The City Council is now considering “Mandatory Housing Affordability – Residential” (MHA-R), a part of HALA (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda). MHA-R would require developers to include some percentage of “affordable” dwelling units in new buildings, with a target of creating 6,000 new affordable units over 10 years (including units from a related program addressing commercial properties).
When the City first proposed mandatory contributions to affordable housing, developer groups threatened to sue. To buy the developers’ cooperation, Mayor Murray and Councilmember O’Brien in July 2015 signed the “Grand Bargain,” linking the affordability requirements to “upzones” – much desired by developers – which would allow bigger and taller buildings throughout the city.
Now, the City Council is considering the first “framework” legislation to implement MHA-R and the related upzones, i.e. to enact the Grand Bargain into law. On Tuesday, June 21 at 9:30 AM, there will be a public hearing in the Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) committee, consisting of Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold.
Our message to the City Council is this: Do not pass the MHA-R framework legislation. Too many questions remain unanswered, specifically:
Will the Grand Bargain actually increase the City’s supply of affordable housing?
The MHA-R program will create affordable units, but the upzones will destroy them. Upzones cause property values to increase, which often results in the demolition of “naturally occurring” affordable housing – older apartment buildings and houses where the rents and prices are lower. These older buildings are torn down to be replaced by new, bigger buildings where the dwellings are more expensive (some few of which may be set aside as “affordable”). How many naturally occurring affordable units will be lost to redevelopment because of the proposed upzones? The City does not know: it has not collected any data nor made any projections. It is entirely possible that more affordable units will be destroyed by upzones than will be built under the MHA program. We don’t know if this program will help or hurt, and it should not be passed until we do.
Is the Grand Bargain a good deal for the City of Seattle?
The Grand Bargain requires developers in Seattle to include between 2.8% and 7% of affordable units in new buildings. Other cities have implemented mandatory inclusion of affordable housing, and their percentages are notably higher: New York – 20-30%; San Francisco – 12-20%; Boston – 15-18%; Chicago – 10%. How were the numbers in Seattle’s deal arrived at? Who was at the table when the deal was negotiated? Are the unusually low numbers in the Grand Bargain a good deal for the City of Seattle, or are we giving away too much? The Council should not pass the MHA program until its specific terms have been publicly explained and evaluated.
How will neighborhood-specific planning be implemented to allocate growth in upzoned areas?
The Grand Bargain specifies that “zoning changes will be ‘zone-wide’,” meaning that individual communities will have no say in how growth is allocated. This “one-size-fits-all” approach to development does not reflect the diversity of Seattle’s many communities, and it will shred the fabric of the city. The HALA program of which MHA-R is a central part provides no opportunity for meaningful community input into planning decisions. The elaborate spectacle of “community engagement” employed by the City is a device to manage public expectations without actually sharing authority. How will the City Council ensure that residents in the areas affected by the Grand Bargain have a real say in how their communities will grow? Until that question is answered, this legislation must not pass.
We will be at the public hearing, Tuesday, June 21 (9:30 AM in the City Council Chambers) and we will speak to the Committee, if we manage to get on the list. We encourage all citizens to attend and to share your views with the Council.
You may also submit comments by email to the Committee’s chair Rob Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting written comments is Monday, June 20, at noon.
The entire City Council needs to hear from us, regardless of official deadlines. Your messages do make a difference! The Councilmembers pay attention when they know we are paying attention. Send an email today, with whatever sentiment you feel, and whatever facts or personal experience you have to share:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
And contact the Mayor here: http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/get-involved/contact-the-mayor