Seattle mayor announces expansion of affordable housing plan
- Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess and Councilmember Rob Johnson have proposed a plan to expand the city's Mandatory Affordable Housing (MHA) requirements from the six neighborhoods where they're already in place to 27 "urban villages" throughout the city.
- The changes are expected to create about 6,000 rent-restricted homes for low-income residents, as part of the larger Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda goal of creating 20,000 affordable homes by 2025.
- New developments will be required to include affordable housing or contribute to the city's affordable housing fund.
Seattle is in desperate need of a solution to its well-known affordability problem. Its rapid growth — in part due to Amazon and the tech boom — has prompted a steep cost-of-living increase. The average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle has ballooned by 35% over the past five years. In addition to the increasing housing costs, many older, more affordable homes have being replaced by new, expensive developments.
City leaders have repeatedly acknowledged the affordability issue and have been working on plans to combat the increasing cost of living and the homelessness spike. The proposed citywide MHA regulation expansion recognizes that the issue isn't confined to only a few areas, and it especially serves residents at highest risk of displacement through redevelopment. Following the new requirements would be mandatory for all new developments, but existing structures do not need to be redeveloped.
The plan also offers solutions to the problem of the types of units that are being constructed. Since 2012, 52% of the city's new residences have been one-bedroom units and 29% have been studios. That leaves few options for families searching for adequately-sized housing, such as three-bedroom units. The MHA expansion would include stricter development standards, including quotas for building larger units with more bedrooms.
The proposal puts a focus on employment in addition to housing. It aims for growth in "urban villages" that are considered hubs for both housing and jobs. It strives to create more affordable housing near transit options, which is essential for the low-income residents who don't own cars. The plan also addresses increased capacity near schools and public green spaces in these zones.
Developers who build in the target zones can receive permission for additional or taller structures if they provide affordable housing or contribute to the city's affordable housing fund. However, they would have to keep within new style guidelines for preserving each neighborhood's character.
Mayor Burgess only has about two weeks left in office, but the new mayor appears to be on board with the proposal. The plan is expected to go to council in the next few weeks, which will be followed by a months-long legislative and public engagement process. The city council is expected to make its final decision on the measure in summer or fall 2018. The measure would not turn around the cost-of-living problem or lack of affordable housing immediately. But if it passes, it could be a good start to at least prevent affordable housing inventory from shrinking further.
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