Urban Politics #53: Doubling Tenant Relocation Assistance


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

  • Doubling Tenant Relocation Assistance
  • Land Use Code Amendments Pass
  • Assisted Living Facilities Legislation

Doubling Tenant Relocation Assistance (L.A. Lisa Herbold assisted on this piece)

The State of Washington authorizes local jurisdictions to require the payment of relocation assistance of up to $2,000 adjusted annually to low-income tenants who are displaced from dwelling units by housing demolition, change of use, substantial rehabilitation or removal of use restrictions from assisted housing.

In 1990 the Seattle City Council passed the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) because of the reduction of the supply of rental housing available to low-and moderate-income tenants.

In 1994 owners of rental units subject to the TRAO brought suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of the TRAO. In response the City Council suspended the obligation of owners to pay their half of the relocation costs. This reduced the total benefit to eligible tenants to $1,071, even though the City’s own public hearing showed that it cost renters on average $2,000 to move in 1990 dollars.

In 1995, rejecting the landowners’ takings claim, the court found that the TRAO is reasonably related to a legitimate state interest. In 1997, the City of Seattle reinstated the owners’ obligation to pay half of the TRAO payment but it did not reinstate the full payment, maintaining it at the $1,071 level.

After examining the allocation to the Dept. of Construction and Land Use (DCLU) versus the TRAO expenditure levels I discovered that increasing TRAO could be a “budget neutral budget item.” Seattle renters could be helped without increasing the City’s cost because DCLU simply hasn’t been spending as much as it has been allocated in past years. For instance in 1997, of the $179,000 allocated to DCLU to administer the TRAO program and make payments to renters, $101,200 went unspent.

Reinstating TRAO to $2,000 has been criticized by some as contributing to higher housing costs. In 1997 Seattle landlords paid out a little over $20,000 in TRAO payments to approximately 40 renters. I think the impact on housing costs is negligible at best. More importantly, those dollars have helped 40 renters secure stable housing. We all know that people who are unable to secure decent, affordable housing can cost the City money in social services and shelter costs.

The proposal does not provide more affordable housing, but just like 60 day notice now required when rents increase by more than 10 percent the proposal to return the TRAO payment to $2,000 is designed to help renters affected by the lack of it.

Land Use Code Amendments Pass

The City Council passed Council Bill 112457 today which amended the Land Use Code to allow for greater density in neighborhoods through easing some design restrictions for housing production. These code revisions were originally proposed in the summer of 1997. I believe that they were put on hold because they were controversial and unpopular with many neighborhood groups.

This latest, and improved, compilation of proposed changes has still raised opposition from City Neighborhood Council, the Seattle Community Council Federation, the Board of Trustees of the Queen Anne Community Council, and the University District Community Council.

The Mayor’s Seattle Housing Action Agenda which came out of his Housing Summit last spring proposed that changes in zoning be implemented only where neighborhood character and the presence of public transportation, services, and amenities support them; and only as a part of the adoption of each neighborhood plan.

Few of the draft neighborhood plans call for any of this ordinance’s land use code changes, and few of the communities that are not planning have called for these changes. The retort to this is that these changes are to minor to have received the attention of neighborhood planning groups. And there is some truth to this. Most neighborhood plans were concerned with broader objectives. They did not focus on specific code changes.

Nevertheless while these measures may modestly increase the housing production for some developers, they will not be enough to make a measurable difference in the affordability of new units produced. More importantly they may have an adverse impact on our quality of life. A letter from the Greenwood Community Council opposed to this ordinance takes this position: “They are going to increase population density, reduce view corridors and light as well as decrease our scarce open space…”

Another letter from the Laurelhurst Community Club points out that increasing density may not necessarily lead to more affordable housing: “With housing production keeping up with population increases and exceeding the goals of the comprehensive plan by 30 percent, the density limits in the Land Use Code are not the cause of increased housing prices.”

Although this ordinance may result in more housing units being produced, no one is arguing that those numbers will be significant. However I think community groups have a legitimate concern about its potential negative impact on their neighborhoods. The proposals seem more appropriate if they were considered for small-scale neighborhood situations, rather than applied to the City as a whole.

For the above reasons I voted against the ordinance. It did pass 5 to 1, with Drago, Donaldson, Steinbrueck, Podlodowski and Choe voting in favor. Conlin, McIver and Pageler, all had excused absences.

Assisted Living Facilities Legislation

Today, the City Council passed Council Bill 112337 allowing development of Assist. Living Facilities while helping ensure that they are on an appropriate scale and character for the neighborhoods they are located in.

Assist. Liv. Facilities are needed to provide a way for older citizens to remain in their own neighborhoods when they need assistance with the tasks of daily living.

Even though facilities providing Assit. Liv. have been found to generate less parking and traffic on avg. than nursing homes this legislation incorporates the following characteristics to lessen their impact on residential neighborhoods:

  • They would not be permitted in Single Family zones but would be permitted where multifamily residential uses are permitted.
  • In pedestrian districts Assist. Liv. Facilities must meet the same regulations as other residential uses.
  • The required number of parking spaces per unit was increased by 20% from the original proposal.
  • They would require communal space, both indoors and outdoors, in excess of state regulations.

Within 2 and 1/2 years from the effective date of this ordinance, the DCLU will submit to the City Council a study of Asst. Liv. Facilities evaluating such conditions as:

  • Traffic and parking impacts.
  • Use, location and design of non-residential street level spaces in the facilities.
  • Compatibility of use and structure with neighboring development.
  • In preparing this report residents and neighbors shall be consulted.

Because of these conditions I joined Council Members, Steinbrueck, Drago, Choe, Donaldson and Podlodowski in passing this legislation. Conlin, McIver and Pageler, all had excused absences.

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