If you are new to these conversations regarding the Mayor’s housing agenda, you may want to start with my first blog post for some background.
The City Council is now considering legislation that will enact the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, known as MHA-R (the “R” is for “residential”). MHA is a part of HALA (the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda). The MHA program will enact “upzones” (i.e. it will allow extra development) in neighborhoods throughout the city, and in return will require developers to include “affordable” housing units in new buildings in the upzoned areas. Or, instead of building affordable units, developers may pay an “in-lieu” fee that will be used by the City to fund affordable housing. This exchange – upzones in return for included affordable units or an in-lieu fee – is known as the “Grand Bargain.” The City Council is currently discussing the framework legislation that would allow for this program (but does not include the actual upzones). The schedule for the MHA-R framework legislation is as follows:
June 21st: Public Hearing at 9:30 AM at City Council chambers in City Hall
July 8th: Planning, Land Use and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee discussion
July 19th: possible PLUZ vote
July 25th: possible Full Council vote
Please attend the Public Hearing on the 21st and make a public comment. Although this legislation is not actually implementing the upzones, it is a preliminary step in that direction. Neighborhood residents in Seattle must understand the drastic changes that MHA will bring to many areas of the City. Eighty-five percent of housing growth will be directed towards the urban villages and centers. City recommendations are for all Single-Family Zones inside of urban villages to be upzoned to some version of Multi-Family. There are about 700 single-family homes inside the Wallingford Urban Village. The specifics of what the upzones inside Wallingford would look like have yet to be decided. Currently the City is only recommending that developers set aside 2.8 – 7% of their units as affordable in new residential buildings (2.8-5% in Downtown/South Lake Union and 5-7% in the remaining urban villages and centers). For comparison, other cities with similar programs require much more: New York City: 20-30%, Boston: 15%, Chicago: 10%, San Francisco: 12-20%. What percentage of affordable units the developers will be required to set aside or what in lieu fees they will be required to pay will be finalized when the upzones take effect (if it passes). Click here for the Wallingford Urban Village map.
Here’s the proposed rezone schedule:
Downtown/South Lake Union Rezone Legislation – Transmit to Council early July 2016
U District area rezone – 2016
23rd Ave area rezone – 2016 or 2017
Zone-wide changes in other areas – Summer/Fall 2017
In exchange for the upzones, Seattle is supposed to gain 6,000 new affordable units. The City, however, is not tracking how many “naturally occurring” affordable homes would likely be demolished in the development frenzy following the upzones. For example, the City’s affordability equation does not consider privately owned multi-family buildings that are kept affordable due to the choice of their owners or homes for rent, such as the many rental homes we have in Wallingford, that can serve as an affordable option when multiple roommates split the costs. These are often older homes and would likely be the first to be demolished following the upzones.
There is no guarantee that we will be gaining more affordable units than we are losing.
Also, the Mayor’s initial promise that “we will require market-rate developers to build a minimum number of affordable units in any new construction” is undermined by the developers’ option to pay a fee rather than actually build affordable units. Now, the City expects less than half of the developers to actually include affordable units on site.
There is no guarantee where or when the affordable units will be built.
Why is the Mayor pushing so many upzones around the city? Upzoning is not necessary to meet the demands of projected population growth. As I mentioned in my previous post, according to a report by the Department of Planning and Development: “Based on current zoning, DPD estimates that the city has development capacity to add about 224,000 housing units and 232,000 jobs, a sufficient amount to accommodate the 70,000 households and 115,000 jobs the Countywide Planning Policies assign to Seattle for the next 20 years.”
With current zoning, we have room for three times the building capacity we are expected to need.
The Countywide Planning Policies call for 70,000 additional housing units to be built by 2035. But according to a report from Dupre + Scott, 36,000 units are already in the pipeline and are planned to open in Seattle between now and 2020.
We already have in the pipeline more than half of the units we are projected to need by 2035 and we still have 18 ½ years to go.
A Summary of Concerns regarding Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA):
- Neighborhood input is being taken out of the process, only leaving City Hall and big money developers to influence zoning changes.
- Development capacity with current zoning is sufficient to handle expected population growth.
- The number of “naturally occurring” affordable housing that would be demolished with the upzones is not being considered. There is no guarantee that Wallingford as a whole would become more affordable.
- The neighborhoods that are targeted for growth risk becoming unrecognizable in the face of rampant development.
- Other options that do not involve upzones are not being considered.
Please attend the MHA-R Public Hearing on June 21st at 9:30 AM and make a public comment. The hearing will be held in the City Council Chambers on the second floor at City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue. If you are unable to attend, please write the Councilmembers and the Mayor to let them know your concerns. I recommend emailing all of the Councilmembers.
A special thanks to Donn Cave and David Baum for their contributions this post.