FAQ

Myth versus Fact One-sheet

Some of the questions we have heard so far, always updating.

Where are the urban villages / what is my zoning?

What is the Housing and Affordability and LIvability Agenda (HALA)
Why do we need a Housing and Affordability Agenda?
What is the goal of the HALA recommendations and Mayor Murray's action plan?
What is the definition of affordable housing and who will it serve?

What type of recommendations did the HALA committee make?
I heard about future zoning changes, why are they being talked about?
What is the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirement?
What changes might I expect in my neighborhood?
Why do we need to change zoning if we already have capacity for 220,000 more housing units?
Aren't there changes coming to all Single Family zones?
When will the Seattle Housing Levy proposal be available to the public for input?
What do parking requirements have to do with affordable housing?
Doesn't eliminating off-street parking requirements make traffic congestion worse and parking even more difficult?
What is the timeline for impementing Mandatory Housing Affordability?
How are you going to preserve existing affordable units in older buildings?

What is the plan for perserving existing communities and not leading to more displacement?
What are the proposed changes to Design Review and Historic Review?
How is the goal of 20,000 affordable homes in 10 years reached?
Why does HALA recommend removing housing barriers for people with criminal histories?
What is being proposed regarding Sharia-compliant lending?

Housing Levy Weekly Wonk Video  Zoning 101 Weekly Wonk Video 


Where are the urban villages / what is my zoning?

Interactive map of Seattle urban villages and zoning

What is the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)

The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) is a comprehensive and multi-prong approach to create an affordable and livable city. In September of 2014, Mayor Murray and City Council called together leaders in our community to help develop a bold agenda for increasing the affordability and availability of housing in our city by convening a Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee. The twenty-eight member stakeholder Advisory Committee included renters and homeowners, social justice and labor advocates, for-profit and non-profit developers and other local housing experts. After months of deliberation, they reached consensus and in July 2015 and published a report with 65 recommendations to consider.  Shortly thereafter Mayor Murray published an Action Plan to Address Seattle's Affordability Crisis signaling an intention for the City to carry forward many of the HALA Committee recommendations.  This work is ongoing.

Why Do We Need a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda?

•·         The HALA recommendations respond to a critical need. 40,000 Seattle low-income households spend more than half their income on housing. 2,800 people are sleeping on the streets.

•·         Rents are beyond the reach of many working families. Fewer homes are for sale today than any time in the last 10 years.

•·         Even with a new $15 minimum wage, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is out of reach for a single-person household minimum wage worker.

What is the goal of the HALA recommendations and Mayor Murray's action plan?

To create an affordable, livable Seattle.

•·         The HALA recommendations represent a multi-pronged strategy to create thousands of new affordable homes in neighborhoods across the city. Individuals and families in Seattle will have improved access to housing.

•·         Mayor Murray set a bold goal of 50,000 homes, including preservation and production of 20,000 net new affordable homes, over the next 10 years, and this comprehensive agenda gets us there.

What is the definition of affordable housing and who will it serve?

Housing is considered affordable to a household if it costs no more than 30% of a household's income. Household income is typically shown as a percentage of the Area Median Income (AMI). The chart below shows the range of incomes for the Seattle area based on family size. Most programs proposed as part of HALA are targeted at serving households with incomes up to 30%, 60%, or 80% of AMI. 

  

Income Limits (2015)

Income limit

Household Size

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

30% of AMI

$18,850

$21,550

$24,250

$26,900

$29,100

$31,200

$33,360

$35,490

60% of AMI

$37,680

$43,020

$48,420

$53,760

$58,080

$62,400

$66,720

$70,980

80% of AMI

$50,240

$57,360

$64,560

$71,680

$77,440

$83,200

$88,960

$94,640

What type of recommendations did the HALA committee make?

The HALA recommendations, and the Mayor's Action Plan reflect many different approaches to making housing less costly to build, and more affordable for residents, while protecting Seattle's livability.  A brief overview of several key actions is below, but please read the report for full descriptions.

- Renew and increase the Seattle Housing Levy
- Maximize surplus and underutilized public property for affordable housing
- Create a new housing preservation property tax exemption
- Implement a Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirement for new development
- Strengthen tenant protection laws
- Prevent renters from discrimination based on source of income
- Remove barriers to housing for people with criminal histories
- Improve City permitting coordination and reform the design review process
- Modify building and construction codes to encourage economic types of construction

I have heard about future zoning changes, why are they being talked about?

Throughout Seattle's history we've changed zoning to accommodate new plans for neighborhoods, to reflect new investments in transit or to stimulate new development in certain areas. Currently, our city is growing at a rapid rate, but the market is leaving many low- and moderate-income families behind. The zoning changes proposed by HALA are intended to promote an important priority for Seattle:  affordability.  The zoning changes proposed for multifamily, commercial and mixed use areas will be made at the same time the City implements its new mandatory housing affordability requirement. 

What is the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirement?

Mandatory Housing Affordability is a new requirement for developers of each new commercial and multi-family residential development to either include affordable housing as part of their development, or make a payment to support affordable housing in Seattle.  In exchange for creating affordable housing, developers will be able to access additional zoning capacity. Other cities within the region such as Issaquah, Kirkland, and Federal Way have already begun to use this program to address affordable housing needs. MHA, when adopted, would increase the size of allowable development and include an affordable housing requirement. 

MHA will ensure that new affordable housing dedicated to households with lower incomes is created as the City continues to grow. MHA will create an estimated 6,000 net new units of affordable housing over 10 years for households with incomes no higher than 60% of the area median income (AMI) -- $38,000 for an individual and $54,000 for a family of 4.  Current monthly market-rate rents in new buildings on Seattle's Capitol Hill currently average $1,887. Currently, an individual with an income equal to or less than 60 percent of AMI would pay $1,100 for a new studio apartment.

The conversation on how this program could work in Seattle as well as any changes in zoning is just beginning.  The community has a real opportunity to help shape MHA and the related zoning changes that will be discussed and ultimately approved by City Council, in later 2016 for South Lake Union and Downtown, and no earlier than 2017 in the remainder of the city.

What changes might I expect in my neighborhood?

Potential changes in zoning would be limited to areas designated as an Urban Village, Urban Villlage expansion areas(if modified in the Comprehensive Plan process and areas already zoned for commercial or multifamily development. 

Interactive Urban Village and Zoning Map

If you live in a single family house in a single family zoned area outside of an Urban Village no changes to zoning are being proposed.

If you live in a single family house within an Urban Village, implementation of MHA will require some zoning changes.  These zoning changes are not expected until 2017 after a community engagement process. The character and scale of any potential zoning changes will be discussed as part of the process, and may include zoning for housing types that are complimentary to neighborhoods.   

Why do we need to change zoning if we already have capacity for 220,000 more housing units?

For Seattle as a whole, there is theoretical zoning capacity for approximately 220,000 more housing units. However, zoning is not used for the single reason of adding capacity. In this proposal, additional zoning capacity is necessary to ensure the city's future growth addresses, in part, our critical housing affordability needs. Commercial and multifamily development in areas where development capacity is not increased will not have the mandatory affordable housing requirement.

Aren't there changes coming to all Single Family zones?

No, Mayor Murray has announced he will no longer pursue changes that could allow more types of housing in single-family zones outside of urban villages and proposed expansion areas. (Over 94% of all Single Family zoned land). Instead, he hopes to refocus the discussion on designing vibrant, livable, walkable Urban Centers, Urban Villages and transit corridors that are good locations for more affordable housing.

When will the Seattle Housing Levy proposal be available to the public for input?

The Housing Levy has been transmitted to City Council and they are holding public hearings now to gather public input on the final ballot measure.  For more information on what was included in the Mayor's proposal please go to the levy site.

Why were recommendations on parking part of HALA and what does it have to do with affordable housing?

Requiring off-street parking affects the cost of housing.  Requiring new apartment buildings to add off-street parking (garages) adds to the overall cost of construction, thus raising rents and limiting the number of housing able to be built.  Modifications to parking requirements are being considered for areas that are close to frequent transit service.

Doesn't eliminating off-street parking requirements make traffic congestion worse and parking even more difficult?

Seattle is expected to grow by 120,000 people in the next 20 years.  We simply won't be able to accommodate a new car for every new person.  That's why we remain committed to creating public transportation solutions to be better able to move people efficiently throughout the city. Thanks to Seattle voters, we are in the process of dramatically increasing public transit service across the city.  More and more options are being created such as Uber and car share, and bicycling paths and pedestrian walkways are being improved throughout the city.  This increase in transit will bring reliable and frequent service to 70% of Seattle.  Additionally, existing law still allows builders to build parking if the market demands it. For example, apartment complexes can choose to build on-site parking or work with private parking garages or lots in innovative ways.

What is the timeline for implementing Mandatory Housing Affordability?

In the fall of 2015 the City Council passed the initial MHA framework for commercial development (referred to as MHA-C).  This legislation outlined MHA-C basics including the affordable housing performance set-aside and payment amounts for commercial zones throughout the city. Legislation enacting a similar framework for residential development (MHA-R) is expected to go to City Council in the first half of this year.  Both the MHA-C and MHA-R framework legislation lay important groundwork for the affordable housing requirement for new development in Seattle.  The goal of MHA is to increase the affordability and availability of housing as the city grows.  The new affordability requirements do not go into effect until zoning changes are adopted by City Council.

How are you going to preserve existing affordable units in older buildings?

Many of Seattle's older buildings are an important source of low cost housing.  It's important that we find a tool that helps preserve these properties.  The City is seeking state authorization for a Preservation Tax Exemption, which would create a local option in Washington for a 15-year tax exemption for property owners who agree to set aside 25 percent of the apartments in their buildings for lower-income tenants (earning no more than approximately $38,000 annually for a one person household). The voluntary program will maintain affordability, improve housing health and quality, and prevent displacement of long time community members. Properties enrolled in the program would be inspected and required to meet minimum health and quality standards.  The proposal is part of this year's legislative agenda.  A bill co-sponsored by Senators Joe Fain (R- South King County), and David Frockt (D- North Seattle) is currently being considered by the Legislature.

What is the plan for preserving existing communities and not leading to more displacement?

The City is promoting aggressive investment strategies to preserve and expand housing affordability, which will help ensure that people with low incomes can afford to stay in their communities. These strategies include acquiring and renovating existing affordable housing, providing owners with tax incentives to keep rents low, and building new affordable housing developments in neighborhoods at high risk of displacement. In addition, the City has incorporated racial and social equity values and anti-displacement policies in its draft Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which will guide density, investments and growth in a manner that takes into account the risk of displacement caused by policy changes.

What are the proposed changes to Design Review and Historic Review?
Design Review and Historic Review are critical to ensure new buildings contribute positively to our neighborhoods.  However, these tools add unpredictability and time to the process of bringing new housing online, which ultimately adds cost and decreases affordability.  Through legislation, the City will improve these processes to continue their important functions in a way that improves predictability and consistency. What are historic areas and areas of cultural significance?


How is the goal of 20,000 affordable homes in 10 years reached?
Achieving the goal of 20,000 affordable homes will take an aggressive investment strategy that calls on all our partners to be part of the solution.  Locally, this means funding from the Seattle Housing Levy, units built Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and payments from the Commercial Linkage Fee, and surplus property revenue.  The plan is also a call to action to the state and federal governments to match local commitments and reinvest in our shared commitment to creating affordable communities. Federal resources will be crucial not only for financing new housing, but also for funding supportive services and operations of housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Why does HALA recommend removing housing barriers for people with criminal histories?
Deep-rooted inequalities in the criminal justice system have created lasting effects on communities of color that have created barriers to housing. Stable housing ensures all people can engage with their communities. Studies show that people with stable housing are more likely to successfully reintegrate into society and less likely to reoffend. Furthering fair housing for all residents is an affirmation of the City's longstanding commitment to race and social justice.

What is being proposed regarding Sharia-compliant lending?
Some Muslims are unable to use conventional mortgage products due to religious convictions.  For our low-and moderate- income Muslim neighbors who follow Sharia law there are limited options for financing a home.  The HALA report recommends the City convene lenders, housing nonprofits and community leaders to explore options for increasing access to privately-funded Sharia-compliant loan products to help these residents become homeowners in Seattle.