Investigating the Effects of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) on Racial Equity & Housing Stability in the City of Seattle


Researchers: Dr. Valerie F. Strickland Hunt, Dr. Richard W. Sharp & Dr. Patrick W. Zimmerman

Project Summary

We will evaluate the effectiveness and implementation of the City of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), including its Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policy and the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy, on racial equity and stability in affordable housing.

Seattle is influential as an early adopter and developer of public policy for livable cities across the US (notably Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City), and HALA is a novel, comprehensive approach to housing and livability. It addresses structural and behavioral considerations surrounding displacement, affordable housing, development, transportation, and zoning. Its goal is to create 50,000 new homes, with 20,000 “net new affordable units” (which cost no more than 30% of household income). In developing this agenda, the city specifically considered the impact on racial equity of policy proposals. However, there are several lacunae in the city’s strategies to achieve equity and social justice in housing that merit investigation, such as the balance between efforts to get people into housing vs. housing stability; MHA’s development goal of 6,000 new affordable housing units in 10 years (for a city that grew by 136,295 (22.4%) from 2010-18, according to the US Census), but which allows developers to pay into a fund as an alternative to building affordable units; and a static conception of opportunity-rich areas.

Project Goals

This project sets at improving racial equity within Seattle through a focus on the following factors that influence housing stability: work, housing cost, housing availability, transit, zoning, and other factors driving displacement. It is important to acknowledge that this study will be conducted during the unprecedented economic, political, and social circumstances of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. We anticipate that this pandemic will exacerbate existing racial inequities that HALA policies are attempting to eradicate.

This project will result in a detailed policy evaluation and recommendations for King County and the City of Seattle, as well as open-access publications for a wider audience. This project is also part of a broader EPCW Equity Toolkit that the Center is developing for public consumption: a series of guides, infographics, dashboards, tools, and analyses on topics such as: housing equity, voting access, climate change, and immigration.

Research Questions

  • How have HALA’s many policies performed against its goals of increasing housing affordability and stability, mitigating displacement, increasing access to opportunity-rich areas of the city, and establishing racial equity in renting and home ownership?
  • Are MHA and the Housing Levy effective, and what factors have either accelerated or exacerbated their efficacy in specific urban villages that are targeted for mixed use such as South Lake Union, Wallingford, and Rainier Beach?
  • Most importantly, can these strategies be expected to perform similarly with disadvantaged populations in other areas of Seattle and in cities looking to Seattle as a model?

Data Sources & Methodologies

The project is explicitly interdisciplinary, applying methodologies from political science, ethnography, and data science to evaluating the outcomes, context, and processes of HALA and its associated policies.

We will evaluate the following three of HALA’S five categories of policy goals:

  • Growth with Affordability
  • Preservation, Equity and Anti-displacement
  • More Resources for Affordable Housing.

Statistical analysis component: We will evaluate the progress of policies against their stated goals using statistical analysis of housing and income data, which was gathered over the first half of 2020 from the US Census’ American Community Survey 5-year estimates for the years 2010-18.

Community-based participatory research: We will work with the communities of the urban villages under study to conduct a series of surveys and interviews of the lived experiences of residents of those neighborhoods. Interviewers will be local members of the communities in question, trained by our researchers and already enmeshed in the cultural and social context of these communities.

Network analysis model: We will develop a network analysis model based on preliminary results of our survey instrument, Seattle public housing records, the US census and the ACS, and other federal data. Network models are better able to capture interwoven relationships and the context of a problem than standard statistical analysis; much like HALA, this project conceives of housing security as dependent not on one, or even a few, metrics, but rather as the result of many connected factors.

Pilot dashboards

Change in affordable housing cost in Seattle, 2010-18

This series of maps represents the change in the lower quartile of rent for each census tract in Seattle.

Wallingford housing network analysis pilot

Pilot network model of census tract block groups in Seattle’s Wallingford Urban Village, with network edge weights determined by minority population percentage and affordable housing cost (block groups that are closer together are more similar than those further apart).

GitHub repository