- Another important step to increase affordable housing
Mayor Greg Nickels today sent legislation to the City Council to increase the supply of affordable, workforce housing in Seattle. The legislation is modeled after successful programs downtown and requires developers to provide for new affordable housing units, in exchange for permission to build larger buildings.
“For most of us, housing is our biggest expense. This is another important step to make sure Seattle has housing available that’s affordable to our firefighters, bus drivers, grocery clerks, teachers and nurses,” said Nickels.
The Workforce Housing Incentive establishes a framework for land use regulations, but the proposal by itself does not change existing neighborhood zoning. Any increase in height or density would require separate review and extensive public input.
Similar to the long-time downtown programs, commercial and residential developers requesting increased heights and greater floor area would have to commit 11% of the increased space to workforce housing on site, contribute to a city housing fund to create affordable housing, or provide other community amenities such as open space.
For renters, the new housing would have to be affordable to those making up to 80% of median income--$45,600 for individuals and $52,000 for two-person households. For home buyers, the housing would have to be affordable to those earning below area median income, approximately $57,000 for individuals and $65,000 for two-person households. Both rental and homeownership units must remain affordable for 50 years.
The downtown incentive programs have been in place for commercial development for more than 20 years, and in 2006 were expanded to include residential development downtown. To date, the programs have generated nearly $42 million for affordable housing, plus contributions to open space, performing arts theaters, child care, and landmarks.
The Workforce Housing Incentive would help ensure that the city’s current and future workforce can live in the city, close to jobs and transit. Increased development rights are currently being considered in south downtown, including Pioneer Square and the Chinatown/International District, South Lake Union, the West Dravus neighborhood, Northgate and the more dense multi-family zones located in urban centers, station areas and most urban villages. The program could be applied to future increases in development rights proposed elsewhere in the city.
With livable neighborhoods and strong job growth, Seattle continues to attract more people. Rising housing prices have put pressure not only on low-income earners, but also on moderate-income workers who don’t qualify for subsidized housing.
This proposal complements the city of Seattle’s long history of addressing the housing needs of poor or low-income earners. During the past 20 years, the Housing Levy and other programs have created more than 11,000 homes for those earning between zero and $45,000 a year.
The city invests approximately $40 million annually to develop and provide operating subsidies for rental housing for people who are homeless and low income; provide down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers who earn less than $44,000 a year; provide direct rental assistance to low-income households in danger of being evicted from their apartments; and provide low-interest or no-interest loans to homeowners who cannot afford life safety repairs to their homes.