Seattle unveils new affordable housing recommendations

KING 5's Natalie Brand reports.

SEATTLE - "To be innovative, you have to take risks," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Monday as he unveiled a comprehensive proposal to create more affordable housing in the city.

He released the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee's study and suggestions for creating more housing. The months-long study and report comes with 65 suggestions which, if implemented, would change the nature of one the fastest growing cities in the country.

Murray's group has specifically targeted 16 percent of city-wide land for an "up-zone," which would allow developers to construct taller buildings in exchange for new housing.

In a prepared statement, Murray wrote, "At the heart of the action plan to make Seattle affordable is Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a requirement that developers reserve five to seven percent of units in every new multifamily building to be affordable for residents earning up to 60 percent of King County's Area Median Income (AMI). Developers could opt to contribute to a fund for off-site construction of the units. In 2015, 60 percent of AMI is $37,680 for an individual and $53,760 for a family of four. Current market-rate rents in new buildings on Seattle's Capitol Hill currently average $1,887. In 2015, individuals with incomes of 60 percent of AMI pay $1,008 for income-restricted apartments."

The proposals also call for a change to some single family zones in the city to allow for duplexes and backyard cottages. The committee also recommended changing guidelines for minimum amounts of parking and a new housing levy in 2016.

All the proposals must get city council approval. Council President Tim Burgess signaled on Monday it would take up to two years to implement the suggestions.

Alternative plan proposed, sets stage for debate ahead of historic election

The housing proposal now in the mayor's office was not the only one proposed Monday. Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee member and city council candidate Jon Grant wrote a version of his own.

"I am not in opposition of the mayor's proposal," said Grant. "I just don't think the proposal goes far enough."

Among the most significant differences between Grant's plan and the one sitting in the mayor's office is a more expansive "linkage fee," a charge to developers by the city. Grant wants a linkage fee on residential development, which he believes could raise $1 billion over 10 years - money that would be put towards affordable housing.

Developers, however, have called the fee "illegal." Facing the threat of legal action, the plan supported by the mayor offers a compromise -- a linkage fee only on commercial development.

"It's a combination of some government actions and the marketplace together that are going to create the biggest benefits," said Council President Tim Burgess in defense of the HALA proposal. "That's what all the analysis of this deal showed. We could produce more affordable units by working collaboratively among a wide variety of stakeholders, as opposed to just sloganeering and a few people saying, 'let's stick it to developers.'"

Jon Grant, who is challenging Burgess for his District 8 at-large seat, says "developers need to pay their fair share."

He said the threat of legal action cannot be a deterrent.

"Some of the best public policy was born out of lawsuits," said Grant, who has the support of council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant.

"Every time we try to do something progressive, we see big business to be a big obstacle," said Sawant.

Sawant is also running for re-election. As a Socialist Alternative candidate, she made a $15 minimum wage her last campaign battle. She's now trying to rally a coalition around what she calls housing justice.

"We weren't going to get any progress on $15, let alone a historic victory, unless working people and young people got involved," said Sawant.

Starting next week, all nine current council members will become part of a Housing Affordability Task Force to talk about the recommendations put forward. However, it is likely the new city council will inherit the recommendations since the major proposed changes could take over a year to study and implement.


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