Guest Editorial: City Hall Wants 2 Percent Affordable Housing from Developers. That's Not Nearly Enough.


Why on earth are you so set on taxing the thing we want more of (housing). The more you tax housing, the less housing we get, and the higher our rents climb. I'm a fan of subsidized housing, but let's tax everyone for it.
Keep in mind that the 2% rule for new development isn't the only source of affordable housing in the city - which this editorial seems to overlook. Over the years, tens of thousands of units have been built in the Seattle of Seattle through local city/county grants, federal tax incentives and non-profits. The local non-profits of Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) and South East Effective Development (SEED) have been building thousands of affordable and low-income housing units for the disabled, seniors and impoverished in our area for decades now - including in downtown Seattle.

Also, notably, Sound Transit is working to change the state rules concerning the sales of "excess" property around light rail stations (used for construction) for below market value, if the properties are used for low-income housing. This move will also add thousands of new, low income units along the highly valued transit corridor.

I'm all for more low-income housing, but lets not fool ourselves. This 2% minimum requirement for expensive projects in downtown Seattle barely scratches the surface of the amount of low-income housing that is already in and going in, our area.
@1 This is not a tax. It is a requirement for developers to set aside a portion of what they build as affordable housing. Other cities place much higher affordable housing mandates on developers than Seattle does. In 2014 NYC had a mandate of 13-14% and was looking to raise it to 20%.

The developers will cry and file lawsuits, but when it's all said and done they'll keep building and they'll still make a ton of money.
@3 But they won't keep building unless rents raise to make up for the additional cost. There's no free lunch in this world.

NYC is well studied and their mandates increase rents substantially (PDF)
Jon Grant doesn't seem to have learned anything between his last run for CC and this time. I voted for him over Tim Burgess. In fact, as a Dem PCO I dropped his literature while on my precinct walks. But now I am beginning to see him in a most unfavorable light. That is, somebody who will say *anything* to get elected. Given what we see daily on the national level these days, that doesn't cut it with me for a local official.

Now visit another former CC candidate who ran during that last same cycle -- but appears to be sharing some of the most sensible views about community, neighborhoods and the issues standing in the way of having Seattle solve some of our problems. Here's his explainer on MHA and affordability from today:…

I don't think there's any question who the more serious political observer is on the Seattle scene. No way do I trust somebody obscuring the issues rather than illuminating them. As Michael Maddux says, "...Throwing out 25% as a number without explaining the whole story is troubling and misleading."

I totally agree...
@5 That was a good read, thanks.
I finally want to get involved and I'm a privileged, only-have-two-issues voter: Build more housing, build more transit.

So it seems like I need to get in touch with Teresa Mosqueda's campaign... Oh snap, she was recently endorsed by Rob Johnson. Nice!
$635 increase per month? That's closer to per decade, might want to fix that claim.
A fuckin men, Jon
@8 - Apparently no one who (theoretically) proofread this thing found that remarkable. I read it five times before I allowed it to dawn on me that it had really found its way into print.
It would be awesome if a stranger writer took the info @5 gave and asked pointed questions to the author. he *needs* to go on the record on this stuff. does he support a doubling of zoning heights in seattle? does he realize he's misleading people in his claims? does he care?
80% of the apartments built in Seattle in recent years as well as what's coming out of the pipeline in the next few years is LUXURY HOUSING that is unaffordable to average working people. Seattle's incentive zoning program, which gave developers bonus densities in the form of an extra floor or two beyond what is currently allowed in Seattle's comp plan, resulted in just 55 low income apartments per year over the first 13 years of the program from 2001 to 2014. HALA's requirement that a whopping 2% of new apartments in upzones be affordable to low is almost as miserly. Moreover, in many cases the HALA's low income housing reqirement expires in just 12 years, at which landlords are free to jack up the rent to market rates. It's as if Seattle assumes only a tiny percentage of our city's residents are poor and need help with housing.

When the city council adopted the incentive zoning ordinance DCLU was required to report annually on the results of program, but I've only been able to find two such reports. Maybe the city didn't want anyone to know this program was such an abject failure.

When people have to pay half or more of their income on rent, they don't have a lot left over for food, doctor bills, medicine, school supplies, etc. Anyone who thinks Seattle gives a fuck about poverty isn't paying attention.
#1 because those that want to tax housing don't know what their doing. They are the some people that hate landlords yet want landlords to do what every they demand.
@12 There's no such thing as luxury housing. It's all just housing, except new. People pay a lot because housing is scarce. Refuse to build new, or tax construction until it slows, and prices go even higher.

Want to lower rents and allow developers to start building at lower price points? Open up some of our vast tracks of single family zoning. We cram multifamily into just 8% of our land, so of course it's expensive.
@15 You want to open up more land and you want lower price points within the city limits? You can build it all over south Seattle, and even some parts of North Seattle (Like Aurora, where development would be an improvement), and get little to no pushback from neighborhood advocates. Sure, they might not be the most desirable neighborhoods for newcomers, (which, btw, many North Seattle neighborhoods weren't either, a generation or so ago) but you want to encourage density and affordability close to downtown, right?
@15, it is not simply my opinion that 80% of the apartments being built in Seattle are luxury units. It is a fact not only here, but nationwide, and is a cause of skyrocketing rents. It is also a sign of the utter collapse of humane housing policy at all levels of government after 40 years of draconian free market #Neoliberalism rammed down our throats by both parties.…

Your assertion that there is no such thing as luxury housing is a sign of your callous disregard for people who live in poverty, but nonetheless need an affordable place to live. People are willing to pay $1000 per month to live in in a single room in notorious shitholes like the Georgian Hotel, which Seattle is subjecting to mass eviction tomorrow, because that's all they can afford, so please spare everyone your bullshit urbanist bromides about how housing is just housing.……

this is the same city that thinks 200 sq ft "apodment" jail cells are the answer at $1000 each.
@17 Every "luxury" home that's built keeps someone from being evicted from a non-luxury home. If you think someone with a new well paying job in Seattle will just not move here because nobody built them a new home, you're wrong. They'll just bid up your home.

The reason we're seeing higher-priced new homes is because of land prices, which comes from scarcity. That's the same scarcity that's making $1000/mo shitholes.

Let's find common ground. I'm a strong supporter of subsidized housing - let's build more of that. But can we at least agree that reserving our single family zones for only households that can afford 5,000sf, while we cram everyone that can't into 8% of our city is harmful to our renters?
@19 How are you calculating this 8% figure?
@20 After* the NIMBYs kept complaining about the city's zoning numbers, they separated out parks and community services from zoning areas and produced this chart. Here are the original numbers, which are pure number of acres (with right-of-ways subtracted out) for each zoning type (0.2% of our land area saved for high-rise residential, 11% for all multifamily. plus a bit from our mixed use zones).

* Complete speculation on my part. But I've heard many times how unfair it is that using "65% of Seattle's land is zoned single family" is. And they did have a point, but it was the best data we had. Now that it's separated out they can say that less than half of Seattle's land area is reserved for those rich enough to afford 5,000+ square feet of land. But that's still 49% compared to 8% for those that can't (roughly half of our population).
Thank you Jon Grant! These downtown developers are pulling the wool over our eyes. Please write and urge City Council to increase the affordable housing requirement in the Downtown/SLU rezone.
@5 are you really on board with Michael Maddux who, in the blog post you shared says, "We have a totality of programs in Seattle that address affordable housing needs."

Jon Grant has demonstrated leadership on the issue of affordable housing for a decade. Everyone running for the citywide seat says they support affordable housing but Grant gives the most specifics.
@21 NIMBY is a stereotyping bullying word that is not conducive to civil cnversation. It is not accurate. Most homeowners accept the growth that is coming. We support "density done right." Density at the transit nodes, in Urban Villages, has been the city's successful policy for over 20 years. Spreading density throughout the city fails to maximize transit, schoools, community centers and other investments.

There is no justification for upzoning single-family zones, other than developers' greed. Midrise zones have many time the buildable capacity and are more than sufficient to meet demand. What we need is to change Low-rise 1 to a family housing zone, to provide the "missing middle" as a transition surrounding urban villages. To make homeownership more affordable, we need to overhaul our state condo liability laws. Where's the outcry?