Mayor Holds Live Facebook Q&A on Seattle Affordable Housing Plan

A Facebook session about the Seattle affordable housing plan with the mayor attracts questions about developer requirements, upzoning, displacement and more.

SEATTLE, WASH. -- Through its 2016 Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), the city of Seattle plans to build 50,000 new homes over the next decade, including 20,000 affordable homes, according to Mayor Ed Murray's website. The Seattle affordable housing plan aims to ensure that those who work in Seattle can afford to live there.

The city is predicting triple production under the Seattle affordable housing plan.

HALA includes tenant protections, an anti-displacement toolkit and requires developer contributions and an increase in the property tax levy, approved by voters in August, along with a mandatory housing affordability (MHA) program. MHA guarantees that a certain amount of new development will be affordable housing. MHA requires zoning changes and must be approved by the city council.

Through HALA, Seattle will use the following tools to achieve 20,000 new affordable homes: 

  • 7,500 units funded through capital investments through the renewed housing levy
  • 6,300 units created through commercial and residential MHA developments
  • 3,300 units offered through preservation property tax exemption
  • 2,100 units offered through expanded tax exemptions for new multifamily developments that set aside 20-25 percent as affordable units
  • 1,100 units created by leveraging surplus properties for affordable housing either redevelopment; or, from develop affordable housing elsewhere from sale proceeds
  • Additional units provided by voluntary employer Housing Fund program, Medicaid benefits and down payment assistance or other homeowner programs

Progress on the Seattle affordable housing plan thus far includes examples like 112 affordable units funded by an $8 million housing levy grant opened near the city's Beacon Hill Light Rail Station. According to the city, more than 4,400 units of affordable housing have opened, been funded or are under construction since 2015 with more than $34 million in housing levy grants to be awarded in December.

Upzones & Displacement

HALA launched its community engagement phase in January 2016 with community focus groups and neighborhood meetings to get public feedback. In addition, Mayor Murray held a live Facebook Q&A session last week, where he posted draft maps of the MHA-required zoning changes prior to the live session. The city also created a video for how to read the proposed MHA zoning maps.

MHA-adjusted zones including upzones, where the new zoning would increase the density of certain Seattle districts so that more units--market-rate and affordable--can be built on an acre of land. The upzones are a major factor in the Seattle affordable housing plan.

One of the ways you get affordability is to create capacity," said Mayor Murray.

Participants posted questions to Facebook, and one of the chief concerns was displacement of middle class families in the new MHA-adjusted zones. Mayor Murray said a change to HALA requires more from developers in order to reduce displacement in areas at risk for it.

"Among changes we're proposing to the City's Mandatory Housing Affordability program are expansion of higher developer requirements to more areas at risk of displacement such as the Central District, Chinatown/ID and parts of the Rainier Valley. In areas around light rail stations, at the heart of urban villages, and close to parks and schools, zoning changes allowing for greater development capacity would be tied to larger contributions to affordable housing," he posted on Facebook.

Generally, the Seattle affordable housing plan is focusing density in areas with the most accessibility to new light rail stations and other city investments in open space and services related to walkable urban centers, the mayor said.

Watch the video to hear more questions and answers about maintaining neighborhood character under MHA, micro-units, duplexes and developer requirements under proposed upzones:

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