Update on Affordable Housing Work

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I continually hear from people in our city struggling to keep up with rising rents. That is why I have been working to ensure that as Seattle grows, new development helps pay for new affordable housing.

For me, this work dates back to 2013, when the Council debated the rezone and affordability requirements in South Lake Union. During that rezone, it become clear that we could not meet Seattle’s affordability needs with voluntary programs and tax subsidies. I knew then we would need a citywide, mandatory program that required affordable housing to be included in new market-rate development.

We are lucky to have a booming technology sector attracting high-wage jobs and skilled workers to Seattle, but this growth also required us to pause and ask how will we continue to be affordable for all the residents and workers who do not have those high-wage jobs?  And who will pay for the infrastructure to serve them?

I’ve met the workers in security works and janitorial jobs created by the tech boom in Seattle.  These community members deserve to live in the city with the ability to walk and ride transit to work, just as much as the high-paid tech workers in the same building. See more about our affordable housing needs and the history of Council’s work in this area on this infographic from a previous blog post.

So I was excited to stand with Mayor Murray earlier this week to announce the introduction of the legislation behind the “Grand Bargain.” The Grand Bargain itself represents 6,000 desperately needed, new affordable units that we cannot build fast enough—especially not for those in need today. The two key components of this bill are the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program—which will require affordable units are produced with new residential development—and  the Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program, more commonly known as the commercial linkage fee—which will ensure that fees collected on commercial development will support new affordable housing construction. These 6,000 new units will be in addition to the thousands of units that the City funds with an expanded housing levy, multi-family tax exemptions, and state and federal resources. All told, we are aiming to create 20,000 new affordable units over the next ten years.

I am ready for Council to begin digging into the Grand Bargain and other HALA recommendations. Starting next week, the Council will begin our legislative process in the Select Committee on Housing Affordability, which I will be Chairing. Here are three of the first items we will be taking up in that committee:

  • Resolution 31609 – A resolution that lays out the Councils workplan for addressing the HALA recommendations and other affordable housing goals.
  • A Resolution to lay out the framework for developing the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. This resolution will establish the Council’s specific intent in considering future upzones to implement a citywide mandatory inclusionary zoning program for multifamily residential development and an affordable housing impact mitigation program for commercial development. It also establishes minimum expectations for planning studies and public outreach and engagement that must precede Council consideration of implementing legislation.
  • An ordinance to implement the Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program, more commonly known as the Commercial Linkage Fee. We will get to work on this legislation first and my goal is to pass something by the end of this year. That said, it too relies on future upzones, so it will not go into effect and begin collecting fees until we implement the MIH program, sometime in 2017. This bill will hold its own public hearing on September 30, 2015 at 5:30 in Council Chambers.

Finally, we will be holding a Public Hearing next week on Wednesday, September 9 (flyer) on of this housing affordability work, and we need your voices to weigh in on the issues you see with affordability in Seattle. The HALA Committee has spoken, now it is your turn. If you are a worker or family who can’t afford housing in the City, we want to hear from you about the unit types and neighborhoods that best meet your housing needs.  If you are a home-owner or advocate working in solidarity, we need to hear that you are ready to make your neighborhood accessible to individuals and families across the economic spectrum and that inclusionary housing has neighborhood support. The Public Hearing will be held here in Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall at 5:30pm on Wednesday, September 9.

I hope you will join us at the upcoming public hearings and/or weigh in with Councilmembers by emailing us at council@seattle.gov. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions by emailing mike.obrien@seattle.gov or calling 206-684-8800.