Public Land for Affordable Housing: An Evaluation of a HALA Proposal in Seattle
Janet, Joshua Mathew
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Seattle is one of the fastest growing high-tech cities in the United States. Under the Washington State Growth Management Act, there is a finite urban land supply for housing development within the designated Urban Growth Areas. In return, Seattle’s housing affordability is in crisis. The city of Seattle formed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) task force in 2014 and it produced 65 recommendations for how the city can facilitate the construction of 20,000 affordable housing units and 30,000 market rate housing units over the next ten years. One of the recommendations (Strategy L.1: Prioritize Use of Public Property for Affordable Housing) proposes that the city revise its existing reuse and disposition policies for surplus and underutilized publicly-owned property to prioritize these properties for the construction of affordable multifamily housing. This thesis seeks to add to existing research by examining one question: How feasible and effective would a policy be to prioritize the use of surplus and underutilized publicly-owned land for the development of affordable housing to meet HALA’s growth target? Any program intended to address affordable housing concerns must be palatable, practical, and have a reasonable chance of producing positive results for all parties involved in order to succeed. This research presents a grounded theory study that uses both qualitative and quantitative measures to document the complexity of the issues associated with using publicly-owned surplus and underutilized land for affordable housing development, including comparative case studies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) land analyses. The feasibility and effectiveness of a revised property reuse and disposition policy is established using three development scenarios (low-build, medium-build, and high-build) for existing surplus and underutilized public land based on a buildable lands analysis. The research and its subsequent analysis provide a blueprint for understanding the challenges associated with housing development on public land. The conclusion of this research is that modifications to the city’s existing reuse and disposition policies would present minimal-to-no additional costs to implement and could result in the development of between 495 and 4,450 affordable housing units, or between 2.5% and 22.25% of HALA’s target for affordable housing units. The achievement depends on how aggressive the policies were enforced, but it would require robust political support from the city and creative development approaches to be most effective towards the development of more affordable housing.
- Urban planning