State of the City: Building Affordable Housing Across Seattle

In his time in office, Mayor Murray has worked to ensure an affordable and equitable Seattle for all. In the last three years, Mayor Murray and members of the Council have taken action to address the affordability crisis through the most ambitious affordable housing plan in Seattle’s history. The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) sets the City on a path to building 20,000 new affordable homes in the next ten years, three times what would be expected without these policies.

With the new Housing Levy and full passage of the Mandatory Housing Affordability Program, the Mayor and City Council are on pace to more than triple the City’s funding for affordable housing compared to 2012-2013.

Housing Levy
One of the HALA recommendations was to double the Seattle Housing Levy, putting more resources toward housing people with low or no incomes. The 2016 Housing Levy approved by voters last year increases Seattle’s investment in new and preserved affordable housing to $201 million over the seven-year life of the levy. In addition, the 2016 Housing Levy includes $11.5 million for homelessness prevention, $42 million for operating and maintenance funding that allows affordable housing to serve extremely low- or no-income households, and $9.5 million for homeownership programs.

Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA)
Mandatory Housing Affordability is a cornerstone of the HALA goal. When fully implemented it will – for the first time in Seattle’s history – require multifamily and commercial developers to either build or fund affordable housing. Mayor Murray and Council established the commercial and residential MHA framework in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and the City is in the process of passing the rezones necessary to trigger the new affordable housing requirements. The first MHA rezone in the University District is expected imminently, with Downtown and several other neighborhoods to follow before the citywide rezone occurs in 2018. When in place across the city, MHA is projected to create 6,300 affordable housing units over the next 10 years.

Multifamily Tax Exemption
In addition to new City resources, the HALA committee called for the City to renew and expand its partnership with developers to provide income- and rent-restricted affordable housing through the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. In late 2015, the City enacted the expansion, increasing the area covered by the program to all areas where multifamily development is allowed, a nearly 70% increase in area covered by the program. As a result of this change, the number of affordable homes created through MFTE is expected to double between 2015 and 2017.

State and Federal Agenda
As part of HALA, the City is pursuing new State and Federal funds and policies to support affordable housing. At the State Legislature, we are seeking additional real estate excise tax authority and the flexibility to use those funds for affordable housing, as well as a tax exemption program to incentivize the preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing units. In the state budget we are championing reinvestment in the Housing Trust Fund, aiming for the prior high water mark of $200 million after years of erosion. Federally, we are working with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell to advance legislation that would expand the federal Housing Tax Credit program that we use to leverage state and local funding further. Together these strategies provide a framework for funding a significant expansion of affordable housing units in Seattle.

Additional HALA Implementation
The City has already passed and/or implemented a number of the other key elements of HALA, including new tenant protections, improvements to the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, and increased funding for regional transit oriented development. The City continues to work on other HALA initiatives to increase affordability, including increasing access for people with criminal records and parking reforms.

 

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