City Hall

Mandatory Affordable Housing Bill for International District Moves Toward Council Vote

The council vote is slated for July 17 after the legislation was passed out of committee Tuesday.

By Hayat Norimine June 6, 2017

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Community members at the Planning, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday sent a clear message to council members about their affordable housing plan for the International District—delay the plan for one month and get more input. 

"I want to remind you that the people who are most affected by this legislation are the ones who cannot be here right now," said Joseph Lachman, who represents the Japanese American Citizens League. 

Council members still moved forward and approved the legislation in committee, with the idea that they won't vote on the bill at a council meeting until July 17. And in the meantime, there's time for more outreach, they said.

The zoning changes would allow increasing height limits for buildings. And in exchange, developers would either dedicate a percentage of their new units to affordable housing (5-7 percent) or pay the fine ($20.75 per square foot). By affordable housing, the city means it's affordable to someone earning less than 60 percent of the median income, and the city estimates the proposal would create 150 affordable units over the next 10 years.

Chinatown-International District would be the second neighborhood where the program would be implemented, after the downtown and South Lake Union ordinance that passed in April. MHA requirements vary depending on the uses and neighborhood. For the International District, residential uses and commercial uses in zones with more than 85-foot-tall buildings require 7 percent or a payment of $20.75 per square foot. Commercial uses in zones with 85 feet or less require a payment of $8 per square foot, or 5 percent affordable housing. (The National Historic Register District is now exempt from the requirements.)

And how much taller? Another 10 feet for zones with 85-foot limits, 20 feet for zones with 150-foot limits, and an additional 30 feet for 240-foot limits. 

But there's one other concern that could factor into the new policy, said Maiko Winkler-Chin, director of the Chinatown-International District Preservation and Development Authority—Unreinforced Masonry Buildings, which are vulnerable to collapse in the event of an earthquake.

"Which brings fear into most departments' eyes because it's a huge expense, but it's something that will really impact the historic nature of our neighborhood," Winkler-Chin said at the committee meeting. "You can potentially cause a cheap sale of property and that really changes the nature of our neighborhood. ... That's something we need to talk about." 

Council member Sally Bagshaw said she's been working with state representative Eric Pettigrew for several years to try to secure state money for it—and said Washington is 30 years behind California. "In terms of funding or financing, we can't let our guard down." 

A resolution to address community concerns in the Chinatown-International District neighborhood now includes exploring two strategies to prevent displacement—reusing publicly-owned property and developing a pilot program to rehabilitate URMs. 

But the money the city would use is still a question—MHA funds? The $29 million housing bond? A targeted growth fund, or general fund money? Council member Mike O'Brien brought up concerns about redirecting dedicated resources to affordable housing; Herbold said she thinks using the money to address the needs for URMs would still be in line with the affordable housing goals, since it would make more units available for that intended purpose. 

"We have very targeted goals that we've all agreed to about what we want to accomplish with the MHA money and the other affordable housing money in terms of units," said Robert Feldstein, Office of Policy and Innovation director. "As what we know right now, spending it on this will make it much harder to reach that goal. ... [But] we want to try and find answers. Let's put it all on the table."

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