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Council Passes Mandatory Housing Affordability Legislation

Councilmember Rob Johnson (Dist. 4 – Northeast Seattle), Chair of the Select Committee on Mandatory Housing Affordability, or MHA, together with his colleagues voted today to approve a trio of bills as amended in Committee earlier this month.  Taken together, the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation links affordable housing to growth across Seattle by requiring new commercial or multi-family development to contribute to affordable housing in exchange for additional development capacity (increased height or floor area).  As a result, developers must either build affordable housing on-site or pay into a fund for affordable housing.

By a vote of 9-0, Council Bill (CB) 119443, which amends the Comprehensive Plan in order to implement the MHA program citywide passed; Council Bill 119444, which implements the MHA program citywide by amending the Land Use Code and amends the Official Land Use Map to make changes to zoning designations across the City also passed as amended; and, Council Bill 119445, amending the Land Use Code and Official Land Use Map to implement the MHA program on a transit-oriented development site in Northgate passed as amended.

Council also voted to approve Resolution (RES) 31870, which identifies issues the Council will seek to address that are outside the scope of the MHA program. The resolution recognizes that while the implementation of MHA citywide through Council Bill 119444 will result in the production of more affordable housing, it is just one necessary step to achieve all of the City’s racial equity goals and the goals of Seattle’s different neighborhoods.

In 2017, the City Council unanimously passed ordinances to apply MHA to six neighborhoods. In those neighborhoods, more housing has been built, and millions of dollars are being invested in affordable housing. This proposal would expand MHA citywide. The affected areas (highlighted in the adjacent map) are multifamily and commercial zones. Only 6% of single-family zones will be affected.

“Today, after nearly four years spent on process and talk, the Seattle City Council took the reins on the opportunity before us to address our housing crisis and passed Citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability,” said Johnson. “We want everyone in Seattle to have access to neighborhoods with spacious parks, reliable transit, outstanding schools, and affordable housing.  And with today’s vote we took a bold step in that direction.”

Seattle continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. In 2018, the city estimated that at least 700 urgently-needed affordable homes have been lost in the previous year due to a delay in MHA implementation.

“Requiring more affordable housing in our most vibrant neighborhoods is long overdue. Today’s passage of MHA now means we can manage growth in a way that will promote a more racially and economically diverse Seattle rather than a city that is increasingly limited to those who can afford housing choice,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González (Pos. 9 – Citywide), and Vice Chair of the Select Committee. “This legislation is not the singular solution to our housing affordability crisis.  It is, however, a step towards capturing more affordable housing units over the next ten years.  Seattle is a wonderful place to live and I am committed to continuing to support solutions that allow us to share our beautiful city and its opportunities with current and future residents.”

The population around Puget Sound is predicted to continue to grow, adding nearly two million more people by 2050, with the lion’s share of that growth happening here. While the other fastest growing cities such as Redmond, Kent, and Bellevue each added about 2,000 people in the last year, Seattle has added nearly 17,000.

“Today, years of vision, persistence, advocacy, and hard work have paid off. With the passage of Citywide MHA, we are taking a step to right historical wrongs caused by a legacy of racist redlining, persistent exclusionary land use practices, and decades of downzoning, said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Pos. 8 – Citywide), and a member of the Select Committee.  “We are interrupting market forces that have failed to build much-needed affordable housing for our low- and moderate-income neighbors, and allowing more homes for Seattle families to access to the building blocks of healthy communities—good transit, childcare, schools, parks, and grocery stores. This legislation is about people, not buildings.”

The MHA program is intended to provide about 6,000 new income- and rent-restricted homes for low-income people over ten years.   People must income-qualify for affordable housing; for example, an individual earning less than $42,150 will pay no more than $1,128 for a one-bedroom unit, while a family of four earning less than $60,200 will pay no more than $1,353 for a two-bedroom unit.

Since 2015, the City has hosted hundreds of meetings in communities all across Seattle, hearing neighborhood concerns and shaping policy. This includes but isn’t limited to 16 Urban Village Community Design Workshops, five citywide open houses throughout the city, six evening public hearings in neighborhoods, and twenty meetings of the Select Committee on Citywide MHA.

In response, this year the Council considered more than 80 amendments to incorporate community feedback and better tailor the proposal to neighborhood concerns. On February 25, the Council’s Select Committee on Citywide MHA improved the legislation by adopting amendments that included incentives for childcare to be included in new buildings, requirements for small-business spaces, protections for trees and historic buildings, and encouraging investments in affordable homeownership opportunities.

The City Council also passed today a procedural amendment (C.B. 119444) that removes zoning changes in the U-District from the Citywide MHA proposal, to allow time for additional technical work to be completed on the U District. The Council expects to consider zoning changes to the U-District later this year.

The bill takes effect 30 days after the Mayor signs the bill.

“Mandatory Housing Affordability won’t solve all our problems overnight,” Johnson concluded. “But I believe that it is a long-overdue step to live up to our goals as an equitable and livable city for all.”

More information about MHA, and how the program is implemented, is available ONLINE.

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