I visited Olympia the first week of March to express my support state-wide policies to address the lake of housing options for families. My Senator, David Frockt, was unavailable to meet given that it is the end of the legislative session and he was busy voting on the glut of bills being pushed through the legislature in the final days of the session. I was able to speak with Senator Frockt’s Legislative Assistant, Daniel Strauss.
My specific topic of discussion was HB 1123, which would ban cities or counties in the state with populations less than 125,000 from establishing minimum requirements for dwelling size beyond those required public safety. I wanted to express my hope that a similar bill be introduced to curb cities from establishing minimum buildable lot sized beyond that required by fire health and safety. I recently wrote a blog post about the City of Seattle’s new zoning rules that limit development on small lots in residential zones. The new rules effectively rendered a large area of the buildable land in the city unbuildable. As a supporter of affordable housing I view the lack of variety in the city’s housing stock (townhomes, ADU’s, micro-homes) as a failure that has a great deal to do with the reason that families looking to for housing in the Seattle area are forced to move to cheaper, auto-oriented suburbs on the periphery.
It was with this in mind that I began my conversation with Daniel Strauss. I hoped to encourage Senator Frockt to consider a bill like HB 1123,that would remove minimums for housing square footage and lot size, beyond that necessary for fire health and safety, in larger cities like Seattle. While very friendly and willing to listen, I did not find Mr. Strauss very receptive to my ideas. The basic response I got was that such legislation would be a very tough sell in Wedgwood, as well as across district 46 (which includes northeast Seattle and portions of Lake City). Mr. Strauss was supportive, offering alternative solutions as ways of pushing such changes through organizations like Solid Ground. He also suggested that I look more to the Maple Leaf neighborhood as an area that might be more open to such policies. With the light rail station coming in, the area is more open to increased density.
All in all I found my visit to Olympia somewhat of a letdown, considering the poor reception I found to my ideas. It was nice to see how easy it is to get ahold of my legislator, something I’ll keep in mind in the future. And visiting the capitol building was fun, but I wish I had gotten a bit more support however. The lesson learned from my meeting was that sometimes it’s necessary to work at all levels, from grassroots up to high level politicians. I imagine I would have had a warmer reception if I had the backing of a community group or constituency, but lesson learned.