New Map Database Seeks to Expand Public Land Use for Housing in Seattle

by Will Sweger

In the wake of passing the Employee Hours Tax or Head Tax, Seattle, in partnership with King County and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is sponsoring the creation of an interactive public land map to identify sites within the city suitable for low-income housing and other public amenities like child-care.

Representatives from Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit development and housing advocacy organization, presented a prototype version of the public land map to a committee of the Seattle City Council last week. M. A. Leonard, Market Leader for Enterprise Community Partners in the Pacific Northwest, told the committee the use of public land for low-income housing development constitutes “an opportunity for you to fight the tidal wave of stuff that’s happening to make the city less affordable.”

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda invited Enterprise to give the presentation and spoke out on behalf of using public land for low-income housing development. “When we build affordable housing on publicly owned land, we ensure that our public dollars actually go further, so while we accomplished getting around $50 million in hand with the Employee Head Tax, the point is to make those dollars go further,” she said. “We can do that by building on public land.”

Mosqueda tied in her seat on the council to the struggle for housing and equity in public health outcomes. She explained, “For me, the entire purpose for being here is making sure that your zip code does not determine your health outcomes or your life expectancy. As we have a conversation about building affordable housing, we’re talking about increasing access to resource-rich neighborhoods next to schools and childcare facilities and parks and transit lines. This is how we will create greater housing equity and true opportunities for communities. I don’t want that to get lost. This type of tool can help us accomplish that goal.”

The aim of the project is to provide a measurement of how much public land within the Seattle city limits—including land owned by the City of Seattle, King County, Washington State, Public Utility Districts, the Port of Seattle, and Sound Transit—is available or underutilized and could be used for affordable housing.

The map database includes search features allowing users to filter by the size of the land parcel, its proximity to public transit, preschools, zoning laws, and a plethora of other factors including city council districts. Land owned by non-profits is also included in the database.

The land information is drawn from records gathered by the King County Assessors’ Office. In putting together the map tool, Enterprise found over 10,000 parcels of land in King County that are publically owned and might be suitable for the construction of low-income housing.

Enterprise expects to release a beta version of the search engine this summer along with a survey for non-profits and public organizations. A broader, public release will follow in the fall after further refinement from that feedback. Eventually, users will be able to use the search engine via Enterprise Community Partners’ website.

Following the compromise head tax proposal Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law, the city is expected to raise $48 million in revenue. The City Council is advocating for using two-thirds of the new revenue on affordable housing projects.

On understanding the difficulties behind identifying public land for low-income housing and other public uses, James Madden, a Senior Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners explained, “For a city to understand what the state has or the county and so on can be difficult. It can also be difficult across silos. We have transportation needs and transportation ownership of land, we have park needs and park ownership of land, and education needs and education ownership of land, and so on. Identifying the opportunities where we could do those things together can be a real challenge.”

He explained, “We are investing dollars in particular sites where the public agency or non-profit owner has said, ‘You know, this parking lot could be redeveloped. This site is under-utilized and we’d like it to be redeveloped and we’re not quite sure how to get there.’ With support from the Gates Foundation, from the City of Seattle, and from King County we’re able to devote some resources and some staff time to actually go and do the investigations on the site.”

Site investigations include environmental assessments, geo-technical inspections, and hiring an architect to create a conceptual plan for potential development. If the owner agency is still interested, the search can then begin for a non-profit developer to take up the project.

“I would love for this tool to create conversations and to create partnerships against some of the artificial lines we’ve drawn,” Madden concluded. The Gates Foundation has funded the project for three years, meaning the database will continue to receive updates once it goes live for the public.


Will Sweger is a contributor at the South Seattle Emerald. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle, The Urbanist, and Cascadia Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger

Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to the Seattle City Council

2 thoughts on “New Map Database Seeks to Expand Public Land Use for Housing in Seattle”

  1. As long as I can remember Seattle has been a liberal caring city. That is partially why I live here. I live in SE Seattle because of our racial make up. I wanted my children to grow up in a city that looked like the world. SE Seattle was White, Black, Asian and others with citizens who did not discriminate against you if you were LGBT.

    At last count we were over 700,000 people and growing. We went from a one-pony (Boeing) town to a vibrant city of many successful businesses. I remember when Boeing laid off 50,000 workers. Another 50,000 lost their jobs from subcontractors, restaurants, stores, clothing shops, service stations, hospitals, to mention a few. Someone placed a sign “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE–turn out the lights.”
    Most cities would be happy to have what we now have. In fact, many towns all over the US are bidding for parts of those businesses.

    About the time unemployment went to record levels, we had a group of bright young folks form CHECC, choose and Effective City Council form in the late 1960 early 1970s. In short order, all nine member of the city council were new and bright, Lamphere, Chapman, Miller, Hill, Cooley, Larkin, Pagler, Knowland and Williams. They did not always agree, but what they did was good for the whole city and the City’s future.

    Our city council is an embarrisment for a city of our size or for that matter any size. Have you heard the term decerebrate cat? This is an animal that has no brain but it limbs still twitch because of nerve stimulations. Our present council fills this definition to a “T.” There has not been any action taken by the city council in the last 10 years that could be categorized as well thought out much less brilliant. If this were the old west they would all be on crutches for having shot themselves in the foot.

    We have spend millions screwing up our streets. Like it or not Seattle needs cars and truck. Yet close to 70% of our major arterals have given up two of their four lanes to bicycles. Bycicles are about 1% of the vehicles on our streets. Seattle is confined by the Sound and lake Washington. Our people need to go north and South. This makes for difficult traffic patterns and we have given away half of our streets to 1% of the population.

    We have spent millions trying to house the folks in tents. A large percentage do not want the offer. Yes they are poor, yes many have drug problems, yes many have mental health issues. However, nothing that has been done has helped the problem. The concil

    We need to form CHECC again. Never in recent history has the city seen a less functional city council. Their time is spent on any and all problems of minorities while ignoring the major issues facing the city. All minorities should be treated fairly and equally but we cannot let running the city become that of a decerebrate animal twitching to every stimulus without having a cognative leadership making decisions necessary to govern a city such as our.

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