mike eliason
3 min readMar 16, 2018


Some Random, Innovative Housing/Land Use Policies

Three months ago, City of Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda asked me to sit in on a panel on housing for the committee she chairs, Housing, Health, Energy, & Workers’ Rights. Specifically, she wanted me to talk about innovative housing/land use policy outside of Seattle. A number of people have asked for the crib notes/links from what I was reading off of, so here it is. It’s by no means comprehensive — just what I had time to throw together in an afternoon.

Among these policies are several themes that could be relevant for Seattle:

  • social housing: affordable housing (workers, students, elderly, families) via fed, state, and non‐profit actors.
  • cohousing / baugruppen / cooperatives as urban middle class housing, heavily funded or supported by gov’t.
  • passivhaus/nZEB: high construction quality/durability. Very low energy buildings, buoy against energy poverty, mold free, less asthma issues (intersection w/ health & energy)
  • design competitions: much higher quality of design/livability v. RFP/RFQ processes
  • high level of planning coordination: open space, schools, daycare, transit investments
  • broad zoning: no ‘wedding cake’, no modulation, no single family zoning, 1/2‐3/4 mile walkshed
  • State preemption: overriding local control/obstruction of housing



  • Right to housing in Swiss constitution
  • Cooperatives: no‐equity model, residents own shares and pay monthly rent. Shares returned at end.


  • Surplus land offered to cooperatives v. market rate developers
  • Coops done as a low‐cost ground lease (>60 years)
  • Rents of coops based on construction costs, maintenance and operations. roughly 20% of housing since 2001 in form of cooperatives: quality, affordable housing, social mix, efficient, etc.
  • Well planned (schools, transit, open space, daycare, etc)
  • Coop members are eligible for federal housing subsidy
  • Member solidarity funds: rental assistance, and used for loans for new construction


  • Intensive redevelopments of brown/greenfields. ~50% of land for affordable housing or coops/cohousing/syndicates (eg in Rieselfeld and Vauban)
  • High level of investment, planning and coordination between departments
  • Mietshäuser Syndikat (rental house syndicate): non profit that joins up w/ tenants to buy and manage apartments, construct/rehab coops



  • more innovative fire codes, heavy usage of mass timber/innovation, advanced prefabricated high-performance assemblies industry, highly regulated but simple forms to keep costs normalized.
  • city as affordable housing developer (historically, almost all NFP today. Neue Heimat Tirol in Innsbruck: large scale social housing developments are generally aiming for, or achieving passivhaus levels of construction w/ EU nZEB req’ts.
  • Indefinite housing tenure w/ regulated rents (v. monthly or yearly lease)


  • Long history of progressive social housing paired w/ amenities, parks and transit.
  • No single family zoning, affordable housing is legal everywhere housing is legal (no SFZ in AT/DE/CH).
  • Fund rehab/new construction/preservation of social housing at ~$650M FY 2017 (via federal taxes)
  • energetic retrofits (e.g. passivhaus) ‐ extend life of building, better IAQ, no mold.
  • housing developer competitions ‐ for/non profit developers submit proposals for housing based on parameters ‐ award based on design, economics, social mix and environmental merits.
  • parks surrounded by density/density isn’t limited to arterials
  • Industrial redevelopment large part of housing component ‐ eg as at Nordbahnhof (former train station), Seestadt Aspern (former airport w/10ks units of housing, jobs integrated w/ schools, parks, shops, transit)
  • Social housing & development in general planned w/ community needs (daycare, schools, shops, doctors, parks, etc.
  • Gender mainstreaming
  • >10% of city is 6‐story buildings (Seattle: ~1.5% zoned 6 story and 2/3 is developed)

Edmonton, Canada: Infill guidelines: broad infill regulations w/ education, design competition, neighborhood
input (https://www.cityofedmontoninfill.ca/)
NYC: office of tenant advocate
California: SB 827 Proposal for minimum zoning near high quality transit (1/2 mi stops, 1/4 mi corridors) exempt from local controls on max density, FAR, min parking. height increase if lower than 45‐85'



mike eliason

dad | designer | writer | Noted shill for housing. interests: Baugruppen, architecture, passivhaus, mass timber, staedtebau, not for profit housing