Outgoing city council veteran Peter Steinbrueck has spent his 10-year tenure at City Hall as Seattle's Robin Hood of housing—trimming, for example, Mayor Greg Nickels's recent high-end development proposals and pressing for more affordable housing. Just last week, Steinbrueck tried to amend Nickels's deal with Vulcan, trying to up the amount Vulcan must pay into the city's affordable-housing fund in exchange for exceeding height limits at a development in South Lake Union ["Custom Made," Josh Feit, Dec 6].
And last year, Steinbrueck successfully upped the rate developers building downtown had to contribute to affordable housing from Nickels's proposed $10 per square foot to $19 per square foot in exchange for letting buildings go higher.
But, with Steinbrueck leaving the council (and his post as chair of the Urban Development and Planning Committee) this month, the timeline for resolving a larger affordable-housing debate—a disagreement over the mayor's pending citywide zoning reforms—is anybody's guess.
In September, Nickels proposed taking the city's downtown zoning incentive program citywide: In exchange for exceeding the zoned height limits on new buildings, developers would be required to either construct discount residential units or pay into an affordable-housing fund, managed by the city.
But would payments into the city-managed fund bring affordable housing soon enough?
"We want the developers to include housing in their developments, and we prefer they not pay [into the fund] because it delays money getting out for two years," says Carla Okigwe, executive director of the Housing Developing Consortium of Seattle–King County. "It should be a steep amount of money so it is more feasible to put the units in the property." In other words, build housing now or make the payment a penalty.
Seattle Office of Housing Director Adrienne Quinn isn't so sure: "If the rates are too high, no developer would take advantage of the incentive program," she counters.
But Quinn confirms the fund contributions could take years to materialize—over three years if residential developers wait to pay into the fund until the building is completed.
At his final meeting as chair of the development committee on December 12—after The Stranger went to press—Steinbrueck was expected to discuss a stronger alternative to Nickels's proposal.
It remains to be seen if Steinbrueck's replacement will keep Nickels's feet to the fire and make sure affordable-housing construction keeps up with the city's booming job market.