Shaping Growth in the University District

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Today the City of Seattle released a proposal to shape housing and job growth in the University District equitably and affordably. The proposal combines changes to land use regulations, like zoning and development standards, with City investments in open space, transportation, and social services to reflect the community’s priorities which have been expressed over five years of community input. The passage of these changes will be our first opportunity to implement the Mandatory Housing Affordability program which will require all new development to include or fund new affordable housing units for the first time in our City’s history.

The proposed zoning changes here in the University District are the result of a five year process which has involved over 90 meetings and hundreds of participants. I want to thank everyone who, through their hard work and their feedback, has gotten us to this critical milestone today.

The University District is a thriving and asset rich neighborhood in our city. The neighborhood’s local businesses contribute to strong employment opportunities and represent the foundation of its unique character. The students, faculty, and staff of the University bring a vibrant diversity to the community, and we’ve made incredible transit investments that people are clamoring to utilize.

We all know how quickly our city is growing. Recently we’ve been adding 35 new jobs and welcoming 50 new neighbors a day. Unfortunately, we have only been adding 12 housing units a day, which increase housing costs and contribute to displacement.

Without a proactive, comprehensive strategy for the University District’s growth we risk losing what makes it so special. We need to keep this neighborhood affordable both for residents and our locally owned businesses. And we need to ensure our neighborhood’s faith-based communities and our social service organizations can stay here.

I look forward to working with the Mayor’s office to ensure that we are implementing his commercial affordability task force recommendations in this legislation to ensure that the University District remains supportive of small, locally owned businesses.

The strides we make in allowing for increased growth also must be matched by city funded capital investments in our schools, parks, open spaces, transportation choices, and community based organizations to ensure our livability keeps pace.

For example UHeights needs funding for a new roof to ensure it remains a safe gathering space for the thousands of community members who participate in their programs, and ROOTS needs more funding for case workers to help homeless youth find employment.

Without these critical upzones, displacement is the unfortunate reality, occurring as we speak. Just last week, I spoke to a resident whose rent increased by a prohibitive $350 a month. Every rent increase of $100 results in an increased percentage in economic displacement with far reaching impacts on our community.

The proposed zoning changes the Mayor will transmit does not represent the singular fix-all solution to respond to our city’s growth, but these changes will certainly lead to more production, and when combined with Mandatory Housing Affordability will yield more critically important funding for affordable housing.