Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Tuesday said the City Council will begin to consider legislation this month that would require developers to help create affordable housing in return for reduced zoning restrictions.

Share story

In remarks Tuesday about new pieces of legislation drawn from headline recommendations by his housing-affordability task force, Mayor Ed Murray made a point of saying officials are engaged in a conversation with Seattle residents.

The two bills headed to the City Council this month would help require that developers build or pay for affordable housing in return for reduced zoning restrictions.

“Today is about more than land use and development fees,” Murray said, a month after critics, some accusing him of not seeking out neighborhood views, led him to abandon the task force’s recommendation for increased density in single-family zones.

“This is about the beginning of a citywide conversation about how we create vibrant neighborhoods that are economically diverse, with affordable homes near parks, and transit stops, jobs and good schools,” the mayor said, promising the city will hold a series of community meetings in the coming months.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Scrapping the recommendation for more density in single-family zones was an awkward moment politically, but it didn’t detract too much from Murray’s main housing target: Having Seattle add at least 20,000 affordable units and 50,000 total over the next 10 years.

To hit that target, he needs the pieces of legislation he and Councilmember Mike O’Brien spoke about Tuesday.

One is an ordinance that would establish a commercial linkage-fee program charging developers of commercial projects $5 to $17 per square foot, depending on the size and location of a project. The fees would fund affordable housing.

The other is a resolution that would set the stage for the council to later enact a mandatory inclusionary-housing program requiring developers of residential projects to either designate 5 to 8 percent of a project’s units as affordable or pay a fee.

Both programs would be contingent on the council’s increasing allowable building sizes and heights across much of the city, though not in most of its single-family zones.

The council would need to approve the rezones separately, a process that would begin next year and continue into 2017, so the commercial linkage-fee program and mandatory inclusionary-housing program wouldn’t be fully implemented immediately.

Murray calls the programs paired with the rezones his “grand bargain” — a compromise between affordable-housing advocates and developers that would produce 6,000 affordable units of the 20,000 the mayor wants in a decade.

Some prominent Seattle developers who had threatened to sue the city over its plans to make them pay for affordable housing have for now agreed to hold their fire.

Seattle’s inclusionary-housing program would fund units regulated to be affordable for households making 60 percent or less of the area median income — about $54,000 per year for a family of four.

Market-rate rents have reached monthly averages of $1,399 in Rainier Valley and $1,887 in Capitol Hill, according to officials.

During a news conference with the mayor Tuesday, a hospital worker said he can’t afford to live near his job on First Hill. “Instead I have to be on the road for hours a day,” said the worker, Michael Scott.

The mayor stressed there will be neighborhood engagement as officials move ahead with the legislation.

Murray said: “Over the next 18 months, the city will be holding meetings in all the areas where we’re proposing changes … I know that Seattle is ready to embrace big ideas, to achieve our shared goal of a city that is equitable, a city that is for all.”

A Murray spokesman, Viet Shelton, said the meetings will include officials asking residents for help with the details of the rezones.

The council will hold two special public hearings on affordable housing this month.

The first, on Sept. 9, will cover all 65 recommendations Murray’s task force made in June. The second, on Sept. 30, will focus on the grand-bargain programs. Both are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the council’s City Hall chambers.