A Strong and Sensible Step for Affordable Housing

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Workforce housing 2This week the City Council took another strong and sensible step toward creating more affordable housing in Seattle. The Council passed a Resolution that should lead to a significant increase in resources for affordable housing.

Rents are increasing rapidly. Our skyline is speckled with cranes constructing new office space and market-rate housing to meet the demands of an improving economy which, in turn, spur demand for services. The lower wage workers who provide these services need a place they can afford to call home. The closer they can live to their jobs, the less air pollution and traffic congestion for everyone and the more time they can spend with their families.

We have debated affordable housing policies ever since I joined the Council in 2008. We have implemented incentive zoning policies to encourage affordable housing in South Lake Union, downtown, and elsewhere. But such policies are limited to areas being “up-zoned” to greater heights. We clearly need to do more.

When the Council increased incentives for affordable housing in South Lake Union in April 2013, I sponsored Resolution 31444 to engage experts and stakeholders to show us how we can do more. After 18 months of research and discussion, the Council crafted a range of “linkage fees” for the Mayor and his executive departments to transform into a bill to generate more affordable housing. Here is a link to the Resolution 31551, which the Council approved yesterday.

Under the policy proposal adopted in the Resolution, developers would have a choice: set-aside 3% to 5% of new housing units at rents somewhat below the going market rate or pay an equivalent fee so that the City can help build the affordable housing. If a developer is building a 100-unit apartment project, I think it’s reasonable to ask that 5 units be affordable to nurses, teachers, office workers, or the very construction workers who built the building.

My colleagues Mike O’Brien and Sally Clark eloquently explain the rationale for a linkage fee in this recent Op Ed in the Seattle Times.

The Council accepted my amendment to make sure we coordinate details with the latest stakeholder group created by the Mayor and Council. Now that the Council and its consultants have done much of the work outlining a proposed linkage fee and its range, the advisory group can focus on many other tools for maximizing affordable housing.

In addition, the Resolution passed yesterday facilitates exploration of other impact fees allowed by state law for roads, schools, and fire protection facilities. Jurisdictions across Washington State and the nation have successfully used these fees. We face an affordable housing crisis and I firmly believe market forces alone cannot solve it; government must provide leadership.

If we tap the best ideas from other cities while spurring our spirit of innovation, we can successfully address Seattle’s affordable housing crisis.