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Mayor, Council propose implementation changes to Mandatory Housing Affordability program

SEATTLE (Oct. 17, 2016) – Today, Mayor Murray and seven Councilmembers announced two proposed changes to implementation of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, aimed at increasing production and addressing the ongoing displacement occurring as Seattle grows rapidly. The MHA framework is a critical tool for achieving the goal of building 20,000 affordable homes, as laid out in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), and provides increased development capacity in combination with new mandatory housing affordability requirements. Today, the City is introducing

  • A tiered approach of higher performance and payment requirements for areas – such as the U District – that are receiving a higher capacity increase than the typical one story increase proposed as part of MHA; and,
  • A revised map that moves some areas at higher risk of displacement – including the Central District, Chinatown/ID and parts of the Rainier Valley – into higher performance requirements to reflect updated rent data and the City’s analysis of higher displacement risk.

These proposed changes, in conjunction with maintaining the original “Grand Bargain” framework principles across the city, including Downtown and South Lake Union, will increase projected production of new affordable homes by approximately 200-300, from the original goal of 6,000.

“While Seattle reaps many benefits from rapid growth, we have to ensure this city remains affordable for those who live and work here,” said Mayor Murray. “The voters stepped up by doubling the Housing Levy in August and today’s announcement is another step toward achieving that goal by ensuring developers are also doing their part. Requiring developers to build affordable housing or contribute to its construction helps us slow the rate of displacement caused by our city’s growth, making MHA a critical tool for ensuring our city remains affordable for everyone.”

The seven councilmembers joining today’s announcement will co-sponsor the U District legislation, as well future zoning changes in Downtown and South Lake Union, and they include: Council President Bruce Harrell, and Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, Lorena González, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, and Debora Juarez.

“Thanks to constituents and others who have sounded the alarm, I know firsthand the ongoing loss of affordable housing in the U District, and our city’s response must be to take swift action,” said Councilmember Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle), Chair of the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee. “The rapid growth and new development we are experiencing in Seattle is causing an even greater need for more affordable housing.  Implementing Mandatory Housing Affordability in the U District will help us meet the current and future needs of the neighborhood by requiring all new construction to either build new affordable housing onsite or pay into a city run affordable housing fund.  I applaud the Mayor’s proactive, comprehensive strategy for growth protects the things we love about the U District and that make up its vibrant character, while maintaining our focus on building homes for families and individuals of all incomes, preserving locally owned business and social services, and continuing recent transit investments.”

Under the MHA framework ordinances adopted by Seattle City Council, new commercial and residential multifamily developments must either include rent- and income-restricted homes or provide payments to the Seattle Office of Housing to fund affordable housing development throughout the city. Homes built or preserved through MHA would provide long-term affordable housing, up to 75 years or longer, for households earning under 60 percent of Area Median Income – about $38,000 for an individual or $54,000 for a family of four.

“All members of our community deserve to live in the city where they work, with the option to walk and ride transit to and from home” said Councilmember González, (Position 9, Citywide). “This approach is an immediate step in the right direction and it will add income-restricted units as Seattle grows, which will help make our city affordable for those who are struggling to keep pace with the economic demands of living in Seattle.”

Seattle has 28 Urban Centers, Urban Villages and areas currently zoned for apartments or commercial buildings, where zoning changes would typically allow one additional story of development in order to implement the new affordable housing requirement. While the proposal would expand some of Seattle’s Urban Villages, no MHA zoning changes will be proposed for single-family areas outside of Seattle’s Urban Centers and Urban Villages.

In areas such as those around light rail stations, at the heart of urban villages, and close to parks and schools, zoning changes could allow more development capacity beyond the typical one story MHA increase. Community feedback has suggested the City help guide growth in these areas, where a tiered approach would require larger contributions to affordable housing.

Areas receiving the largest increases in development capacity would see requirements as high as 11 percent of total units in a residential development being set-aside for affordable homes, or payments of up to $32.75 per square foot. Requirements with the typical one story MHA increase are proposed to have requirements of 5 to 7 percent of homes reserved as affordable or payments of $7.00 to $20.75 per square foot.

The U District, which has gone through more than five years of community planning, is the first neighborhood where the City is proposing zoning changes implementing the MHA requirements. With Sound Transit’s U District Link light rail station opening in 2021, the City’s plan focuses future housing and employment density in areas with the most accessibility to the station. The Mayor’s proposal for zoning changes in U District are accompanied by other city investments in open space, transportation and services to ensure a walkable, equitable, vibrant urban center.

“I want all communities to see their futures in this city, and the U-District legislation, which includes a tiered schedule and revised map to address displacement risk, takes us in the right direction,” said Councilmember O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle).  ”The proposed changes to the MHA plan represent important steps in assuring we are able to create 6,300 units of affordable housing and work to mitigate displacement.”

Because the proposed zoning in the U District would allow taller buildings, developer requirements for new apartment buildings would rise to $20.00 per square foot or 9 percent of the total units in the building reserved for affordable homes. The U District rezone will create an estimated 600 to 900 affordable homes over 20 years. The City’s analysis shows that without these proposed zoning changes, the U District would risk higher rates of displacement and generate less affordable housing.

For the Downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods, MHA payment and performance requirements were established according to the Grand Bargain framework principles last summer and the Mayor will send Council legislation to implement zoning changes later this month.

For areas outside of downtown, South Lake Union and the U District, the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is currently evaluating proposed “zonewide” rezones. The City recently accepted public scoping comments, and is in the process of preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The decision on the MHA requirements to be applied in connection with these zonewide rezones would occur only after the environmental review is completed.

The Mayor is also sending legislation to Council amending the Mandatory Housing Affordability–Commercial ordinance adopted last year, primarily to improve consistency and clarity with the Mandatory Housing Affordability–Residential framework approved by Council this summer.

On Sept. 27, the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) previewed draft maps of potential zoning changes for five urban villages around Seattle. In the coming days, OPCD will release draft zoning maps for all areas where MHA will apply, which can be found at

Beginning in November, the City will hold five community meetings throughout Seattle to share more about the proposal and receive feedback from residents.