Seattle will allow extra density for housing built on sites owned or controlled by religious institutions, while requiring the housing to charge below-market rents, according to legislation passed Monday by the City Council.

The legislation will allow affordable projects on religious properties to rise one to six stories higher than the city’s zoning rules would normally allow, depending on location. Where only single-family houses are allowed, such projects will be allowed to cover more ground than normal.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration developed the legislation after Washington state lawmakers in 2019 required cities to adopt such policies. Councilmember Dan Strauss shepherded Seattle’s version through the council’s land-use committee. Monday’s vote was 8-0.

Many religious organizations have underused properties, like parking lots that are empty most of the time, and some need money to survive. Many also are proponents of affordable housing.

For example, a nonprofit developer recently replaced a church parking lot in the University District with 133 affordable apartments. Monday’s legislation is supposed to help other organizations embark on similar projects.

Religious organizations own more than 300 acres in Seattle, the Durkan administration said last year.


Monday’s legislation originally would have required projects using the density bonus to serve renters with incomes at or below 80% of the area’s median annual income ($61,800 for one person), for at least 50 years.

With an amendment Monday, the legislation also will require such projects to serve renters with incomes that average no more than 60% of the median annual income ($46,500). Councilmember Lisa Herbold sponsored the amendment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately described how long projects using the density bonus will be required to cap rents. The period will be 50 years; a proposal for 75 years was not adopted.