By implementing Mandatory Housing Affordability citywide, the City Council would give more people access to all that Seattle offers.
It is time that Seattle said yes to housing. Our city needs more-affordable housing and simply more housing of all varieties. Our homelessness and affordable housing crises are too severe to keep saying no to new housing.
Nov. 21, a legal hurdle was removed for a Seattle program that will help build new homes — both affordable and market rate. Last November, a coalition of neighborhood groups appealed Seattle’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on its Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, claiming that the FEIS inadequately assessed how MHA will impact parking, historic character and other factors.
MHA requires that developers building in certain areas of the city either build affordable units or pay into a fund that will help create them in exchange for getting to build a bit taller and denser. MHA is already in effect in Seattle’s downtown neighborhoods. The appeal stalled its implementation into 27 urban villages throughout the city by a year, causing the city to lose out on 653 to 717 new affordable homes.
The hearing examiner on Nov. 21 ruled that the vast majority of the FEIS is satisfactory. Now, after the city completes some revisions to the FEIS, City Council can hold a vote on enacting MHA citywide.
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Everyone who shares the belief that Seattle needs more housing should not sit back and count on MHA coasting to the finish line after getting its legal green light. Whether data or stories move you more, there are numerous reasons to support MHA and speak up for homes.
Let’s start with the numbers. MHA is already in effect in Seattle’s downtown neighborhoods as well as and parts of the University, Central and Chinatown International Districts. So far this year, MHA has generated $13.28 million for affordable housing. If MHA had been implemented citywide last fall and all developers had opted for the fee option, then $87.8 million would have been generated for affordable housing. That is equivalent to 30 percent of Seattle’s seven-year Housing Levy. In one year, Seattle lost out on a sum of affordable housing funding equivalent to nearly a third of what a citywide levy is expected to generate over seven years.
This year, Seattle’s Office of Housing made $40 million available to nonprofit affordable-housing developers, but received funding requests totaling $245 million. The city estimates that had MHA been in place citywide in late 2017, that amount could have been doubled. By enacting MHA expediently, we can help ensure that the pot of funds grows in 2019.
There are also profoundly personal reasons to say yes to more housing. Maybe you want your 20-something son or daughter who grew up in Seattle to be able to afford to live here near you while starting a career or a family. Maybe you’ve been one emergency expense away from eviction. Perhaps you had to move away from the urban core to outrun rising rents. Personal stories carry tremendous power and sharing them is a brave way to advocate for more housing.
People often dwell on what is lost during neighborhood change. I prefer to focus on what we all stand to gain by diversifying housing types and adding more affordable housing to our neighborhoods.
Implementing MHA citywide would help more people get, or keep, access to all that Seattle offers. Diverse housing types encourage a diversity of neighbors. Living and interacting with people different from oneself is shown to reduce bias and foster empathy — it also just makes life more interesting and vibrant.
For an individual, home is the foundation for a stable and fulfilling life. Collectively, housing is the infrastructure that enables all the other things that make Seattle incredible — technological innovation, artistic creativity, progressive thinking and cultural vibrancy.
Not having enough housing, and particularly not enough affordable housing, diminishes both individuals’ potential and Seattle’s ability to be all that it aspires to be. It is time to enact MHA citywide. It is time to say yes to housing.
A previous version of this Op-Ed published Nov. 30, 2018, incorrectly stated that in one year, Seattle lost out on a sum of affordable-housing funding equivalent to what a citywide levy is expected to generate over seven years. A corrected version, published Dec. 1, 2018, states: “In one year, Seattle lost out on a sum of affordable housing funding equivalent to nearly a third of what a citywide levy is expected to generate over seven years.”