise of side-stepping the state’s vexing shortage of skilled construction workers, one of the many unsolved structural repercussions of the Great Recession. According to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra’s architecture unit, the company’s factory-focused business model means that fewer—and differently-trained—workers are required on site. Instead of hammering nail to wood on a desolate job site, Katerra’s equipment operators and workers produce interior and exterior wall panels, roof truss assemblies, floor systems and countertops, among other building components in a factory. On-site, a crane and a well-trained team of workers assemble each new building in a fraction of the time compared to normative building practices. Curtis said over telephone, “[Addressing California’s housing crisis] is exactly the type of problem we are trying to solve—everyone deserves to live in a well-designed home delivered at an affordable price point.” And lastly, because each mass timber assembly is made to order, the so-called “mass-customization” potential of mass timber construction could also be a boon for the urban character of cities and residents alike, potentially resulting in a rich variety of building approaches and unit types. Might this variable approach even do away with the dreaded “stucco box?” Only time will tell. California’s housing shortage is a watershed event several generations in the making that will require proportional measures if it is to be adequately addressed. Given current understanding of what the mass timber industry is capable of producing, a rising wave of zoning reform, and growing funding sources for affordable housing construction, it might be time for municipalities and developers alike to take a look at this new building technology.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is catching heat this week for making comments that expose his continued embrace of unproductive, NIMBY-fueled, anti-housing rhetoric. At issue is a reversal in Garcetti’s support for a controversial state housing reform bill known as SB-827, a measure that would lift arbitrary restrictions on building heights and abolish costly minimum parking requirements for development sites located up to ½ of a mile from rapid transit stops across the state. Although rough estimates indicate the bill could add millions of new units to California’s anemic housing stock, the bill has elicited widespread concern over the potential displacement and erasure that communities of color could see as a result. Opposition is most fierce in Los Angeles, where fears run high that hard-fought economic protections for working class neighborhoods could be wiped away by the bill. A coalition of 37 community groups called ACT LA recently stated its opposition to the measure in a letter, saying, “The antidote to segregationist low-density zoning imposed upon and against communities of color is not an ‘open the floodgates’ approach.” In response to these concerns, State Senator Scott Weiner—one of the politicians behind SB-827—has proposed a series of pro-tenant amendments that would keep local demolition controls in place, allowing cities to forbid the destruction of rent-controlled housing or historic structures, for example. The bill will now also allow local inclusionary zoning plans to remain in place, ensuring that developers will continue to meet prescribed affordability requirements. The biggest addition will require developers to guarantee the so-called “right-to-remain” for existing residents, where developers pay people to stay in their neighborhoods despite new market-rate developement. While it is yet to be known if these amendments will assuage displacement fears within the state’s economically-vulnerable communities, the changes seem to be immaterial to Garcetti. After initially supporting the bill with the condition that tenant protections be included, the mayor has flip-flipped and is now seeking protections for single-family zones, as well. Describing the bill’s potential impacts on L.A.’s urban fabric, a spokesperson for Garcetti emphasized that the bill “is still too blunt for our single-family home areas.” Parroting a common—and classist—NIMBY talking point, Garcetti explained at a luncheon on Wednesday that dense housing in single-family neighborhoods would look out of place and that “we have plenty of space and land” to continue suburban-style development. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti said, “Can you imagine, three blocks in, in a single-family neighborhood, you could go 10 stories automatically. It wouldn’t look right.” Garcetti has long-supported single-family zoning, but his expectation that measures like SB-827 preserve this type of housing struck some activists as a new and unwarranted position. Mark Vallianatos of Abundant Housing LA said, “I don't know why [Garcetti] decided to move the goalposts and insist that SB-827 not change single-family only zoning, even after his concerns about rent-stabilized apartments had been largely addressed by amendments.” Aside from seeking to keep L.A. locked into its suburban past, the mayor’s view that major housing legislation focus on preserving single-family zoning is seemingly at odds with the commonly-accepted solutions to California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis. Experts agree broadly that the crisis is chiefly one of under-building resulting from the type NIMBY-fueled sentiment Garcetti expressed at the luncheon. Across the state, an overabundance of single-family zoned land and a resulting deficit in construction of new multi-family units, especially near high-capacity transit routes, is pushing housing out of reach of millions, burdening households with high rents, and forcing thousands into homelessness. Schools are closing in the Bay Area because families can’t afford to live there. Critical personnel—school teachers, medics, firefighters—face excruciating commutes because the only affordable communities are far-flung. 58% of Angelenos are rent-burdened, nearly 56,000 people in Los Angeles are experiencing homelessness, and California was recently ranked last in terms of quality of life in a recent U.S News and World Reports survey. The list of negative impacts resulting from the housing crisis goes on and on. And yet, to Garcetti, dense housing still doesn’t quite fit. The human cost of the crisis aside, Garcetti’s views miss the mark environmentally-speaking as well because single-family zoning bakes in auto-oriented lifestyles, fuels traffic congestion, and drives transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Today, transportation emissions make up the bulk of California’s contribution to climate change. As has been said repeatedly, without greater investment in mass transit and density, the state will be unable to meet its ambitious climate goals. Garcetti’s comments also fail from an investment value-capture point of view—How can the state benefit from billions in new transit investments when only a select few have access to new metro lines? Given that the mayor strongly championed the multibillion dollar Measure M transit initiative in 2016, it would seem prudent to invest in—or at least allow—density near those lines. But instead, with the insistence that single-family zones be preserved, Mayor Garcetti risks undermining these new transit improvements in addition to extending the negative effects of the housing crisis even further. And for what? Whether the mayor is willing to accept it or not, if California is to truly embody the progressive ideals so many of its state and local leaders espouse, it must drastically reduce the amount of urban land dedicated to single-family housing. There is simply no other way around it. If he wanted to deflect development energy from single-family areas, the mayor could issue any number of constructive reforms, like lifting the prohibition on housing in L.A.’s commercial corridors, for example. Given Garcetti’s comments and track record so far, however, this seems unlikely. Instead, the conversation will continue to focus on the specious claims of housing-secure residents unwilling to make room for others.
Several bills aimed at alleviating California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis advanced through the state legislature late last night, re-igniting the state’s housing activists and raising hopes that housing relief is on the way. The six initiatives address different facets of the crisis, but have been seen as a collective success and an initial step toward more full-fledged efforts by the state to rein in skyrocketing rents and reverse the housing shortage. The California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2)—the most controversial of the batch—a proposal that adds $75 to a $225 fee to mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions, excluding home and commercial property sales. The fee is projected to raise $250 million per year for low-income affordable housing, and provide a permanent and consistent funding source to rehabilitate and expand that market, the Los Angeles Times reported. When matched with federal, local, and private funds, it is estimated that the fee could raise over $5 billion for such housing over the next five years, according to The Mercury News. Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), also passed Thursday night, paves the way for a $4 billion bond designed to finance low-income housing development and provide mortgages to military veterans to go onto the 2018 statewide ballot. Providing housing for formerly-homeless veterans has been a particular focus of ongoing housing efforts across the state. Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) would streamline the approval of housing development, requiring cities and counties to develop land use plans that include a housing element and hold municipalities accountable to those figures. Senate Bill 166 would also pressure municipalities to meet their housing goals while also forbidding them from lowering residential density in their respective zoning codes to reduce the overall number of required units. Senate Bill 167 would strengthen the state's Housing Accountability Act—which compels municipalities to approve low-income housing projects, among other types of housing—by fining municipalities automatic fines of $10,000 per unit of unbuilt housing resulting from their violation of the act. Various municipalities around the Bay Area have caused controversy in recent years for violating the act, which in turn, has resulted in lawsuits from housing activists. Senate Bill 540 incentivizes “workforce housing opportunity zones” by allowing municipalities to adopt specific plans for local areas that are particularly in need of housing. The bill would streamline redevelopment efforts, especially in relation to California Environmental Quality Act approvals. Both SB 2 and SB 3 cleared the California State Senate earlier this year; those bills and the four additional measures will head back to that chamber for final approval today before being sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has until October 15th to veto or sign the bills.
preservation community see the bill as a wide-ranging and existential threat to the state’s historic fabric. The pro-preservation group Restore Oregon contends the bill is based on “false premises” and has offered a set of amendments to the bill, including adding language to the measure to increase incentives aimed at curbing market-rate development, adding disincentives to the bill that would limit the demolition of modestly-priced existing units, and enabling existing homes to be subdivided into as many as four units without prompting commercial zoning regulations as is currently the case in the state. The group also seeks to retain baseline protections for new historic districts. A hearing on the bill will be held June 22nd. See the Restore Oregon site for more details.
China is aiming to build two million affordable housing units this year in an effort to increase access to housing across the country, senior officials from that country report. According to Reuters, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) vice minister Lu Kehua explained that access to affordable housing was becoming a top priority for the government, as housing affordability across China’s largest cities has plummeted in recent years. Many parts of the country are currently experiencing a property boom that has left China’s low-income residents—especially migrant workers who have moved to China’s bustling cities from the countryside—out in the cold. The new units will be developed with an eye toward housing such populations, Lu explained. Official Chinese state publication Xinhua reports that the government has boosted investments and financing in public housing production in recent months to begin the process. Confusingly, the so-called property bubble in major cities comes as many of China’s smaller cities suffer from housing overproduction, resulting in “ghost cities.” China’s unequal, helter-skelter housing growth is straining city residents and has the potential to end badly, economically speaking, as builders take on more and more debt to build housing where it is neither needed nor in high demand. Of course, the low-skilled workers most dependent on the booming building industry there are due to suffer most in the event of economic collapse. Though two million new units is an impressive feat, the new affordable housing efforts are relatively paltry, considering China’s population currently stands at roughly 1.357 billion inhabitants, with roughly 70 million people living in poverty there. Overall, China provides affordable housing for roughly 11.3 million families. By comparison, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, administers roughly 4.8 million affordable units, according to a recent report. By one measure, China’s forthcoming affordable units, if developed proportionally in the United States, would result in over 466,000 new units. That number, coincidentally, is close to the number of new units needed to begin to address California’s housing crisis.