Seattle City Council Nears Crucial Step in Increasing Housing Affordability

By: Kyla Shkerich Posted: 02/13/2017

University District rezone includes new program to encourage more housing

Seattle’s continued global competitiveness depends on people of all income levels being able to access affordably-priced housing near where they work. Next week, the Seattle City Council will vote on a key part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations—putting the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program into action as part of the University District rezone.

MHA, when applied to urban centers across the city, has the potential to create 6,000 income-restricted units in the next 10 years, 30 percent of the city’s affordable housing goal. To fulfill this potential, it is essential that the program is implemented expeditiously and as envisioned in the “Grand Bargain” made between the city and developers. 

Proposal comes after years of outreach

The University District rezone is the product of several years of work: in May 2016, the City of Seattle released draft zoning proposals for the University District after four years of work. Since the release, councilmembers have worked to get input from the community and the surrounding neighborhood. After years of work and outreach, the University District passed its first major hurdle last Tuesday.

With a few amendments, the proposed plan moved out of the City Council’s land-use committee with a unanimous vote. Seven councilmembers joined the committee hearing to review the plan, consider 17 amendments and vote on whether to move forward. Many of the amendments were technical and clarifying in nature; however, two would change the plan that was released last year in a more substantive way: 

  1. A delay in implementing changes on University Way, commonly known as The Ave, which was approved unanimously. Over the course of the last several months, business owners on The Ave have expressed concern about displacement of their businesses. To ensure they make the right decision, the Council decided to do a full displacement study before moving forward with zoning changes for this portion of the University District. The Ave will be included when the Council takes its final vote on citywide zoning changes in 2018.
  2. An increase in the requirements for Mandatory Housing Affordability, which was discussed heavily but was not voted on. Councilmembers O’Brien and Herbold requested that the increase in Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements move from M1 (9% of units) to M2 (10% of units)—a change that would substantially increase performance and fee requirements and make it more difficult for projects to pencil out. 

The councilmembers proposing this amendment received a significant amount of pushback and after much debate, Councilmember O’Brien requested that the amendment be taken up at full council.

TAKE ACTION 

The Council will take its final vote on this legislation next Tuesday, February 21 at 2:00 p.m.

While most of the councilmembers were at last week’s hearing, it’s important they all continue to hear from us and hear how important it is to move the rezone forward with no further amendmentsPlease take the time to contact your Councilmember today and ensure your voice is heard. Passing the University District rezone is an important next step to move forward with the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.  

To learn more about next steps and ways you can get involved, please contact Kyla Shkerich, our policy and outreach manager.