September 28, 2015 Housing Action Coalition

What’s Up With Housing in Seattle?

Dan Bertolet, our special guest from Seattle, a blogger and planner at VIA Architecture, joined SFHAC last Friday morning, to tell us more about Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), published in July 2015.

Like San Francisco, housing in Seattle is the hottest political issue impacting their city. Dan’s presentation, was chock-full of comparison stats between Seattle and San Francisco. It illustrated how similar our cities are – from exploding population to the city’s Mayors making sizable commitments to building more affordable housing in the future.

>San Francisco is a more dense city, with close to 200,000 more residents, crammed in a more compact land area. Both cities have a robust new hi-tech market. Amazon alone predicts it will add 27,000 new employees to their Seattle campus before 2020. Planners are saying that San Francisco will add an additional 190,000 new jobs by 2035 (75,000 more new jobs than Seattle’s prediction). Importantly, San Francisco’s median rent is approximately $2k more per month. Why?

Seattle has built over 46,000 new homes in the last 10 years to compensate for their job and population growth, while San Francisco has lagged behind in new housing production — only 7,500 new homes delivered in the past 5 years. San Francisco has even fewer units in the pipeline than our northern counterpart. High salaries, fewer homes, sharply growing population explain why San Francisco has a housing crisis.

SF vs. Seattle

While Mayor Lee has set an ambitious agenda to build 30,000 new homes to help get us out of the housing crisis, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray isn’t messing around, either. Seattle has a goal of building 50,000 new units of housing by 2025 with 20,000 of those affordable. How does he plan on doing this? HALA – the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

As our guest speaker described it, Mayor Murray cherry-picked 28 key individuals with expertise in a variety of disciplines, then “locked them in a room” for 10 months to figure out how 20,000 new affordable homes could be built. Outcome? The HALA report, released in July 2015.


This HALA team came up with 65 recommendations in 4 key categories:

  1. More resources for affordable housing
  2. More housing (increasing overall supply)
  3. More support for communities to reduce displacement
  4. Innovation in housing solutions

Some ideas were more controversial than others. You may have recently read that their Mayor, in response to harsh backlash, retreated on increasing heights in single-family-zoned residential neighborhoods.


Here’s the HALA “Grand Bargain”:

  • New developer fees on commercial buildings
  • Mandatory inclusionary fees on residential (5-7% of total units)
  • Developers contribute to inclusionary – and receive significant upzoning to increase capacity in exchange.
  • Inclusionary housing is for 60% AMI and below
  • Estimates are that HALA will add 6,000 new units over the next 10 years

HALA unapologetically stresses the importance of market-rate housing as part of the solution to affordable housing – you need one to get the other. So, how will HALA be implemented since it is only a policy document? Their city council has 2-3 year work plan to take up all these policies and make them enforceable.

What was clear to SFHAC’s members is that Seattle is adding housing at a much greater velocity than San Francisco. While there is a housing affordability crisis in Seattle that has inflamed civic discussion, their median housing prices are HALF of ours!

Thanks to Dan Bertolet for sharing his expertise on Seattle. If you want to read more of Dan’s housing thoughts, he writes for

Dan’s Presentation

HALA Report Summary

Full HALA Report

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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