City Hall

Mayor Announces Broad Upzone Plans

The Seattle City Council will consider the proposal over the course of next year, with the goal of passing the legislation by September.

By Hayat Norimine November 9, 2017

Tim burgess rob johnson uptown upzoning bill agpsl9

The Seattle City Council will finally tackle the last remaining piece of legislation championed by former mayor Ed Murray: sweeping upzones.

Alongside the city's release of the final environmental impact statement, Mayor Tim Burgess and council member Rob Johnson on Thursday announced plans for the city to implement its Mandatory Housing Affordability program in areas throughout the city.

The proposal allows taller buildings in exchange for new developments to either dedicate a percentage of new units to affordable housing or pay fees into an affordable housing fund—this time, in the city's urban villages, multifamily, and commercial zones. It also covers only about 6 percent of single-family zones, Burgess said. 

Over the next year, the city council will consider the proposal, with the goal of passing the legislation by September.

Over 45,000 residents in Seattle pay more than half their income on rent, and the average one-bedroom costs $1,641 a month to rent, according to the city. Low-income people "are being forced further from the jobs and opportunity of this city," said nonprofit Bellwether Housing CEO Susan Boyd at a press conference Wednesday. And for years, social justice advocates have been calling for an inclusionary housing program. "Today we are closer to answering this call than we have ever been."

The proposal addresses the city's goals to create affordable housing without hindering growth for market-rate housing—HALA recommended that by 2025 the city create 30,000 market-rate units, 20,000 affordable units over the next 10 years. This plan would create 6,000 affordable housing units; Office of Community Development director Sam Assefa said the approval process for any proposed development takes one and a half to two years. 

Some social justice activists say the percentage or developer payments aren't enough; on the campaign trail, city council candidate Jon Grant demanded requiring 25 percent of new development be dedicated to affordable housing.

City officials have said they chose the payment amounts after an extensive negotiating process, and demanding more could jeopardize the program. As it stands, it would require new developments to offer 2 to 11 percent in affordable housing units (affordable for those making less than 60 percent of the area median income) or pay a fee anywhere between $5 and $32.75 per square foot, depending on the area and type of development.

It would also preserve that affordable housing for 75 years, which Johnson said is a critical part of the strategy to create longterm affordable housing. The city has already implemented the program in six of Seattle's neighborhoods—the University District, Chinatown-International District, South Lake Union, Uptown, and part of the Central Area. They all had their own environmental impact statements. 

But the council still has a long way to go. The legislative process will take most of next year, and Johnson said they plan for a vote in August or September to provide time for community input. 

Burgess's announcement comes just two days after the general election, when ballot returns showed Jenny Durkan would be the city's new mayor. She's been supportive of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda and MHA, and has said she wants to spur market-rate growth by reducing the red tape around permitting (another one of HALA's recommendations). Dan Bertolet from the Sightline Institute, however, has argued that the MHA fees accomplish the opposite

"We want to stay on course," Burgess said. "We want to keep moving. It takes time to do this and do it correctly. There’s no reason not to keep moving forward."

Updated headline at 6:05pm on November 9 and to include Sightline Institute research. 

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