The Seattle City Council, in a 8-0 vote Monday, approved legislation capping rents at about $600 a month for some tiny new apartments covered by a tax-break program that’s voluntary for real estate developers.
The bill adjusts the city’s Multifamily Property Tax Exemption Program, which gives 12 years of tax breaks to developers who volunteer to reserve a percentage of units in a new building for lower-income households. Tenants in the set-aside units must meet income requirements and the rents are held low for 12 years.
Under the program now, developers reserve 20 percent of the units in a project. When the set-aside units are studios, the rents are capped at $1,004 a month for a single-person household. The ceiling is higher for larger apartments.
Monday’s bill establishes a lower cap for a new category of homes. When the council passed a suite of regulations on micro-apartment construction last year, it defined “small efficiency dwelling units” as apartments with 220 to 400 square feet, a bathroom and kitchen space.
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With the bill, developers taking part in the tax-exemption program by setting aside small efficiency dwelling units will rent those units for no more than $618 for a single-person household. And they’ll reserve 25 percent of their units, rather than 20 percent.
Last week, Roger Valdez, who lobbies on behalf of builders for denser development, warned that the adjustment would result in developers not participating in the tax-exemption program.
But Mayor Ed Murray hailed the bill Monday, calling it “a smart improvement to a tool that helps private developers include below-market rate apartments in their projects.” Murray and his Office of Housing initiated the bill, a spokesman for the mayor said.
Councilmember Sally Clark sponsored the legislation in the council, saying there must be an ample public benefit when the city awards tax breaks.
“This is a test run,” she said. “We’ll see whether developers find this to be appetizing or not.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant voted for it grudgingly. “Instead of trying to bribe developers we should be talking about building tens of thousands of units of affordable housing,” she said.