What kind of city does Seattle want to be?

Seattle is known nationally as a progressive hub. We often lead on issues like the minimum wage, sick and safe leave, and campaign finance reform. This year, Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory committee released a series of recommendations on how Seattle can lead on another issue: housing.

The final document represented findings from a diverse group of stakeholders, from luxury mega-developers to affordable housing nonprofits. From funding affordable housing to renters’ protections, the recommendations were broad and controversial. Much of the public dialogue has focused on concerns around zoning, property values, and a fear of change.

As advocates for HALA, we recognize the power of communications to shift out of a fear-based dialogue and further our work. Shared values, archetypes, and a narrative will allow advocates to proactively define the debate on our terms. Pivots and repetition will help HALA supporters stay within that frame. When we are all talking in the same direction, progress is possible.

With that in mind, we created the following recommendations, along with a longer narrative guide and shorter quick-guide to talking about HALA.

#1. Establish repetition of the top messaging.
The debate around HALA has become almost rambling, and the dominant messages often don’t represent the progressivism that is such an asset to our city. We have to create an echo chamber that emphasizes our values if we’re going to shift the dialogue. Below are three messages that bear repeating.

By reiterating these messages, we can change the way our city talks about affordability and the HALA process. There’s no doubt that this will be a challenge. HALA’s proposals are divers and there’s an instinct to educate vs. persuade. But, in the end, persuasion is needed to shift the narrative. Repetition of core messages is key to persuading those who are unsure on the issue.

#2 Use accessible, simple language to talk about policy.
We’ve all heard the statistic that the average person spends less than five minutes per week thinking about public policy. It’s unrealistic to expect detailed knowledge of HALA’s complex policy proposals. So we need to put HALA into accessible, memorable terms by focusing on outcomes and values, not policy details.

Don’t Just Say… Do Say…
“Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning” Make sure that developers build the affordable housing that Seattle needs.
“MFTE program” Create housing for Seattle families; Seattle has always been a great place to raise a family.
“Commercial Linkage Fee” Fund affordable housing by making sure that developers are paying their fair share.
“Renter protections” Protect Seattleites who rent their homes from unreasonable rent increases, expensive rental applications, and bad landlords.
“HALA” “HALA—An innovative plan to grow smart and keep Seattle a great place to call home.”
“Upzones” Make sure that developers build the affordable housing that Seattle needs.

#3. Pivot from the opposition’s messaging.
The strong opposition to HALA has crafted a contentious atmosphere. This discourages folks from speaking up because it seems intimidating. Below are some simple pivots to avoid getting drawn into the same, circular arguments. Instead, we re-direct our attention to the values that we need to communicate to move the process forward.

They say… We say…
“Getting rid of single-family zoning will ruin neighborhoods and push people out.”
  • Seattle is growing fast, and the scarcity of housing is tearing apart communities and pushing people out of our city. We need a plan to build housing so that Seattle remains a great place to live.
“Seattle is already too crowded, and its infrastructure is already overwhelmed. Just look at the traffic!”
  • We are all better off when we find innovative solution to manage Seattle’s growth and the issues it creates. We have to act to keep Seattle a great place to live.
  • Seattle is growing, so we have to innovate to make sure that growth is sustainable. Traffic, pollution, and crowding get worse when growth is unplanned. Folks are pushed out and forced to commute. We need to act now.
“Developers are ruining Seattle, and HALA is a gift to them by subsidizing growth.”
  • We have to hold everyone accountable for keeping Seattle a great place to live, and that includes developers. HALA includes several new regulations to make sure that developers pay their fair share and build affordable housing, so that Seattleites can live in their communities.
“These policies are throwing Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods away without consulting with the people who live in them.”
  • Seattle is growing and changing, that’s what great cities do. We all have a stake, which is why it’s important to be voicing our thoughts on the proposals now to keep Seattle a vibrant city where everyone has the opportunity to live and raise a family.
“The City has no right to implement HALA. It’s an overreach of its authority.”
  • The city has an obligation to serve the needs of all its residents with innovative solutions that reflect our progressive values. HALA is an innovative set of ideas for making sure Seattle grows sustainably. It will be up to Seattleites and their elected officials to take action.

#4 Tell personal stories vs. explaining policy solutions.
One of the most powerful tool that supporters of HALA have is personal stories. Seattle’s housing crisis has deeply affected many Seattleites and their lived experiences demonstrate the need for the City to act. Often, it can be a struggle for supporters to identify and tell their story in a way that is clear, on-message, and effective. So providing a sample structure and key values to emphasize can be very helpful

Our values:
  • Innovation & Sustainability
  • Opportunity & Equity
  • Community & Soul
• Introduction
-Your name & neighborhood you live in
-Your community and background
• The Problem
-How has the housing crisis impacted your life, your family, community, and our city?
• The Solution
-How would your life be better if the problem were fixed?

#5. Act and mobilize your members to share their stories.
On Monday, November 9th at 1:45pm, Seattle’s City Council will have a hearing to vote on two foundational components of HALA. Sign the Seattle for Everyone online petition to show your support for HALA.

For More Information…
For more information about our work on HALA and to ask any questions contact Shetha Alaskar, Communications Hub Coordinator, at