The Seattle City Council’s land-use committee held a public hearing on legislation that would establish Mayor Ed Murray’s Mandatory Housing Affordability — Residential policy.
The red stickers said, “Seattle For Everyone.” The green stickers said, “Upzones Are Not The Answer.”
Those were the prevailing themes Tuesday as dozens of people with slogans stuck to their chests packed City Council chambers about a key part of Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to make housing in Seattle more affordable.
The council is considering legislation that would require developers of multifamily housing to include some low-rent units in their projects or pay the city to help build low-rent units elsewhere.
The legislation is just a framework — the policy would only take effect in conjunction with the council approving zoning changes across the city — mostly in multifamily zones.
Those changes, which the council is scheduled to take up later this year and next year, would allow developers to build larger and taller buildings.
For the developers, the value of the zoning changes would offset the cost of the affordability requirements.
“It’s getting harder and harder just for normal people to live in my neighborhood,” Owen David, an artist from Capitol Hill, said during a public hearing hosted by the council’s land-use committee.
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“I’m talking about bartenders and hairdressers and shop workers. I’m also talking about organizers, teachers, social workers and, hell, even white-collar professionals burdened with outsized student debt.”
David added, “The city is changing, whether we want to bury our heads in the sand or not. We have to accept increased density and do everything we can to make provisions for working-class people.”
There was a relatively even split between proponents and opponents of the legislation, which would establish what Murray calls Mandatory Housing Affordability — Residential and which he previously called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
There were exceptions, but many of the people who spoke in favor of the legislation were younger and renters, while many of those who spoke against it were older and homeowners from North Seattle neighborhoods including Wallingford and Ballard.
Rhonda Bush, a Wallingford homeowner, lamented that rupture.
“It’s unfortunate the conversation about housing has become divisive, pitting renters against homeowners and conflict between generations,” Bush said.
“I totally agree we need affordable housing in the whole city, including in my neighborhood. But I’m concerned an upzone won’t accomplish that and will actually cause a lot of displacement in Wallingford.”
The affordable units created on-site by developers or off-site with payments from developers would be rent-restricted and income-restricted. The rents would be capped at amounts affordable for households making no more than 60 percent of the area’s annual median income — now $54,180 for a family of four.
Proponents touted the strategy as a smart way to make sure the city is adding affordable homes as it grows. They said the need is urgent because many people are being forced out of Seattle by rent hikes, with people of color, immigrants and refugees particularly affected.
Several opponents described the proposed zoning changes as a giveaway to developers. They said the changes, by making properties more valuable, would encourage developers to tear down older buildings with rents that are still relatively affordable despite not being subsidized. They argued the city needs to collect data on such buildings before moving forward.
Boosters and critics alike mentioned the inability of most people with jobs to take part in a Tuesday morning public hearing and said some voices weren’t being heard.
The specific requirements for developers under Mandatory Housing Affordability — Residential aren’t included in the legislation at hand. The mayor’s plan is for them to be added later, in the course of the council approving the zoning changes.
Some people on both sides Tuesday called for stricter requirements than those Murray has talked about so far. Under his plan, less than 3 percent to 7 percent of units in a project would need to be low-rent.
Doris Koo, who works with Yesler Community Collaborative, said the percentages should be increased to better protect long-standing communities in neighborhoods such as the Central District and Chinatown International District.
The land-use committee, chaired by Councilmember Rob Johnson, will meet again to discuss the legislation and could put it to a vote sometime next month.
In a previous version of this story, the video caption misidentified a speaker from the Yesler Community Collaborative. She is Doris Koo.