Seattle City Council members put forward changes to Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability policy, including one aimed at replacing cheap apartments at risk for demolition.
Seattle City Council members unveiled potential changes to Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability policy Tuesday, including one aimed at replacing cheap apartments that could be at risk for demolition.
Murray’s policy would allow developers to build larger, taller new projects — mostly in commercial and multifamily residential zones across the city. In return, developers would include some rent-restricted housing in their projects or pay to help the city build it elsewhere.
The council passed Mandatory Housing Affordability framework legislation for commercial projects last year and is now considering legislation for residential projects.
It hasn’t yet begun considering the zoning changes, which, according to an agreement the mayor struck with developers last summer, must occur for the policy to take effect.
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The mayor says Mandatory Housing Affordability would piggyback on ongoing development to create 6,000 new rent-restricted homes in 10 years. It’s the centerpiece of his complex plan to respond to Seattle’s rising rents and home prices.
But a criticism has been that the policy doesn’t account for cheap apartments that could be demolished to make way for that work. Many of the city’s least expensive apartments are located in aging, medium-sized apartment buildings on desirable lots.
That’s the criticism addressed by Councilmember Lisa Herbold in one of 14 amendments unveiled during a land-use committee meeting Tuesday.
From 2005 to 2015, the city issued permits for the demolition of about 6,000 housing units, Herbold noted.
Her change would make demolition risk a factor in upzoned neighborhoods where the city determines that people with less money are in danger of being pushed out.
Beyond their regular requirements under Mandatory Housing Affordability, developers in those neighborhoods would collectively be required to build or pay for an additional number of rent-restricted units equal to the number of cheap, existing units at risk for demolition.
“We don’t want this to be a wash at the end of the day (between affordability created and lost),” Herbold said.
The council member called her amendment a modest change: For example, only 40 cheap apartments are being put at risk for demolition by a planned University District upzone, according to an analysis by the city, she said.
Other amendments put forward Tuesday speak to concerns about the fee option.
Though Murray originally referred to his policy as “inclusionary housing,” The Seattle Times in April reported that he expects fewer than half of the new rent-restricted units to actually be included by developers on-site in their projects.
The mayor expects the majority of the units — and all or nearly all of them in downtown and South Lake Union — to be created off-site with money from fees.
Murray has said the fee option would be valuable because the city would be able to combine the money from developers with money from other sources. But skeptics have argued including units in projects is a surer way to make neighborhoods diverse.
A change drawn up by Councilmember Mike O’Brien would make explicit the city’s intent to achieve — outside of downtown and South Lake Union — a 50/50 split between projects with affordable units on-site and projects yielding fees.
“We’ve heard that people really want to see (on-site units) in their neighborhoods,” O’Brien said.
There are advantages to the fee option, he said, but on-site units are “so much more tangible than writing a check.”
An amendment advanced by Councilmember Rob Johnson, who chairs the land-use committee, would encourage the city to locate affordable units built with fees near the market-rate projects responsible for the money.
The committee likely will vote on the residential framework Aug. 2, Johnson said.