Next affordable-housing proposals advanced by mayor, councilmember: ‘Linkage fee’ and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, with additional height in exchange

(One of the city’s graphics for today’s announcements, explaining the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing)
When Mayor Murray announced his housing plan and the report from the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda advisory committee in mid-July, it was pointed out that the proposals will roll out over a period of up to two years. Two of the first proposals to be pursued were detailed today by Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, whose announcement says they’re expected to “create 6,000 units of affordable housing” in the city as part of what was called a “grand bargain” involving developers and housing advocates. The announcement (which you can read in full, here) continues:

… “Seattle is experiencing unprecedented growth, and our challenge is to build fairly and affordably. We want sustainable, socially inclusive and economically diverse neighborhoods that are walkable, close to transit and job centers. To build these equitable communities, we must ensure that our teachers, nurses, hotel and restaurant workers who work in the city can also afford to live here,” said Mayor Murray. “With this legislation, Seattle – for the first time ever – will require that all new development in the city will pay for affordable housing. This is a bold, progressive proposal where growth itself will support affordable and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods. I am eager to work with the Council as we engage the public on this proposal as it moves through the legislative process.”

“I continually hear from people in our city struggling to keep up with rising rents. The Grand Bargain represents 6,000 desperately needed, new affordable units that we cannot build fast enough—especially not for those in need today,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Chair of the Select Committee on Housing Affordability. “I will be working with my colleagues on the City Council to act as swiftly as possible on the legislation behind the Grand Bargain.”

There are two major components to the “Grand Bargain.” The first establishes an Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program (AHIMP) – commonly referred to as a commercial linkage fee – that will directly fund the construction of new affordable housing by requiring developers to pay a fee on every square foot of new commercial development. The linkage fee will range from $5 to $17 per square foot, based on the size and location of the commercial development.

The second part of the “Grand Bargain” calls for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) for new multifamily developments, requiring five to eight percent of units be affordable for residents earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for 50 years.

In 2015, 60 percent of AMI is $37,680 for an individual and $53,760 for a family of four. As an alternative to on-site units, developers can pay a fee to construct new affordable housing offsite.

“The Grand Bargain is evidence that people across sectors – public, nonprofit and for-profit – all want this city to be a place of opportunity for people of all income levels and all walks of life,” said Susan Boyd, Director of Real Estate Development for Bellwether Housing. “Development can be both a tool for economic growth and a tool for accomplishing equity and justice.”

In exchange, the City will look to increase development capacity in various ways throughout the city. New developments in downtown and South Lake Union will be allowed an extra 1,000 square feet per floor. Outside of the downtown core, new buildings will be allowed approximately one additional story in height. These changes will be subject to program design and the existing legislative rezoning process. The full chart of proposed changes can be viewed here.

“The legislation being announced today is an important part of a much larger strategy to address housing affordability in Seattle,” said Touchstone President A-P Hurd. “This approach is much more predictable for the City and developers. Downtown and SLU development have contributed fees toward the production of affordable housing in Seattle for years through the City’s Incentive Zoning Program, but this represents both an increased commitment from developers, and an increase in the City’s overall capacity to build more housing, which is a critical part of any successful housing strategy in a growing city.”
The “Grand Bargain” will be phased in over a number of years. When fully implemented, it will create at least 6,000 new affordable homes over 10 years.

Current market rates for a newer one-bedroom unit range from $1,399 to $1,887. The table below shows average monthly rent rates by neighborhood for buildings built since 2010:

Ballard $1,769
Capitol Hill/Eastlake $1,887
Green Lake / Wallingford $1,671
Queen Anne $1,694
Rainier Valley $1,399
West Seattle $1,615

In comparison, the affordable rate (30% of a household’s monthly income) for a one bedroom unit for an individual earning 60 percent AMI is $1,008. Under the proposed “Grand Bargain” framework, rents for new affordable housing units would be set at this price or lower.

“Seattle is where I work, but I can’t afford to raise my family here,” said Brittany Johnson, a homecare worker. “This plan would allow me to have a home in Seattle for what I’m already paying in Renton – giving me back the hours I lose on the bus to have with my toddler. That would be a dream come true.”

Over 45,000 households spend more than half their incomes on housing in Seattle.

In July, the HALA advisory committee delivered to the mayor 65 recommendations after 10 months of work. The consensus-driven proposal was crafted by affordable housing advocates, community voices, developers and housing experts appointed by the mayor and Seattle City Council in September of 2014.

The legislation will be taken up by the City Council’s Select Committee on Housing Affordability. …

The committee’s next meeting is September 9th, one week from tomorrow. You can read the AHIM legislation here.

3:48 PM: As pointed out in comments, the highest zoning in West Seattle – covering part of the heart of The Junction – is currently 85′ and would be “merged” into the 125′ zone, so that area would potentially see far more than an added floor.

31 Replies to "Next affordable-housing proposals advanced by mayor, councilmember: 'Linkage fee' and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, with additional height in exchange"

  • half right September 1, 2015 (2:00 pm)

    The major upshot for West Seattle is that the Junction will go from 85″ height limit to 125″ height limit. Whereas Broadway in Cap Hill goes from 40″ to 55″.

    So the smaller street on the peninsula with limited bus and no fixed rail transit for many, many years gets the towers and units, while the central arterial with infinite bus transit, street car opening this year and light rail in 2016 gets a 1-story height increase insufficient to incentivize much of anything. Sigh.

    The affordable inclusionary and commercial fees are long overdue; kudos to the for- and non- profit developers who reached compromise to worked those requirements out. Unfortunately,the broad-brush height and density increases take us back about 30 years to a time before integrated smart growth planning and neighborhood-level urban design. Successful density requires infrastructure investment. Tall buildings need to be located on wide streets or they become shadowed canyons.

    I suspect that this ham-fisted approach is mostly the result of an all-housing interests committee (DPD & SDOT were not even consulted). It’s nonetheless difficult to ignore that the Mayor’s major constituency resides in the neighborhood that has all the infrastructure and yet gets to keep its views.

  • skeeter September 1, 2015 (3:10 pm)

    I don’t understand. If we decide affordable housing is a shared goal then *everyone* should help pay for it. Not just developers.

    Developers are not causing housing to get more expensive. Supply and demand is doing that. Why are developers bearing the cost of providing affordable housing? Why not restaurants? (institute a new food tax.) Or homeowners? (Increase property tax.) Or all retail shoppers? (Increase sales tax.) Or anyone who uses a mobile phone? (New mobile phone fee.) Or ATM users (create an ATM tax.)

    I’m all for taxes and fees to pay for shared goals but I do not understand why we are allocating the cost to one group.

    Can someone please explain to me why developers must pay for affordable housing but Skeeter does not have to pay?

    • WSB September 1, 2015 (3:14 pm)

      If Skeeter owns property, Skeeter is already paying for some affordable housing … via levy … and since that one’s running out, a new one is in the works for next year.

  • AmandaKH September 1, 2015 (3:15 pm)

    Oh, don’t worry Skeeter. The Mayor’s new housing levy should be on the ballot in 2016. You will get your chance to pay!!

  • Jeanie September 1, 2015 (3:27 pm)

    Half-right, I agree with you 100%. Your statement is eloquent and spot-on. Perhaps you could submit it to the mayor and the City Council Select Committee on Housing Affordability.

  • wakeflood September 1, 2015 (3:43 pm)

    Agree that 125′ in the junction is pretty crazy if Cap Hill is only 55′. Would like to see the justification for that. Especially given the circumstances that half right notes.

    What’s good for the goose…

  • Wes C. Addle September 1, 2015 (3:44 pm)

    My problem is that 6,000 units is far less than what we need. I don’t think the needle is going to move much on this one.

    • WSB September 1, 2015 (3:48 pm)

      I just realized I didn’t include the link to the “complete chart,” which is where you’ll note that 85′, which is the highest zoning in West Seattle (the heart of The Junction, though not much is built to that so far), merges into 125′.
      Also adding that link inline, where it was in the online version of the full news release (which is linked in our setup line).

  • wakeflood September 1, 2015 (3:53 pm)

    I’d also be curious to know if DPD will implement serious setbacks on those 125′ boxes. I suspect not.

  • RT September 1, 2015 (3:58 pm)

    Half Right you are All Right by me. Completely agree with you and have been complaining to friends for months about the insane public policy decisions that are forcing growth and density in areas that do not have sufficient public transit nor geographic accessibility to support it. Why hasn’t the SODO area been explored for such development? Folks could walk, bike, or take easy transit into the core of our quickly disappearing Emerald City. When the Viaduct comes down the pressure on the West Seattle Bridge will essentially seal us off. I’m one of many who now plan all trips off the peninsula with plenty of hours to spare to negotiate cancelled buses, traffic snarls, and closed arterials. Walk to most local tasks and entertainment, but increasingly feel isolated on this turf.

  • ryan September 1, 2015 (4:19 pm)

    Maybe I am way off here but I bet housing gets even more expensive for anyone who doesn’t qualify for the affordable housing units as the developers will simply offset some of the cost to the “market priced” units. Sure they get an extra story which will help but charging only $1,000/mo for an affordable unit that has the same construction costs as a “market priced” unit ain’t gonna fly.

  • wakeflood September 1, 2015 (4:45 pm)

    Well, Ryan, if you assume that rents are based on construction costs, you’d have a fine point. But that’s only part of the equation. The majority of the rest being what the market says you can charge for that unit.

    Based on the insanity that is both the number of new units being built all over the city, and the rate of increase of rent for those and current units, the assumption that “ain’t gonna’ fly” doesn’t really work. It suggests that developers are licking their chops to build because they’re making serious profits. So, making only really nice profits isn’t going to deter them one bit.

  • Les September 1, 2015 (5:16 pm)

    Affordable housing is not only an issue for renters. I own a house here in West Seattle and my 2016 King county property tax notice has a 22% increase from 2015 value.

  • flimflam September 1, 2015 (5:23 pm)

    maybe i’m dense, but I don’t see how the city can force anyone into this – if someone owns a property, they do with it as they see fit, no?

  • dcn September 1, 2015 (7:35 pm)

    I am wondering how they will work out who gets priority for these apartments. With 6,000 new units planned, and 45,000 people spending half their income on rent, there will be a huge demand. And that number will only go up as rents and population increase, even with the new minimum wage.
    Will they go with lowest wage-earners first, or a lottery? And what happens if you get a better-paying job? Is there going to be an upper income limit where if you exceed it, you will have to move? Or, will it be like rent-controlled cities where you hold onto that apartment for life?
    I don’t see that the home care worker mentioned in the announcement has much of a shot at one of these one bedroom ($1,000/month) apartments, if she could even fit her family into one. And I see the lower middle class being squeezed out of the city: those who make more than 60% AMI, have families and so require more than a one bedroom apartment, and are still paying half (or more) of their income in rent.
    I don’t see any easy answers here, and am glad I am not one of the people who has to try to figure it out.

  • Debra September 1, 2015 (7:49 pm)

    With the increases in taxes, many of us who are on fixed income after a life of working hard with no expectation that anyone take care of us other than ourselves can’t afford the proptery taxes, oh I know when I have to sell a developer can swoop in and develop inclusive of moderate to low income but they just displaced the same person
    The mayor and council are out of touch, or in the pocket of the developers or just don’t give a rip, all options are scary,

  • RayWest September 2, 2015 (4:03 am)

    I am curious as to why such intense development appears to be going on in only selective parts of Seattle, particularly West Seattle, Ballard, and some others. I don’t get around to the entire city much, but it seems like there are many untapped areas that have little new development, such as White Center, Rainier Valley, Georgetown, and, as one person mentioned, the SoDo area. Is there intense building like this going on over in Magnolia? And what about Beacon Hill? That has to be the most ignored and underdeveloped neighborhood in all of Seattle. I see little if any change going on over there. If Seattle is going to increase its density, then it should be spread out much more evenly than it already is.

  • daniel September 2, 2015 (7:55 am)

    Skeeter. What? Property owners are burdened enough. Let the developers who r over developing neighborhoods, they don’t live in,and profiting off of it, pay even more. I say let developers pay for metro also.

  • BMC September 2, 2015 (8:23 am)

    Development in Magnolia? Oh heck no! I drove through there a few weeks ago (from S to N) to go to Discovery Park. Nothing. Looked like it has for 20-30 years. Unreal. Someone must be influencing someone.

    • WSB September 2, 2015 (8:34 am)

      Please note re: neighborhoods: The densest zoning and therefore most prolific development has been in the “urban village” and “urban center” areas, which were designated in the ’90s. You can look them up online – sorry, I just tried to find a quick map, couldn’t, am trying to finish three stories and can’t take more time. West Seattle’s UVs are The Junction (which stretches to the Triangle and Avalon, so it’s not strictly “The Junction”), Morgan Junction, Admiral. Also part of Westwood/Highland Park/South Delridge.

  • Brian September 2, 2015 (8:34 am)

    @RT: the reason SoDo isn’t being looked at is because huge swaths of land down there are owned by a single interest looking to build a basketball/hockey arena.

  • half right September 2, 2015 (10:10 am)

    Here’s a link to a PDF on the urban village/center concept: (admin note, 10:40 am – erroneous link removed at commenter’s request, see corrected comment below). There’s a map on page 1.7.

    Unfortunately, the distribution of height/density in the “Grand Bargain” doesn’t really follow the hierarchy of densification set up in the urban village/center plan. As described, under the “Grand Bargain” the heart of the Junction, which is designated an urban village goes to 125′, while Broadway north of Pine goes to only 55′, even though it’s part of the First Hill/Capital Hill urban center. Centers are explicitly supposed to be developed more intensely, in part because of their higher capacity transit.

    The “Grand Bargain” is just that. A bunch of housing interests sitting in a back room negotiating how much affordability is worth how much density. That is an important part of building affordability into growth, and that negotiation has had its place in every affordability strategy I’ve ever worked on or studied. Unfortunately, the other part – figuring out how to allocate growth so that we leverage our transit investments/keep traffic under control and build it into neighborhoods thoughtfully and in ways that enhance walkability and urban character is entirely missing here.

    Walking down a canyon of 125′ towers on a street with a right-of-way that is only 66′ wide with overwhelming traffic because we have no light rail/streetcar is not going to be a pleasant experience. I seriously doubt that any other jurisdiction in this country is putting that type of height/density on that size of street with no fixed-guideway transit.

  • AmandaKH September 2, 2015 (10:33 am)

    The Westwood/Highland Park Urban Village has had literally $0 CIP dollars spent there in 20 years. Hell, most of Delridge floods every winter because of horrible drainage infrastructure, and an unburdened set of developers who are not made to A) pay for infrastructure B) not required to worry about surrounding drainage. The WWRHAH group has a Westwood/Highland Park UV Committee, and they submitted comments to the 2035 Comp Plan folks (linked below). We have yet to receive a formal response. And we could use some help looking through the current draft of the 2035 Comp Plan. If you are interested in helping, email us!

  • half right September 2, 2015 (10:37 am)

    Shoot – that’s the wrong link & I can’t edit anymore. Tracy, can you pls remove it? Here’s the right one –

  • Darling September 2, 2015 (12:14 pm)

    Obviously someone who makes $40,000 can swing $1600 monthly rent. That $2320 income difference clearly is what it takes to cover the extra $7000 in rent (before your lease ends and there’s another rent hike).

  • Sue September 2, 2015 (3:20 pm)

    Darling, there can be many extenuating circumstances where a blanket statement like “obviously someone who makes $40,000 can swing $1600 monthly rent” would not be true. While I won’t share my personal financial circumstances on a public forum, that would not be possible in my own situation.

  • Darling September 2, 2015 (5:43 pm)

    Sue, I apologize for my sarcasm coming off poorly. I am one of the people who make a little bit too much to qualify for low income, yet am becoming unable to afford Seattle rents. It is so frustrating.

  • Sue September 3, 2015 (9:02 am)

    Thanks for clarifying, Darling. I’m the queen of sarcasm (I’m a New Yorker :) but didn’t pick up on that.
    I look at the affordability charts sometimes, and I laugh when it says that someone with my salary makes enough money to support like 4 or 5 people. Yeah, if they don’t eat or have medical issues, or ever want to leave their house.
    One of my personal issues with the push for “affordable housing” is that “affordable” is a buzzword for “low income.” And while I do think that is seriously important, it does forget about those of us who make just over those amounts so don’t qualify for the “affordable” units due to too much income, and yet can’t afford (as a single person) the “luxury” units that are being built.

  • Darling September 3, 2015 (10:01 am)

    The restaurant workers, teachers and nurses he mentioned as being needed in this community mostly make too much to qualify as low income, so his referencing us is pretty lame, as we are part of the community that will only benefit from this deal by having continued skyrocketing rents. Also, am I too suspicious by thinking these developers are not really paying a dime in the long run- they are likely getting huge cushy tax benefits that far outweigh the square foot charge….?

  • RayWest September 4, 2015 (3:30 am)

    I think it is time to revisit the whole “urban village” planning concept. I was critical of it in the 90s because I thought it unfairly concentrated growth in a few “choice” areas with little regard to the impact on established neighborhoods. The city needs to rethink this strategy as there was little consideration at that time about how housing would become unaffordable for middle-income workers. That is why areas such as White Center, Georgetown, Arbor Heights, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, etc. are prime locations for developing “affordable” housing for Seattle workers that is actually “in” Seattle.

  • RayWest September 5, 2015 (6:12 am)

    I’m in that middle-income area, and if I did not own my house outright, there is no way I could afford to live here. More than half my income would go to rent unless I had some sort of shared housing situation. That is scary and it is wrong. Fortunately, I only have to worry about escalating property taxes that will eventually push me out of King County . . .

Sorry, comment time is over.