Housing & Homelessness

Council Members Want More Surplus Property to Be Used for Affordable Housing

A resolution would direct the city to consider any surplus property for affordable housing before it's put on sale.

By Hayat Norimine September 13, 2018

Back in March, in efforts to address demand for more action on a statewide housing crisis, legislators approved a House bill that requires agencies to consider any suitable state property to be used for affordable housing.

Now, a Seattle resolution crafted by council members Teresa Mosqueda and Sally Bagshaw, would apply that bill to the city, directing officials to evaluate any surplus property's potential for affordable housing and other public uses before it's put on sale. 

"Now we've put into place a policy that concretizes a value that I think a lot of Seattleites have, and that is to stop selling land at the highest possible market rate and instead hold onto that land, and work with community partners to build affordable housing," Mosqueda told PubliCola.

Mosqueda added that it's "truly one of the most important ways that we can reduce the cost of building housing," referring to an Enterprise Community Partners study that concluded building housing on public land reduces the cost of production by 15 percent. 

The legislation also lists some other priorities besides affordable housing, including parks, child care, transit, and educational facilities. But if the resolution is implemented, affordable housing would be the city's first priority. The full council will consider it on October 1 after council members approved it in committee on Wednesday. 

In Seattle, city officials already approach the Office of Housing about potential affordable housing use for surplus properties, and sometimes they aren't suitable for affordable housing, city officials say. But Mosqueda said the resolution holds the city accountable for ensuring there's analysis on every piece of property available.

In the case of a 15,000 square-foot property owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation, city officials approached the Office of Housing, Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Neighborhoods before choosing to sell—all agencies rejected the property, which is located in an area strictly zoned for industrial use, city officials said.

Instead the property will be sold to a lumber company that owns the rest of the block, Dunn Lumber, for $2.6 million so it can build a new warehouse, if approved by a full council vote. Since the property was bought using gas tax dollars, that money from the sale must go toward transportation. Part of the funds would be used to clean up the right-of-way where RVs once were parked, SDOT's Sam Spencer said on Wednesday.

Other reasons a surplus property might not be used for affordable housing includes its location, size, topography, and presence of hazardous materials or contamination. 

The legislation also directs that 80 percent of the net proceeds from any city property sale, excluding City Light property, would go towards funds for affordable housing; that can include mixed-use developments, or be used by nonprofits that develop housing. 

Mosqueda said the city doesn't have a comprehensive list of surplus properties yet, but that it should have a better sense of how many surplus properties can be used for affordable housing in October's meeting. 

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