Council President Sally J. Clark
City Council Strengthens Affordable Housing Program
Seattle -- The Seattle City Council South Lake Union Committee voted unanimously on an amendment to produce more workforce affordable housing in the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood by strengthening the incentive zoning program. The agreement is a compromise between two existing amendments offered by Councilmembers, which were introduced in last week's SLU Committee meeting. Consensus was built around the need to strengthen the incentive zoning program without discouraging development.
"Today's decision is an important, modest step toward securing more affordable workforce housing in South Lake Union, so that people at all income levels who work in the neighborhood have a chance to live there," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien. "This is a community of opportunity where the city is investing over $500 million in public infrastructure, and I think it only fair that the benefits of this redevelopment are shared more broadly."
The legislation to strengthen incentive zoning includes a 43% increase in the residential pay-in-lieu price (from $15.15 to $21.68), effectively immediately, and a 33% increase in the commercial price that will be phased in over eighteen months (to $29.71). These prices are paid on a percent of square-foot basis in exchange for additional height and building capacity. Collectively, these provisions will produce an estimated 733 units of workforce housing in and near the neighborhood. The original legislation would have created an estimated 406 units.
"After collaborating with local businesses and affordable housing advocates, we crafted a sensible solution that goes far beyond the Mayor's status quo proposal and brings affordable workforce housing to the City's hottest real estate market," said Councilmember Tim Burgess. "Now many more nurses, school teachers, construction workers and other working families can call this booming neighborhood home."
"The Council's adjustments in this legislation and the overall commitment to seeing workforce-priced units actually built in these developments will help more working people find homes in South Lake Union near jobs and transit," said Council President Sally J. Clark. "That's good for employees and good for employers."
"These amendments strengthen one of our tools to generate more workforce housing in South Lake Union," said Councilmember Richard Conlin, chair of the Special Committee on South Lake Union. "I look forward to working with stakeholders and housing experts to both refine our incentive zoning program and also increase the supply of affordable housing city-wide."
"It all goes back to why so many people come to Seattle -- they come because we are a city of inclusive neighborhoods, not just a copy of someplace else. A strengthened incentive zoning program reaffirms our commitment to inclusive and affordable neighborhoods," said Councilmember Jean Godden.
"These amendments, while not a bold leap, are reasonable steps in the right direction. This is only a modest beginning for making housing in Seattle more affordable for average folks," said Councilmember Nick Licata. "We cannot continue to see workers forced to move ever further from the city and drive long distances to work here. The solution is clearly to require developers to provide substantially more affordable housing."
The Council last updated the incentive zoning program in 2008, establishing the goal of producing 5% of affordable workforce residential units in the neighborhood of the development. The Council will also consider similar fee adjustments to the downtown incentive housing program to take effect in 2014.
"Even with this step, we need to go further by engaging in the process laid out in Resolution 31444 to review and update of Seattle's incentive zoning and other affordable housing programs, so we can begin to bridge the gap between our affordable housing needs and the amount we are currently producing," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien.
City Council plans to vote on the full South Lake Union rezone proposal at the May 6 Full Council meeting at 2:00pm in Council Chambers.