Urbanists lie about single-family zoning

by David B. – rumblecrash.com

Somewhere between 35% and 49% of the land in the city of Seattle is zoned for single-family homes, depending on exactly how you count. But the urbanists and their developer backers continue to claim that the number is “two-thirds,” between 63% and 67%.

The urbanists lie about this because they want homeowners to appear greedy and exclusionary, even racist. “It’s time for NIMBYs to share their privilege!” they exclaim. “Why should homeowners have two-thirds of the land, when so many new tech workers can’t afford to move here and find a place to rent? The only way to increase the housing supply is to open up single-family zones to developers so the free market can increase density. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of single-family zoning altogether!” (That last bit didn’t go over so well.)

But their argument is based on a lie. The only way to claim that two-thirds of the land is zoned single family is to include parks, open space, and cemeteries in the single-family zone. This is what the HALA committee did (and for which they were called out at Crosscut: Single-family Seattle isn’t as big as density boosters claim).


Here’s the specific claim from page 24 of the HALA Report:

“Approximately 65% of Seattle’s land – not just its residential land but all its land – is zoned single family.”

But let’s look at the numbers, taken from the Mayor’s own Draft Comprehensive Plan (in the Land Use Appendix, on page 8 of the PDF).


The calculation to check the HALA claim is straightforward:

  • All Land (Gross Acres): 53,151
  • Single Family: 18,818
  • Calculate: 18,818 / 53,151 = .3540 = 35%

It’s possible to get a higher number (around 48%) by excluding “Rights-of-Way” (roads, alleys, etc.) from total acres, but it’s unclear why you would do that unless you had a political point to make.

The claim that “two-thirds of Seattle is zoned for single family use” is a lie. Urbanists who propagate this lie are deliberately distorting the truth to smear homeowners for political purposes. They should stop doing that!

For another in-depth look at the distortion of these numbers by City planners, see:

Warping data to grossly inflate city land area given over to single-family zoning
by John Fox, Seattle Displacement Coalition – May 12, 2016


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