Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sent the City Council a proposed ordinance Wednesday requiring developers of new apartment buildings to include some affordable units or pay fees. He said both options would be helpful.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sent the City Council a proposed ordinance Wednesday requiring developers of new apartment buildings to either include affordable units or pay fees to help the city build them elsewhere.
The mayor called the ordinance a key part of his housing-affordability plan to create 50,000 new homes over the next 10 years — 20,000 of them affordable.
Together with an ordinance requiring commercial developers to pay fees, the legislation Murray unveiled Monday would create 6,000 of the 20,000 affordable units, he said. The council approved the commercial piece of the so-called “grand bargain” last year.
The requirements won’t go into effect unless the City Council approves a series of proposed rezones allowing taller and larger buildings in dense neighborhoods.
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“Twenty thousand affordable units in a decade is simply off the charts,” the mayor said outside a light-rail station in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, near buildings with affordable units, adding, “Everyone who works in this city should be able to live here.”
When Murray introduced his strategy last summer for getting residential developers to help the city deal with rising rents, he called it “mandatory inclusionary housing.”
The mayor said developers would include units in market-rate buildings for households making no more than 60 percent of the area median income — $54,000 per year for a family of four. He didn’t emphasize that the strategy also would give them the option of paying fees.
But Murray officials, now calling the strategy “mandatory housing affordability — residential,” anticipate that more than half of the affordable units created under the strategy would be built off-site with fees, The Seattle Times reported this week.
Murray acknowledged that expectation Wednesday, saying the fees option would help Seattle meet his overall goals.
He said the city would use the fees in combination with money from other sources to build a greater number of affordable units and to build in neighborhoods with less construction activity.
Murray said the fees on new apartment buildings would add up to $176 million over 10 years.
“I’m most excited by the idea … that we will actually have developers building units in the buildings they build,” he said. “But that’s … not the only answer.”
The mayor went on to say that the idea that “we will have developers building units in the buildings they build is good, but just as good is the fact that others will pay.”
Murray officials expect little or no affordable units would be included in market-rate buildings in downtown and South Lake Union because high-rise construction is more expensive than other construction, the officials say.
“Downtown is really a different market with different challenges,” the mayor said Wednesday.
Maria Barrientos, a developer who served on Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livabilty Advisory Committee last year, echoed his point.
The mayor’s plan is based on the committee’s recommendations.
“You have to be aware of the economic realities,” Barrientos said. “I don’t believe that high-rise developers are against inclusion. They just can’t. So having the fees is a great win-win solution.”
Barrientos said there should be more focus on how much good Murray’s plan would do. It would make developer contributions mandatory with apartment construction across 44 percent of the land in Seattle, the mayor noted.
“Of course it’s not a perfect plan. You’re never going to get a perfect plan. But what we are doing is creating affordable housing in an unprecedented way,” Barrientos said.