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Opinion: Allowing taller buildings downtown will relieve some of Seattle’s high housing costs

Jon Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association. Op-Ed originally published in the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Last month, the Downtown Seattle Association hosted our annual State of Downtown economic forum to review the state of our economy and Seattle’s fastest growing neighborhood.

It’s no secret. People and jobs are flocking here in record numbers – and developers are responding.

In 2016, $4.4 billion of commercial and residential construction was underway in our center city and 20,000 new jobs were added in just a single year. This record investment, along with associated taxes and fees, protects our region’s natural areas and funds important public services and infrastructure crucial to keeping Seattle livable and welcoming.

Parks, community centers, affordable housing, child care and rural land conservation are just a few benefits supported by our extraordinary urban growth. Affordable housing, in particular, is key to ensuring a livable city.

By allowing taller buildings in our center city, we relieve upward pressure on housing costs and create more opportunities for people at all income levels to live in Seattle.

This month, the Seattle City Council is considering increasing allowed building heights in downtown and South Lake Union to create more affordable housing, market rate housing and space for continued job growth. In exchange for increased height limits, developers will fund affordable housing in Seattle.

These smart changes to our zoning regulations are an important step toward reaching the goals established within the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Coming on the heels of last year’s $290 million Seattle Housing Levy, this legislation will help produce and preserve thousands of affordable rental units for middle-income workers and stabilize families at risk of homelessness in Seattle.

Fully one-third of HALA’s 6,300-unit goal for citywide affordable housing would be realized by the downtown and South Lake Union zoning changes.

A broad coalition of residents, business and labor leaders, environmental groups, nonprofit housing providers and developers are united behind these zoning changes.

The Downtown Seattle Association is proud to stand with organizations like Futurewise who strongly favor the reduced commutes and sustainable lifestyles enabled by denser neighborhoods. Upzoning takes advantage of existing transit investments while encouraging efficient travel modes and allowing more people to live near where they work.

There is no silver bullet to address housing affordability, but evolving our city’s zoning to accommodate more housing and leveraging these investments to produce affordable units is a common-sense way we can help those who need it most. In a region that is attracting more people and jobs every day, we must embrace creative new ways to develop more market-rate and more affordable housing.

The Seattle City Council should adopt this carefully crafted legislation to address housing affordability increase the benefits of urban growth.