Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: The Big Deal Policy Proposal

Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring Mike O'Brien's Trickle-Up Theory and Nick Licata's aPodment amendments.

By Morning Fizz September 16, 2014

Morning Fizz

1. Today's the day: The city council's land use committee is discussing the "Linkage Fee!" 

The big deal policy proposal from land use chair Mike O'Brien is intended to be a game-changer for affordable housing. Check yesterday's Fizz for a primer on the "Linkage Fee" concept, but the basic idea is to make developers pay a fee into an affordable housing fund whenever developers build in urban centers and multi-family and commercial zones all over the city. The "Link" in "Linkage" comes from the idea that there's a nexus between new development and soaring housing costs; the city's math, for example, shows that all the new South Lake Union renters are creating a $41.97 per square foot need in affordable housing offsets.

Universalizing the fee—as opposed the current "Incentive Zoning" policy, which only makes developers pay into an affordable housing fund when they want to exceed height limits in specific new development zones such as SLU, downtown, SoDo, and around light rail stations—is supposed to bring in five to ten times as much money for affordable housing over the next 20 years, according to O'Brien staff.

Expect serious pushback from developers, though. And not for unwarranted reasons.

Universalizing the fund was supposed to make the square footage payment lower than the current fee under the incentive zoning program (which seems like smart policy change because the incentive zoning fee, $22 per square foot in downtown and South Lake Union, was dis-incentivizing developers from building. That had two consequences: A) affordable housing funds were drying up and B)  potential housing units were getting left on the table.)

But under the preferred "Linkage Fee" option for low-income housing advocates like O'Brien, the city estimates SLU and downtown developers will be paying nearly 60 percent more.

It is currently "Infeasible" for developers to build in South Lake Union, according to the City's consultant. 

Asked if that would backfire and simply raise rents, O'Brien's staff says making the "Linkage Fee" a fixed variable (rather than the squishy incentive zoning cost) will build the price into the land and so, rather than trickling down, the price will trickle up. The fat cat landowner—during the property transaction—will eat the cost up front, rather than the renter after the property has already been bought and sold.  

Even math is subjective, and there's sure to be an outcry from developers over O'Brien's proposal. And one bit of math that the consultant's report does give the developers: It is currently "Infeasible" (noted in pink below) for developers to build in South Lake Union. And that certainly raises a legit question: Why raise the fee?


2. Also queued up at today's land use committee meeting: Amendments, mainly from Council member Nick Licata, on O'Brien's microhousing (aPodment) legislation that would make the units less micro and, developers contend, more expensive. 

 Irony of PARK(ing) Day: You need a car in order to pick up the required No Parking signs.

Licata's four amendments would: increase the number of sinks required in the units from one to two; increase the size of the required communal space (and not allow the laundry facility to count toward that calculation); increase the number of required bike parking spaces; and set a hard unit size minimum at 180 square foot. 

Council member Tom Rasmussen has an amendment that would set the unit size minimum at 220 square feet.

O'Brien's current proposal sets an overall average square footage per unit at 220 square feet, which in theory, allows a range of smaller and bigger sizes.

3.  Irony of PARK(ing) Day: You need a car in order to pick up the required No Parking signs.

4. Reality Check for people who are nervous that biking infrastructure is going to overtake Seattle: Hills and rain. 


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