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Seattle voters are getting ready to choose who will represent their district. Seven district seats will be decided, as well at two at large positions.KPLU’s election series, Back On The Block, revisits issues affecting each district and introduces us to the candidates

District 6 City Council Candidates Say Affordable Housing Shortage In Ballard Is Real

Seattle voters are getting ready to choose who will represent their district. Seven district seats will be decided, as well at two at large positions. KPLU’s election series, Back On The Block, revisits issues affecting each district and introduces us to the candidates.

Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is designated as an "urban village," meaning that it is targeted to absorb growth. But almost 3,000 new units have been built there in the past decade, triple the number that city planners projected would get built between 2005 and 2024. Residents say all that growth is displacing lower-income people.

On Northwest 60th Street, near 20th Avenue Northwest, the sound of construction is pretty constant. Single-family homes are getting torn down, replaced with townhomes that sell for $600,000 on up.

Folks here say all that growth means fewer options for lower-income people.

“We need to do something that’s affordable for people across the board, not just for the Amazons and the Microsofts. We don’t want to just draw those people in, we want to take care of the people that we have here already,” said Ballard resident, Cathy Carman.

“In my building, about half of the tenants have had to leave because of increases in rent,” said Gino D’Cafango, who also lives in the neighborhood.

Another Ballard resident, Linda Melvin, echoed these sentiments.

“It can’t keep going the way it is now or you’re going to force out everybody and it’ll be a San Francisco up here,” she said.

Rents Up 30 Percent Since 2012

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
New townhomes and rowhouses are being built in Ballard at a rapid clip, and residents say the development is coming at the expense of affordable housing.

The average rent in Ballard has climbed more than 30 percent since 2012, according to the real estate research firm Dupre + Scott.

Both city council candidates in District 6 say it’s a big concern.

“Our building boom has come at the expense of affordable housing units,” said Catherine Weatbrook, who is challenging incumbent Mike O’Brien for the District 6 seat.

She’s been critical of Mayor Ed Murray’s “grand bargain” with developers, in which builders will get zoning changes in exchange for creating housing units that are affordable for people earning up to 60 percent of area median income, which translates to $53,760 for a family of four.

Weatbrook says the deal the committee came up with was too skewed toward developers.

“I’m really disappointed at the lack of people involved at the table who had no financial interest in building more,” she said.

She says she wishes the plan emphasized ways to help ordinary homeowners add affordable housing such as backyard cottages.

O'Brien Supports Murray's Housing Plan

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
Ballard resident Linda Melvin says she's concerned that older apartment buildings that offer more affordable rents are vulnerable amid rising real estate values.

Mike O’Brien is an advocate of the “grand bargain” and the other plans that emerged from the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee.

“The next 10 years, what we’re planning is tripling the amount of affordable housing that we’re building in Seattle compared to the past decade,” he said, saying the plan will generate 6,000 units of affordable housing. O’Brien says the deal minimizes legal risk.

If the city went ahead and forced developers to produce affordable housing without changing the code to allow for bigger buildings, he says lawsuits would be inevitable.

“Even if we were right and won, it would be years until we had a program in place delivering affordable housing,” he said.

Still, Weatbrook points out the “grand bargain” will take years to implement, because changing zoning takes a long time.


In the meantime, she says the city has to do more about homelessness. For example, she says people sleeping in cars and campers shouldn’t be forced to move so often.

“What happens if we create a four-block area where that for one month is where they can be?” she said. “They won’t be ticketed; they won’t be towed; there’s porta-potties; there’s garbage service.”

That idea is similar to a program O’Brien began a couple of years ago, called Road to Housing, to let people living in their vehicles use church parking lots.

He agrees Seattle has to do more and should move quickly on what he calls Band-Aid approaches such as homeless encampments on city land. But he urges all of us to be more open to letting homeless people live nearby.

“We’re going to need our communities to step up and hopefully invite folks in and say, `Yeah, we can host a parking lot; we can host a tent city,’ to get the folks off the street,” O’Brien said.

Whoever wins the District 6 race will no doubt have to tackle homelessness issues. Lots of people in Ballard have spoken out against a planned tent city on Northwest Market Street.