Hot Topics & Frequently Asked Questions

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How do developer mandates for affordable housing work?
Under the Mandatory Housing Affordability program (MHA) adopted as part of Mayor Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability agenda, for the first time the City will require new residential developments to include affordable housing onsite, or pay for its construction elsewhere in the City. This will generate more than 6,000 affordable homes in the next decade. Since the City's goal is to steer development and reduce displacement near light rail stations, at the heart of urban villages, and close to parks and schools, upzoning in such areas might allow for 1-2 more stories of building capacity, and developers would need to make even greater investments in affordable housing to take advantage of that capacity. Developer mandates are being phased in, and already apply downtown and in South Lake Union. Zoning changes to support MHA are being implemented in 28 other areas identified as urban centers, urban villages and areas already zoned for apartments and commercial buildings, starting with the University District.

On Oct. 17, 2016, Mayor Murray joined seven councilmembers in announcing proposed updates to MHA aimed at producing even more affordable housing and addressing growing displacement risk in several neighborhoods:

  • Adopting a tiered approach in areas such as the U District that are receiving a development capacity increases greater than the typical one-story increase proposed as part of original MHA. This would support higher development capacity - potentially several additional stories - that would be tied to even greater developer investments in affordable housing.
  • Moving some areas at higher risk of displacement - including the Central District, Chinatown/ID and parts of the Rainier Valley - into zones with higher developer requirements to reflect updated market conditions and stem displacement.

To learn more about the Mandatory Affordability Housing Program, visit http://www.seattle.gov/hala.


Does Seattle enforce rent control?
Rent control is currently prohibited under Washington State law. The road to lifting the rent control ban would likely take years, face steep opposition, and it is uncertain that it will provide the outcomes many are hoping for. Our housing crisis is hurting Seattle families, and it requires bold and actionable solutions in the near future.

As we grow, we must ensure that we create communities that are economically diverse and provide affordability for all incomes. Based on recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) committee, I have put together a comprehensive action plan that will help us build 50,000 new units of housing over the next decade, including 20,000 affordable units for those earning 0-80% percent of Seattle's area median income (AMI). Housing Seattle: A Roadmap to an Affordable and Livable City lays out a path for making housing in Seattle affordable for all.  

Addressing the housing affordability crisis is not just about adding more housing capacity. We must ensure that growth and new development contribute to our affordable housing stock. For the first time, we are requiring new development to either pay a fee for affordable housing or include it on-site. For multifamily development, the Residential Mandatory Housing Affordability Program will require developers to set aside five to eight percent of their units for those making 60 percent of AMI - $37,680 for an individual or $53,760 for a family of four - or make a payment that will build equivalent, if not more, affordable housing.  Likewise, the Mandatory Housing Affordability Program for Commercial development will require commercial developers to make payments that will be used to build affordable housing.  

For decades, the Seattle Housing Levy has helped those most in need in Seattle. The levy has funded over 12,000 affordable apartments for seniors, low- and moderate-wage workers, and formerly homeless individuals and families; provided down-payment loans to more than 800 first-time homebuyers; and given rental assistance to more than 6,500 households. By increasing the Seattle Housing Levy, we will build on the work being done today and help more of our neighbors find affordable housing and rental assistance.  

The HALA plan is an important and unprecedented step towards achieving our shared goal of making Seattle livable and affordable for all. Its recommendations will create economically diverse communities by building affordable housing in every neighborhood throughout the city.  We have actionable solutions to make housing more affordable and equitable. Please visit murray.seattle.gov/housing to learn more about our plan for housing affordability.  

Homeless encampments

This fall, Mayor Murray launched Pathways Home - a long-term strategy for Seattle to transform our current system into one that has a greater impact for people living unsheltered and prioritizes getting people into permanent, stable housing. However, there are people and communities in need today, and in October Mayor Murray announced the Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home action plan. This plan recognizes that the City should not displace encampments that do not pose health and safety risks or unlawfully obstruct public spaces unless the City can offer a safer alternative place to live. Part of this interim plan involves finding safe spaces for people to stay while we work to move people into housing.

In choosing the new authorized encampment sites, the City evaluated dozens of sites, largely those that are City-owned and could be available very quickly. The assessment included a concerted effort to geographically distribute the sites across the city and to ensure that no encampment was within 1 mile of any other sanctioned encampment. The sites also had to meet the requirements of the existing encampment ordinance, including location in non-residential zones, proximity to transit, and minimum lot size of 5000 square feet, among others.

A review by the Seattle Police Department on managed encampments, sited at faith-based organizations, showed that these sites have no significant uptick in neighborhood crime, nor have the authorized, managed encampments in Ballard and Interbay seen an increase in criminal activity. Even so, Mayor Murray recognizes that many residents are concerned about the impacts a new homeless encampment may have on their neighborhood.

The City will prioritize the safety and cleanliness of the communities hosting these new encampments. The Seattle Police Department will increase patrols in the immediate area, and the Community Policing Team will work closely with staff and residents and neighbors of the encampments. All sites will have regularly scheduled garbage pickup. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is stepping up its efforts to pick up garbage in rights of way, and has initiated a program to pick up needles within 24 hours of notification. Citizens can report garbage or needles in rights of way to the City's 24-hour reporting line for illegal dumping at 206-684-7587.

One of the City's new encampment locations, the 86th & Nesbit site, will operate as a low barrier encampment. Low barrier sites are designed to meet people as they are and haver fewer restrictions than traditional shelters.  Residents may bring their partners, pets and possessions. Residents with substance use disorders are not barred. Because we are relaxing restrictions in this location, we will also increase staffing to facilitate greater access to critical services and provide security.

Encampments are emergency survival services and not a solution for homelessness. As laid out in our Bridging the Gap plan, we must provide a safer alternative for individuals who are not ready to come inside and in the interim as the City implements its Pathways Home plan to address the homelessness crisis.

If you have further comments or questions, please contact George Scarola, Director of Homelessness, at george.scarola@seattle.gov. Once encampments are opened, the community may contact encampment operators directly.  Each encampment will have a Community Advisory Council, whose members will include the operator, community members and encampment residents. The meetings will be monthly and open to the public.

  City's role in permitting King County Children and Family Justice Center
Given racial disparities in the criminal justice system, some have raised concerns about a new youth justice center approved by King County voters in 2012, and have asked the City to reject the County's permit application.

The City of Seattle issues nearly 800 master use permits annually. Those permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) according to technical criteria having to do solely with land use and environmental issues. King County applied for a master use permit for the new Children and Family Justice Center, with a decision from SDCI to be announced shortly. King County has designed and is funding the project, which resulted from a 2012 levy supported by County voters.

The Office of the Mayor cannot intervene in any permitting decision, including this one, as it is a technical decision based on the County's application. As the City Hearing Examiner's decision on Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle clarified, the City must base any permit decision on the technical design facts in a permit application, and not on any policy considerations.

Mayor Murray recognizes that significant racial disparities exist in our City and ultimately our goal is to keep all young people from entering the criminal justice system. He has and will continue to direct City resources to ending these disparities in foundational areas such as education, employment, and criminal justice. Mayor Murray's efforts to provide more opportunity and to address long-standing racial disparities have included:

  • Massive expansion of the City's Youth Jobs Program - the program has expanded to 2,300 youth jobs in 2015 from 650 when Mayor Murray took office through partnerships with City agencies, non-profit partners and private sector businesses.
  • For their first project, Mayor Murray directed the Bloomberg Philanthropy-funded Innovation Team to examine disparities facing African-American and East African young men. As a result of their work, Mayor Murray's Office is now supporting a new set of programming that will connect youth and families to services and prevent them from entering the justice system. This includes the launch of a program that brings together justice and service agencies to provide wraparound supports for 18 to 24 year old youth identified as most at risk of violence; support for a new family violence program that diverts youth to services before entering the criminal justice system; and changes to programs and practices that will improve cultural responsivity and better serve African-American and African immigrant families experiencing family violence and conflict.
  • In response to a gap in how schools are serving African-American students that has lasted for generations, Mayor Murray convened the first Education Summit in 25 years. This resulted in a series of recommendations, backed by leaders in education, business, philanthropy and higher education specifically focused on addressing disparities for African-American youth and other youth of color. In this year's budget, the City made an initial investment for expanding the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program for African-American males; new culturally-specific summer learning programs run by community based organizations; expanding the "13th Year" to provide a chance for a free first year of college for Seattle Public School students; and launching a pilot "Innovation High School" expanding a model that has been used at middle schools doing the most to close the opportunity gap in the City and state. Further addressing education, last year, Mayor Murray and the City Council launched the Seattle Preschool Program, the beginning of providing high-quality preschool for all Seattle families.  In its first year, the program served 280 kids, 75 percent of whom are children of color. The program doubled this year and will continue to grow each year.
  • Mayor Murray has continuously worked with the Department of Justice to reform the Seattle Police Department, which is now recognized as a national model in police reform, including innovations in anti-bias training, use of force policies, and de-escalation tactics-all reforms aimed at improving the relationship between officers and Seattle's communities of color.

What's the City doing to increase police accountability?
On October 7, 2016, the City filed a legislative package with the Federal Court overseeing the Consent Decree that creates transparent, trustworthy accountability structures with avenues for community input. The legislative package is a key piece of the process to reform the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The legislation includes many of the recommendations set forth by the Community Police Commission (CPC), and incorporates technical advice provided by the Federal Court and Monitor overseeing the Consent Decree. It creates the most significant civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department in this city's history. The legislation will: 

  • Create an independent office of the Inspector General, entirely external to SPD, to provide evidence-based audits and analysis of SPD policies, procedures and practices, and ensure that SPD maintains its standard of excellence and its commitment to and practice of constitutional policing; 
  • Increase the independence of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) by replacing sworn SPD personnel with civilian staff tasked with overseeing all investigations of complaints against officers, and ensure that OPA has the resources and internal mechanisms necessary to conduct fair, thorough, and timely investigations; and
  • Make permanent the CPC, enhancing its duties beyond those set forth by the Consent Decree to ensure the community is heard and that people of this City, especially those whose voices are often most marginalized, have a permanent place at the table to mandate police accountability today and in the future. 

This is a great step forward, but we still have far to go in this process and to pass final reform legislation. Once the Court has completed its review of the proposed legislation, the City will begin its formal legislative process that will include additional community engagement and opportunities for public comment. 

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) federal monitoring team recently released findings indicating that SPD's performance with communities of color has improved over the last year, with fewer people reporting problems with their interactions with SPD and more residents feeling that SPD is keeping them safe. Mayor Murray is proud of the progress that has been made and eager to continue this work in partnership with the entire community. He's  committed to getting police reform and accountability right, and believes that together we can make SPD a model for the nation in community-driven policing.  

North Police Precinct funding
Seattle's population is rising at an unprecedented rate, and the existing North Precinct no longer meets the public safety needs of a fast-growing city. It is vastly overcrowded, housing 250 personnel when it was originally built for 154 staff, and also has a variety of deficiencies. It is no longer adequate for a precinct that is responsible for all of Seattle's land area north of the Ship Canal, which includes about 40 percent of the City's population, or roughly 280,000 people.  For comparison, the rest of the city's population (60 percent) is served by four police precincts. While the North Precinct must be replaced, we must also ensure that we are meeting the needs of the community and our police service.

In September, Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Debora Juarez, Lorena González and Mayor Murray announced that the City will review the North Precinct facility proposal, citing concerns around equity, cost and community needs. The City will follow a recently-passed Council resolution and conduct a Racial Equity Toolkit review of the proposal, and review key design elements that increased the project cost. While building a single precinct would save the city money and allow for a central training and community engagement location, other options for serving the area may be considered as well. This includes exploring the possibility of building two precincts instead of one, even though this option would likely be costlier.

The City still strongly believes there is a need for a new police facility in North Seattle and remains committed to replacing the current inadequate building. The original funding plan for the project included a mix of cash financing and almost $100 million in bonds. Given that the project will not move forward next year, the 2017 budget will not seek this funding.  

By conducting a Racial Equity Toolkit review of the proposal, and reevaluating the cost of the project, we will ensure that we best serve the communities within the North Precinct's jurisdiction and all of Seattle.

City relationship with Wells Fargo
Mayor Murray was deeply troubled by revelations that Wells Fargo created millions of fraudulant accounts, violating the trust of customers and institutions like the City of Seattle that work with the bank. On October 7, 2016, Mayor Murray notified Wells Fargo that the City is cancelling a planned deal with the bank for $100 million in bond financing for Seattle City Light. He also outlined expectations that Wells Fargo will provide the City with information about how it will rectify the issues that have come to light , make amends to those harmed and ensure it will not happen again. This information will come into play as the City considers its future relationship with Wells Fargo.

While canceling this current bond financing deal is an immediate action the City can take in light of Wells Fargo's reprehensible actions, terminating the City's contract with Wells Fargo for general banking services is not that simple. State law and City requirements limit the financial institutions that can provide banking services to the City to a handful of the nation's largest banks. Some have suggested the City use a smaller bank or credit union for the City's banking needs. However, this is virtually impossible due to requirements related to a bank's total net worth and collateral, as well as its capacity to process up to $450 million in deposits and an adequate number of branches to serve the City's 80 payment centers. The current contract with Wells Fargo for banking services started Jan. 1, 2013, and extends through Dec. 31, 2018, with the option of five additional one-year extensions. Wells Fargo was selected for this contract through an open, competitive bid process in 2012. One factor that made Wells Fargo competitive in this process was its commitment to socially responsible banking practices, which is currently required by City ordinance. It has followed through on these contract requirements by providing service and outreach to all members of our community, including work with the Bank On Financial Empowerment Network and support of Express Credit Union in providing financial education and services for low- and middle-income households and the unbanked. While the City appreciates what Wells Fargo has provided in connection with our socially responsible banking efforts and our overall banking needs, the recent allegations have undermined our confidence in Wells Fargo as a trusted partner. As the Mayor wrote to Wells Fargo executives in his October 7 letter, a good faith effort to transparently reform its business practices and make reparations to those harmed will be required to rebuild that trust.  

What's the Mayor's position on safe injection sites?
Seattle, like much of the nation and many West Coast ciies, is facing an epidemic of heroin and prescription opiate abuse. In 2014 there were 156 heroin-related deaths in King County, the highest number in 20 years, and thousands of people receive methadone treatment in our region every year. Substance abuse is closely linked to homelessness and crime in Seattle, and addressing the problem will require a bold approach, including harm reduction.

On September 19th, Mayor Murray joined a group of public health officials from Seattle and Vancouver, Canada to tour Vancouver's supervised injection site, Insite. One of the recommendations of the Heroin Task Force convened by Mayor Murray, County Executive Dow Constantine, and the Mayors of Renton and Auburn was to open multiple sites similar to this one, so the visit was an opportunity to learn about this effort from our neighbors.

The first thing that stood out was the number of lives they've saved; some 5,000 overdoses have occurred at Insite since its inception and yet there has not been a single fatality to date. This success in keeping people alive means that the public health teams in Vancouver then have the opportunity to help people move into treatment as part of the continuum of care for people with substance abuse disorders.  

Ultimately, we as a city, a state and a nation need to do everything we can to help those facing substance abuse disorders and prevent others from experiencing addiction. This fall, the Seattle Police Department was able to revive a person who had overdosed by administering Naloxone, the twelfth time they have done so successfully since the program was implemented this spring. But we have to do more. Mayor Murray believes Seattle can draw on Vancouver's experience with Insite as we develop our response. 

SODO arena proposal and KeyArena renovation RFP
Mayor Murray is committed to building a state of the art arena and bringing the NBA back to Seattle, and believes the City has a responsibility to carefully weigh proposals brought forth by multiple organizations, as well as ensure the long-term viability of Seattle Center.

This fall the City was presented with a proposal from the Chris Hansen-led investment group to privately fund an arena in SODO. Mayor Murray's staff is reviewing the proposal and will continue to work with Mr. Hansen on the feasibility of the SODO location. There are many considerations to building an arena in SODO, including impacts to freight and traffic mobility. The City would also need to revisit the street vacation at Occidental Avenue South and additional public costs and weigh the public benefit the City would receive in return.

In a concurrent process, the City has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to solicit specific plans from private parties interested in redeveloping City-run KeyArena. AEG and The Oak View Group have reached out to the City indicating they may be interested, and this process may reveal others. A study by AECOM has shown that an extensive renovation of KeyArena could provide a civic venue that would serve the needs of tenants, fans and the surrounding neighborhood. These proposals would join, not replace, the one put forth by Chris Hansen's group. Both processes will undergo extensive community engagement and City Council consideration. This Key Arena RFP process does not replace an existing MOU between the City and Mr. Hansen's group.

Contact the Mayor's Office