Photo by Shane Harms
Tess, with Livable Ballard, reminding the Council of the 2015 elections.

Ballard residents barrage City Councilmembers with development and housing affordability concerns

On July 16 the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resilience met in the sweltering Ballard Community Center to discuss a number of pressing housing issues. The meeting was part of an ongoing series of meetings working toward creating a Housing Strategic Plan.

City Councilmembers Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata were in attendance and listened to community members present their opinions on development, housing and a litany of other issues affecting Ballard and Seattle.

Over 200 citizens sweated in their seats with council members amid opening presentations from concerned residents. Issues brought before the council included developer loop holes in the land use code, overdevelopment in Ballard, “sky-rocketing” rent rates, lack of community involvement in development and the Department of Planning and Development’s lack of oversight.

Citizens called for a pause in development, a vast reappraisal of the housing code, and a reorganization of the DPD.

A woman named, Tess, from Livable Ballard, pleaded to speak after claiming an unknown individual had crossed her name off the presenter list. The council allowed her to speak and when she did residents applauded what she had to say.

“While density is a necessity, developer greed and inattention to low income residents and families with children is not,” said Tess. She stated that the Ballard vacancy rates are one of the highest in the city at 8.6 percent, despite high rent rates, and will climb to 18 percent in six years after the already permitted projects are completed.

“Building our way out of the housing crisis is clearly not working. … City council members need to be reminded that their lack of action in closing developer loopholes, including meaningful community involvement, and actively monitoring and responding to the impact of growth on neighborhoods is irresponsible in the extreme, and we residents of Ballard will not accept it. Although the damage will be done by that time, the 2015 election is not far away and Councilmembers should perhaps be reminded that we will not abide to reelection of the ones responsible for this mess.”

Bob, an architect, who said he owns two houses in Ballard, held up a large picture of a popular designed townhouse being built on a subdivided lot. “Ballard is losing its character, its spirit, its soul. It’s being overtaken by poor design. …Something needs to be done. Design is very hard to legislate. I’ve been a planning commissioner in other communities before and it’s a very difficult situation, but someone has to have the guts and the courage to step forward and take control. …The houses like this are ruining Ballard’s environment. “

Bob, showing an example of what is causing Ballard to "lose its soul." Photo by Shane Harms.

Corey Snelson, Board Chair for the Washington Tenants Union commented on affordability in Seattle.

“I live in Shoreline. I cannot afford to live in Seattle. ... We are really facing a crisis in affordable housing. People that are coming into the Tenants Union every day cannot find housing here, and I’m going to ask you now to make bold steps to change what this looks like. What do you want your city to look like in the future? What do you want it to look like now? Do you want a city full of wealthy people or do you want it to have vibrancy and ethnicity and all the wonderful things that make this city a beautiful, wonderful, fantastic place to live, “ said Snelson.

Catherine Weatbrook from Ballard District Council and Linda Weedman with Central Ballard Residents Association, presented on Ballard development and concerns derived from the community.

Weatbrook reported many challenges for Ballard, including the growth rate, affordability for both housing and businesses, and the diversity of the housing stock. She mentioned the current development rate being at 206 percent of the DPD’s 2024 target with and additional 111 percent permitted/under construction.

“There is no diversity in what we are seeing as far as new housing stock. … This community values the diversity it has and wants to encourage more,” said Weatbrook.

Weatbrook discussed a study that showed young residents and new businesses flock to old neighborhoods because they have diversity, and identified Ballard as having a rich history and a diverse array of people and businesses. She stated that the homogenous development of unaffordable housing occurring in Ballard does not support maintaining what draws people in the first place. She also reported that although there has been substantial housing growth; there has not been any job growth, especially for the living wage jobs.

Transportation and parking was also a major issue she reported as a challenge for Ballard. Weatbrook stated that Capitol Hill is one of the best-served neighborhoods for transit in Seattle and has a high walkability rating, yet automobile ownership is up. She alluded to the parking density increasing in Ballard and how Capitol Hill is a cautionary tale. Moreover, Weatbrook argued the rational behind building more housing to bring costs down is not working.

“I’m going to echo a little bit of Tess’s statement here, which is, if simply adding housing stock made housing more affordable we would have seen it by now, and there are national studies that back that up. It is not a simple economic 101 of supply and demand. These are intertwined, interdependent issues. It’s great to have a housing plan – don’t get me wrong. I think it’s an excellent thing to do, but it can’t be done in isolation from the other factors that affect livability and the cost of housing.”

Weedman reported CBRA’s basic concerns, which on top of addressing rapid growth, included transit, parking, employment, police presence, schools, sewer, water lines, storm drainage, and preserving tree canopy.

“We strongly support the timely assessment of our infrastructure needs and not waiting until a crisis occurs," said Weedman.

Weedman also reported that a recent City study conducted as part of the Ballard Urban Design Framework showed that only five percent of Ballard residents live and work in Ballard. She said that CBRA believes the rising cost of rent and lack of affordable housing is the reason.

In addition, Weedman reported CBRA’s concern for the proposed micro-housing ordinance, addressing the city provisions that she claimed avoid SEPA, design review, public involvement, lack of height limits, and fire and safety controls.

“CBRA has also submitted comments on the proposed correction to the Low Rise Multi-family ordinance. In general we believe any future changes to the land-use code should restore public notice and participation in the design review as well as developer accountability. The emphasis here should be managing growth not just promoting helter-skelter growth. “

In addition, Traci Ratzliff, Council Central Staff, gave a presentation on the City’s Housing Strategic Plan. Jonathan Grant with the Tennant’s Union of Washington spoke about preserving affordable housing in Ballard and cited the recent change in Lockhaven Apartments, (low income housing turned to luxury apartments) as an example of what’s happening throughout Seattle. Moreover, Steve Walker and Maureen Kostyack with the Seattle Office of Housing, presented on affordability, housing preservation and tenant assistance in Washington.

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