The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee's plan, released today, contains more than 60 recommendations. But at the centerpiece is a compromise between developers and affordability advocates reached over the weekend. As I reported earlier, Council Member Mike O'Brien's linkage fee proposal acted as an outside threat that brought developers to the table to strike this "grand bargain," as Mayor Ed Murray has described it. The accord—warning: housing wonkery ahead—includes mandatory inclusionary zoning (MIZ), in which developers must either make a small percentage of units in new floors of multi-family and mixed use-hosing affordable or pay fees into an affordable housing fund. It also includes a scaled-back linkage fee that will be levied on new commercial development and used to fund affordable housing development.
Mayor Ed Murray:
Social justice Mayor Murray is the best Mayor Murray. Without changes to how we're building housing, the mayor said, "we will continue to have a city of economic apartheid" in which low wage workers have to bus or drive in to Seattle from the outer suburbs. "Seattle is stronger when neighborhoods are mixed and diverse," the mayor added. "Our current crisis is fragmenting our society. Rising costs plus a widening inequality gap are creating more neighborhoods where only the wealthy can afford to live."
He continued: "We will move forward by... showing that we can get progressive results by working together." A progressive result achieved today, he said, is that "for the first time... we will require market rate developers to build a minimum number of affordable units in any new construction of multi-family housing."
Asked about the possibility of a developer lawsuit against HALA's proposals, Murray responded: "I have no assurances that someone won't sue... If we'd gone forward with [O'Brien's proposal for] a strict linkage fee, we know that we would have been sued."
Jonathan Grant, Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata:
The two council lefties and one aspiring council lefty—Grant is the former director of the Washington Tenants Union and a candidate challenging Council President Tim Burgess—say the mayor's committee-approved proposals are good, but—surprise!—don't go far enough. They've released their own plan, which includes a citywide linkage fee (again, that's a per-square-foot tax on new development that would be used to fund affordable housing) set at the maximum level. That's instead of the mandatory inclusionary zoning plus a moderate linkage fee limited to commercial development that now exists in the Murray-and-O'Brien-backed "grand bargain." Grant, Sawant, and Licata also express support for repealing the state ban on rent control.
"It goes nowhere near far enough to address the scale of the problem that we're facing," said Sawant of the grand bargain. Grant says his plan, which you can view in full right here, would get roughly $500 million more in fees from developers to fund affordable housing over the next decade, plus 12,000 units for people making up to 60 percent area median income (that's a $37,680 annual salary for a household of one; $43,000 for a family of two). Sixty percent of median income is the income level where the need is greatest, according to the city's data.
Licata points out that the grand bargain sets a September 2017 deadline for "a resolution with an implementation plan for completing the proper environmental review." Meanwhile, Licata says, "Jon's overall package is more aggressive—more units and a quicker timeline. The problem with [the grand bargain] is that you're two years off before you even do an action plan... September 2017 is when you introduce a resolution, not even an ordinance. 2017! Look at the summary. It's 2017 for a resolution!"
The three also argue that lawsuits against new taxes on developers—whether those taxes grow out of their plan or the grand bargain—are inevitable. So we might as well get on with them sooner rather than later and come out with the most aggressive possible plan to begin with. (Again, look at the new superyacht marina lawsuit against the Westlake cycle track if you don't think any one group is willing to upend the mayor's consensus-driven process with a lawsuit.)
Greg Smith, CEO of Urban Visions, a Seattle-based for-profit developer:
Smith said he was adamantly opposed to O'Brien's shelved linkage fee proposal. "They were going to charge a tax on new development without a study of need or impact," he said. (False.) "Now I feel like we have a much more balanced—It's the right way to approach the problem. We're agreeing to stay our lawsuit."
Speaking about the grand bargain, Smith said: "I like it because we're all working together. I do think it's going to create 6,000 housing units, which I think is super cool." What's to prevent other developers from suing to block the mayor's plan? "You can never say nobody is going to sue, right? But in general, the broader-based development community is going to be supportive of this."
Tim Harris, founder of Real Change:
Harris, a respected advocate for Seattle's homeless, listened patiently during the mayor's press conference, then walked downstairs to stand with Grant and Sawant. "I think it's premature to call it a grand bargain," Harris said of the HALA deal, "because many of us are just hearing about it today... Rent stabilization is critically important and HALA didn't touch that, and that's something that Jonathan and others are looking at addressing. I'm feeling a lot of urgency about that." He said the Grant et. al. plan is a "necessary addition," though not necessarily superior to, the mayor's plan.
Alan Durning, density advocate and HALA Member:
To hold onto our values, HALA is saying, we must let Seattle’s housing stock change: physically. It’ll become more like Amsterdam or Paris, less like Sammamish or 1978. What makes Seattle Seattle is not its current particular blend of ramblers and Craftsmans on 5,000 square-foot lots. What makes Seattle Seattle is that it is a welcoming green city for all classes, races, and ages. To hold onto the latter, we have to let the former evolve. If we do, we can again be a city where everyone—barista or brogrammer, home health aide or harp teacher, roofer or retiree—can find a place to live... Mandatory inclusionary zoning (MIZ) is the beating heart of the HALA plan.