Councilmember Strauss Celebrates Legislation to Exempt Design Review for Affordable Housing Projects

SEATTLE – Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), Chair of the Land Use Committee, celebrated the unanimous City Council 9-0 vote today that extended COVID-19 era policies to support faster development of affordable rental housing production. Developed in partnership with Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, this legislation called upon the SEPA Emergency to reduce cost and time for affordable housing developers by allowing them to opt-out of Design Review. 

These changes were first passed by the Council on a one-year basis in April 2020 and were extended by the Council again in October 2020. These emergency regulations were set to expire on December 30, 2022, 60 days after the COVID-19 Emergency Proclamation ended. This interim legislation ensures that affordable housing projects continue to be exempted for an additional year. 

“This legislation speeds delivery and reduces costs of developing affordable housing. We will continue reforming Design Review to improve the program and streamline bureaucratic functions that slow our ability to bring housing online quickly,” said Councilmember Strauss. “I have seen firsthand in my work addressing homelessness that when we have shelter availability, we are able to bring people off the streets. With adequate affordable housing, we reduce the time people spend in shelter and each shelter bed serves more people, meaning we bring more people off the streets. I am proud to work with Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Mosqueda on this important legislation.” 

“Creating more units of affordable housing is critical to sustainable progress on homelessness and to preventing displacement,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell. “This legislation will build on emergency policies enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic to remove barriers and support faster development of these needed projects. We have more work to do and will continue to advance immediate and long-term solutions to reduce bottlenecks and expand affordable housing options in our communities.” 

“In the midst of Seattle’s ongoing housing crisis and declared state of emergency on homelessness, we need to remove every barrier we can to bring more housing online as quickly as possible—especially when those barriers exist within our own city code. We have seen during the course of the pandemic that we can create high-quality housing that meets the diverse needs of our community without burdensome review processes that cause delays, create uncertainty, and drive up the costs of building housing. Thanks in large part to JumpStart, we are making historic investments into affordable housing—with over a half-billion dollars over the biennium in the budget we just passed—and I’m excited that we also have momentum to rework our city code and permitting processes to truly prioritize the housing our community desperately needs,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda 

Council Bill 120464 will extend the following interim regulations for up to one year:  

  • Allow developments to opt-out of design review if at least 40 percent of units are affordable to households with income not greater than 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI);  
  • Authorize the Director of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to waive or modify certain development standards for projects opting out of design review as a Type I (which means non-appealable) decision, if the waiver (1) does not impact the height, bulk and scale of the development and (2) results in more affordable units; and  
  • Approve a work program for consideration of permanent changes to the Design Review Program. 

During the one-year interim period that the temporary measures are in place, Councilmember Strauss and Mayor Harrell will work together to develop the legislation described below. The one-year interim period will be used to conduct a full SEPA review of those bills. If passed, the future bills would: 

  • Permanently exempt affordable housing projects from design review. 
  • Exempt housing projects that use the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program to produce their units on-site for a 2-year pilot. 
  • Allow all other housing projects to choose whether to participate in full design review or administrative design review as a 2-year pilot.