Mandatory inclusionary zoning would be a valuable tool for Seattle to ensure that new housing developments include homes for low and moderate income residents.
IN this year alone, close to 5,300 new apartments in Seattle are expected to welcome tenants. As scaffolds come down and buildings open, a common perception is that they are just for the affluent.
The Seattle City Council is pursuing a worthy policy to change that perception and ensure that each new housing development includes housing for low-income residents. But, the current proposal is more accommodating to developers than similar policies in other cities and should demand more units.
The policy, known as mandatory inclusionary zoning, would require developers to set aside 5 to 7 percent of units in new buildings for people who earn up to 60 percent of the area median income. In Seattle, that means $37,680 for one person or $53,760 for a family of four. That means workers such as elder-care providers, line cooks and valets could afford to live in a new building.
Developers could choose to include the units on-site or instead pay fees. In return, developers could make their buildings larger or taller depending on the neighborhood.
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The program is overdue in Seattle — major cities across the country have used variations since the 1970s to avoid displacing residents and to diversify tenants’ incomes as new housing is built.
The policy makes sense in a city like Seattle, where population and job growth are boosting housing costs and most new developments cater to high-end renters.
Mayor Ed Murray announced the inclusionary zoning plan Sept. 1, calling it one of the centerpieces of his housing agenda. The policy is one of 65 recommendations proposed this summer by the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee.
Mandatory inclusionary zoning could generate 6,000 new income-restricted units in the next 10 years. By the time the council enacts the program sometime next year, it would take three to five years for new developments to be built and provide affordable units.
As the proposal moves forward, city leaders should consider increasing the affordability requirement. Kirkland and Redmond each require 10 percent of units set aside. A city like Boston — with a similar population as Seattle — requires 10 percent and San Francisco requires 12 to 20 percent depending on the project.
Smart Growth Seattle, a developer advocacy group that opposes the change, argues the policy increases housing costs for everyone by raising development costs. That is a valid point. But if the city’s objective is to help people with low or moderate incomes, then mandatory inclusionary housing would be a valuable tool for Seattle in the long run. The City Council should consider a more aggressive target that caters less to developers’ interests.