Using City Owned Land to Build Affordable Housing

One thing you will rarely hear at a public forum is, "I oppose affordable housing."

Everyone, every political candidate, wants more affordable housing.

So how do we get more housing--housing that we can afford--built in Seattle?

The single most expensive part of any housing is the land on which it sits. We need to literally create more land and then build housing on it.

There are two ways to 'create' land. One is to buy (or locate) land that is suitable for building. The other method is to change the rules and regulations that would allow housing to be built where it cannot be built at the present time.

In the first case, there is a huge amount of land available and currently owned by the city of Seattle. The city owns 27% of the land in the form of right-of-way for the exclusive use of automobiles. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of short, unnecessary roads connecting streets that could be used for housing.

For just one example, one could go to the intersection of Ravenna Ave North East and 25th Ave North East: Ravenna Avenue comes in at a sharp diagonal to 25th NE. At the north end of the intersection is a very short street that is blocked to through traffic. This short, one hundred foot long 'street' is now used for parking cars of people that live nearby. The right of way is forty feet wide, which means that the housing site at this unused and unnecessary street right of way is at least 100 feet by 40 feet--about the size of a typical residential lot.

These short, unused street ends could be part of the solution for affordable housing.

Seattle has in excess of ten thousand single story commercial buildings. Not all of these structures could take another story or two of housing--but many could. The city could encourage the addition of housing in many ways. The city could wave permit fees or at the very least, spread the payments out over several years. They could bring together the building owners, builders, renters and bankers to 'make it happen'. Importantly, they could alter the parking requirements allowing commercial buildings to count their daytime parking as the parking for the apartment dwellers. There are many ways for the city to help turn single story commercial buildings into mixed use residential. In effect, the city would help create thousands of acres of land for residences.

One of the most loved and desired housing in all of Seattle are our floating homes. All 893 floating homes are located in the Lake Washington Ship Canal. But at one time, every body of water in Seattle except Green Lake, had floating homes. I believe that we should carefully consider bringing back floating homes to Puget Sound, the Duwamish River and Lake Washington. These collections of floating homes would be discreet and small in number. But each house would bring money into the city coffers, offer great housing opportunities and be part of the total solution.

Affordable housing will not come about by wishing for it. There must be smart, creative solutions for this problem--and I believe that I have some of those ideas.

-- Dick Falkenbury

You can contact Dick at [email protected]

Dick Falkenbury for Seattle | 2518 South Brandon Court, Seattle, Washington 98108