Councilmember Lewis Announces Proposal to Lower Costs and Fast Track Construction of Permanent Supportive Housing

Home » Councilmember Lewis Announces Proposal to Lower Costs and Fast Track Construction of Permanent Supportive Housing

Approach cuts through ‘red tape’, creates more housing units 

Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia) announced he will introduce land use legislation exempting permanent supportive housing from several development mandates, such as design review and onsite bike storage, allowing Seattle to quickly and affordably create more housing options for our homeless neighbors.

Permanent supportive housing combines non-time-limited housing placements with wrap-around services for people experiencing homelessness. These services include counseling, mental health support, and drug and alcohol treatment. According to the Third Door Coalition, an alliance of service providers and small business owners, 98% of chronically homeless people in King County would accept a permanent supportive housing placement if offered, and 90-95% of residents placed in such housing are still housed a year later. The Third Door Coalition estimates 6,500 new units of permanent supportive housing will be needed over the next five years to meet the scale of our homelessness crisis.    

“Permanent supportive housing is desperately needed, even more so with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on our shelter system,” said Lewis. “Current land use mandates create longer-than-needed processes and make permanent supportive housing projects more expensive. This approach cuts through the ‘red tape,’ making what has historically been a tedious process more efficient and less costly.”

According to estimates made by the Third Door Coalition, Lewis’ legislation could reduce the per-unit cost of permanent supportive housing from $331,953 to $284,200, a savings of $47,753.  Moreover, by removing mandated project requirements that take up on-site space, such as bike storage rooms, Lewis’ legislation could add nearly three additional units of housing per-building. With nearly 600 units announced by the Office of Housing earlier this year, Lewis’ removal of cumbersome regulations will have exponentially greater impact per project.

“This legislation is a great first step to bring Seattle’s land use code into alignment with the State of Emergency on Homelessness that went into effect over 5 years ago.  Permanent Supportive Housing is the most effective solution to ending chronic homelessness.  This legislation is a win-win that provides cost savings to PSH construction with no cost impact to the City,” said Tim Parham, former chair of the Seattle Planning Commission.

“Councilmember Lewis’s Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) legislation is a critical first step to reduce the costs of building new PSH.  This legislation addresses many of the key cost drivers of PSH construction in Seattle as identified by the Third Door Coalition.  If implemented as drafted, the legislation would significantly reduce costs and time to bring new PSH apartments online.  It’s exciting to see the City make meaningful efforts to prioritize PSH, a proven solution to chronic homelessness,” said Sara Rankin, Board Member of the Third Door Coalition.

“Solving any crisis requires flexibility,” added Lewis. “The need is evident and based on the scale of the problem, we have an obligation to make modest adjustments that can lead to quick production of more supportive housing.”

The legislation will be heard in committee in December. Councilmember Lewis will continue to advocate for expedited, efficient building of permanent supportive housing and hopes the City Council will pass the legislation in January of 2021.

Specific elements of this proposal include:

§    Defining PSH as a multifamily residential use (1) with at least 90% of units affordable to households with incomes that do not exceed 50% of Area Median Income, (2) that receives public funding, and (3) that has a contractual term of affordability of at least 40 years;

§    Establishing that on-site supportive services, which can also be available to other clients, are an accessory use to PSH;

§    Exempting floor area used for on-site supportive services from calculations for Floor Area Ratio limits;

§    Exempting PSH from Design Review;

§    Exempting PSH from long and short-term bicycle parking requirements;

§    Authorizing the Director of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to waive or modify, as an administrative decision, specified development standards, if waivers would not affect the overall height, bulk, and scale of a PSH development and result in more units of PSH;

§    Requiring PSH applicants to submit a community relations plan;

§    Allowing PSH as a permitted use in Commercial 2 zones; and

§    Allowing PSH as a street-level use, in zones where those uses are required.

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