Mayor Murray answers your questions on housing affordability

Housing affordability is a major issue across the city, and a key focus for my administration, City departments and community stakeholders. I recently joined Robert Feldstein, my director of policy and innovation, for a Facebook chat about our efforts under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda to create and preserve thousands of affordable homes, and to address your questions. Watch the video below, and scroll down for a recap, answers to additional questions, and information on how you can get involved.

Why is Seattle facing such a housing affordability issue? 

As our economy and population grow, housing prices and rents have skyrocketed. As a result, thousands of families and workers – particularly lower-income people and among communities of color – are unable to afford the cost of living in Seattle. The thing that’s driving our affordability crisis is our booming economy. We’re anticipating growing by 120,000 people and 115,000 jobs over the next 20 years. If people weren’t moving here for jobs in our booming tech sector and the many attributes that make Seattle a great city, we wouldn’t have an affordability problem. But the answer isn’t to stop growth, but to plan for it and increase affordable housing supplies and reduce displacement.

What is Seattle doing to create more affordable housing?

In late 2014 I convened a group of stakeholders to look at this issue and come up with a set of recommendations. We adopted a multi-pronged approach – our Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) – that includes developer mandates, capital investments through a renewed housing levy, expansion of multifamily tax exemptions, prioritization of surplus property for affordable housing projects, a new set of tenant protections, building preservation programs and other anti-displacement measures.

Through HALA, our goal is to build 50,000 new homes over the next decade, including 20,000 affordable homes – something that’s never happened before in Seattle.

How we get to 20,000 affordable homes: 

  • Capital investments and partnerships with low-income housing providers through the renewed Housing Levy (expected to produce 7,500 units over the next 10 years)
  • Mandating commercial and residential developments build or fund affordable housing (+6,300 units)
  • Preservation property tax exemption (+3,300 units)
  • Expanding tax exemptions for new multifamily developments that agree to set aside 20-25% for affordable units. (+2,100 units)
  • Use surplus properties for affordable housing either by redevelopment as affordable units or proceeds of sales used for that development elsewhere (+1,100 units)
  • Exploring voluntary employer Housing Fund program, as has been done by some companies in Silicon Valley
  • Negotiating with the federal government to allow Medicaid benefits to be used for eligible supportive housing residents
  • Expanding down payment assistance and other homeowner programs

How much progress has been made?

Since the start of 2015, more than 4,400 units of affordable housing have opened, been funded or are under construction. In just the last few weeks we’ve broken ground on more than 200 units of affordable housing developed in partnership with Bellwether Housing in the University District and South Lake Union. In October, 112 affordable units opened at Plaza Roberto Maestas, an El Centro de la Raza project near the Beacon Hill Light Rail station made possible in part through an $8 million Housing Levy grant. More than $34 million in Housing Levy and other funding will be awarded in December.

How can we ensure equitable distribution of affordable housing? 

As part of our Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, we conducted a Growth & Equity Analysis to ensure growth strategies address the needs of marginalized residents and are applied equitably. As we guide affordable housing development through HALA, we’re focusing on urban villages throughout the City – 28 areas with access to high-frequency transit, parks and schools. Zoning incentives, developer mandates, expanded multi-family tax exemption programs, Housing Levy and other City funding of new construction and preservation projects are being applied in a geographically equitable manner so affordable housing options might bring people together, rather than drive them apart.

 

What’s considered affordable and who’s eligible for assistance?

Housing is generally considered affordable to a household if it costs no more than 30% of a household’s income. More than 107,000 Seattle households pay more than 30% of their income for housing, and more than 46,000 Seattle households spend more than half their income on housing.

We’re focused on range of affordable options to assist people with no income, to those on fixed incomes or who need assistance buying their first home. Most programs that are part of HALA are targeted at households with incomes up to 30%, 60%, or 80% of area median income. For instance, the MHA program – developer mandates – require housing be made available to households earning under 60% of area median income – about $38,000 for an individual or $54,000 for a family of four.

 

Why not adopt rent control?

Rent control is prohibited by the State of Washington. Overturning it would take years and not address current affordability crisis, nor ensure more affordability (see: San Francisco). While that may be a fight worth having, right now we’re focused on acting to ensure neighborhoods are economically diverse and provide affordability for all incomes.

 

What’s the City doing to protect tenants?

In just he last year we’ve passed several measures to protect renters:

  • We expanded Source of Income protections and are working on reducing housing barriers for those with criminal records. Under new rules, property owners may not refuse to rent to tenants with Section 8 subsidies or alternative sources of income such as disability, Social Security or child support
  • Property owners may not give move-in discounts or other favorable terms for tenants who work for certain employers.
  • We adopted a “first in time rule” which requires property owner to rent to the first applicant who meets necessary screening criteria.
  • Property owners may not raise rent if their building is substandard and/or not up to code.

 

How do developer mandates work?

For the first time the City is requiring developers of commercial and residential projects contribute to affordable housing by building it onsite, or paying for its construction elsewhere in the City. This will generate more than 6,000 affordable homes in the next decade. Since our goal is to steer development and reduce displacement in urban villages, upzoning could allow for an additional couple 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 areas identified as urban centers, urban villages or areas already zoned for apartments and commercial buildings. Mandates are not being applied in areas zoned for single-family housing, but the City is exploring how more types of housing might be supported in these areas.

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

1) 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.

2) 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.

 

What areas will get higher MHA requirements?

The U District, which has gone through more than five years of community planning, is the first neighborhood where we’re proposing zoning changes tied to MHA requirements. With light rail opening in we’re focusing future housing and employment density in areas with the most accessibility to the station. Our proposal for zoning changes in U District are accompanied by other city investments in open space, transportation and services to ensure a walkable, equitable, vibrant urban center.

Under new proposals to increase affordable housing production through MHA, Chinatown/International District, Central Area and parts of Rainier Valley would be moved to a High-MHA designation to reflect updated rent data and the City’s analysis of higher displacement risk.

North Beacon Hill, North Rainier, and Columbia City, Northgate, and Crown Hill development would be moved from low-MHA requirements to medium-MHA requirements.

Mandatory Housing Affordability proposed implementation area

 

Won’t mandates discourage development, or lead to even higher prices? 

Increasing development capacity is one of the ways we can achieve greater affordability. The MHA program is based on an exchange of value: Through upzones, developers can build more market-rate units to meet demand, and must make greater investments in affordable housing to do so. Those units must be built onsite as a set percentage of building size, or fund development elsewhere through the Housing Levy, affordable housing partners and other programs that ensure equitable development or housing preservation throughout the city. We project that increased performance requirements will lead to an additional 200-300 affordable housing units on top of the original program goal of 6,000. The MHA program can be re-calibrated to guard against unintended consequences, and we’ll be closely monitoring the affordable housing production and making changes as necessary.

 

How is the City encouraging more family-oriented housing?

Multifamily tax exemptions have helped create thousands of units of affordable housing designed for families. We’ve expanded that program to every neighborhood, so more two- and three-bedroom units can come on line and be available to more families.

 

What about micro-housing?

Small housing units are a good, lower cost option for many tenants. Innovative builders have made Seattle a national leader in micro-housing. In 2014, the City Council passed new regulations to clarify how the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections regulates this type of housing, ensuring greater design review. The City continues to encourage both Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDUs) that have a minimum size of 220 square feet, and in certain locations (i.e. urban villages) Congregate Residences that can have shared kitchens and can be even smaller. We are continuing to monitor production of SEDUs and Congregate Residences, and expect to evaluate how they can be a part of the housing solution in the future.

 

How can we preserve neighborhood character?

I understand concerns that density and taller buildings may detract from neighborhood character. The City is working hard to ensure that upzones do not come at the expense of livability. We provide incentives for historic preservation and are directing growth to the core of urban villages to avoid large buildings right next to single-family homes. We’re applying new development standards for attractive and varied buildings, and implementing new affordable housing requirements and incentives to encourage a variety of housing types. HALA and urban village plans such as the one adopted for the U District after much public input contain incentives and requirements for open space, historic preservation, social services, and other community priorities. Along with affordable, family-oriented housing options, we’re working to increase commercial affordability so more people can work near where they live and have easy access to restaurants, shopping and services. As the city grows, we must maintain the uniqueness and high quality of life made possible by diverse neighborhoods and are working with neighborhoods to get that right. To weigh in on urban village plans and zoning proposals, visit Hala.Consider.It.

 

Is there state and federal assistance for affordable housing? 

Housing affordability is an issue facing every county. We need the state to expand the housing trust fund to $200 million. You can help by contacting state legislators about this issue. And we need the federal government to recognize that fully funding opioid treatment and anti-poverty measures will better allow cities to address issues of homelessness and housing affordability. These issues are connected.

 

What’s the public process on HALA and how can I be involved?

The public engagement process for HALA started in July 2015, followed by a citywide kick off in January 2016 for the HALA community focus groups comprised of over 180 participants who have met monthly to provide the City with feedback. City staff have attended over 70 community meetings and have had thousands of in-person contacts as well as a strong online dialogue like my recent online Q&A.

Beginning in November, the City will hold five community meetings throughout Seattle to share more about the proposal and receive feedback from residents. For those who cannot attend a meeting, or to review the proposals and weigh in, visit Hala.Consider.It.

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Mayor Murray Directs Negotiation of Civic Square Deal, Proceeds to Fund Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

Today, Mayor Ed Murray sent a mayoral directive to Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to negotiate the sale of the Civic Square project to Bosa Development and direct the proceeds to establish a new Equitable Development Fund. The sale would also net $5.7 million in funds for affordable housing, meeting or exceeding the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program requirement. Combined, nearly $22 million from this sale will go to equity and affordability projects around the City.


“Seattle is growing and we are working to ensure that it happens in a way that is equitable, benefiting everyone who lives and works here,” said Mayor Murray. “The sale of the Civic Square property allows us to leverage our resources to invest in communities most at-risk for displacement and to make a major investment in affordable housing. While we continue to revitalize our downtown core, we are strategically investing around the city to strengthen our communities for the future.”

The Equitable Development Fund will be established with the $16 million in proceeds from the sale, and used as part of the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI), which helps ensure Seattle’s existing residents and businesses also enjoy the benefits of development around the city, rather than being displaced by it. These funds will go to community-driven projects such as a cultural center for long-time residents to maintain neighborhood character or a job training program focused on good-paying jobs in the community.

The Office of Planning and Community Development and FAS will work with Council and the community to develop a plan for using the net proceeds from the sale. The additional $5.7 million will go to the Office of Housing to leverage other funding for building affordable housing.

The agreement with Bosa Development replaces the 2007 agreement with Triad Civic Center LLC, which had been hindered by the economic recession and a lack of capital partners. Under the terms of the new agreement, Bosa will develop a residential tower that will include the Civic Square Plaza, as well as retail space. The City will maintain the rights to approve the final design. The City expects to send the agreement to Council for approval in early 2017, with the expectation that it will be finalized by June. Construction would start in 2018.

“Bosa’s vision for this project is slightly different than what was originally planned, which is why the City believes it has a greater chance to succeed,” said FAS Director Fred Podesta. “Office space construction in this area has brought a new and higher demand for housing and public amenities, and Bosa is bringing that to the table. We believe this site is the perfect location to meet that need, as it is close to transit and vibrant, diverse neighborhoods, including Downtown, Pioneer Square, the Chinatown-International District and First Hill.”

Watch the press conference here

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Mayor Murray Directs Negotiation of Civic Square Deal, Proceeds to Fund Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

Today, Mayor Ed Murray sent a mayoral directive to Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to negotiate the sale of the Civic Square project to Bosa Development and direct the proceeds to establish a new Equitable Development Fund. The sale would also net $5.7 million in funds for affordable housing, meeting or exceeding the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program requirement. Combined, nearly $22 million from this sale will go to equity and affordability projects around the City.


“Seattle is growing and we are working to ensure that it happens in a way that is equitable, benefiting everyone who lives and works here,” said Mayor Murray. “The sale of the Civic Square property allows us to leverage our resources to invest in communities most at-risk for displacement and to make a major investment in affordable housing. While we continue to revitalize our downtown core, we are strategically investing around the city to strengthen our communities for the future.”

The Equitable Development Fund will be established with the $16 million in proceeds from the sale, and used as part of the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI), which helps ensure Seattle’s existing residents and businesses also enjoy the benefits of development around the city, rather than being displaced by it. These funds will go to community-driven projects such as a cultural center for long-time residents to maintain neighborhood character or a job training program focused on good-paying jobs in the community.

The Office of Planning and Community Development and FAS will work with Council and the community to develop a plan for using the net proceeds from the sale. The additional $5.7 million will go to the Office of Housing to leverage other funding for building affordable housing.

The agreement with Bosa Development replaces the 2007 agreement with Triad Civic Center LLC, which had been hindered by the economic recession and a lack of capital partners. Under the terms of the new agreement, Bosa will develop a residential tower that will include the Civic Square Plaza, as well as retail space. The City will maintain the rights to approve the final design. The City expects to send the agreement to Council for approval in early 2017, with the expectation that it will be finalized by June. Construction would start in 2018.

“Bosa’s vision for this project is slightly different than what was originally planned, which is why the City believes it has a greater chance to succeed,” said FAS Director Fred Podesta. “Office space construction in this area has brought a new and higher demand for housing and public amenities, and Bosa is bringing that to the table. We believe this site is the perfect location to meet that need, as it is close to transit and vibrant, diverse neighborhoods, including Downtown, Pioneer Square, the Chinatown-International District and First Hill.”

Watch the press conference here

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Mayor Murray announces upcoming RFP for KeyArena

Today, Mayor Ed Murray announced the City of Seattle will issue a request for proposals (RFP) in early January, 2017, to solicit specific plans from private parties interested in the redevelopment of KeyArena. Proposals would be centered around developing an entertainment facility that can host meetings, concerts and sporting events.

The City is seeking partners who are willing to invest in a facility that will provide a better home for KeyArena’s existing tenants, including the Seattle Storm of the WNBA and the Seattle University basketball program. Two entities, AEG and The Oak View Group, have reached out to the City indicating that they are potentially interested in an agreement with the City on such a project, and the RFP process may reveal others are as well.

“We continue to listen to options to redevelop KeyArena as part of our revitalization of Seattle Center,” said Mayor Murray. “There are many challenges to consider, including how to address traffic in the growing Uptown neighborhood, and any viable plan will include efforts to mitigate these concerns, while also bringing Seattle tremendous cultural and financial benefit. But, I remain committed to building a state-of-the-art arena in Seattle, and this effort means multiple entities could be working to make that a reality. I also remain committed to bringing the NBA back to Seattle.”

A study completed for the City by AECOM has demonstrated that an extensive renovation of KeyArena could provide a venue that would serve the needs of multiple tenants, fans, and the surrounding neighborhood.

Assuming an agreement can be reached, Council approval would be required and the project would be subject to an extensive review process, including an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and the associated assessment of traffic impacts. Potential KeyArena redevelopment would further energize and activate Seattle Center, after work with the Uptown neighborhood to develop a plan that can further enliven the neighborhood without creating undue impacts.

These proposals would join the recently-revised proposal from the group led by Chris Hansen as possibilities for the development of an arena in Seattle.

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City preparing for storm, encourages residents to take caution this evening

SEATTLE – With high-winds and rain predicted for Seattle and much of the Pacific Northwest Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the City of Seattle is advising residents to take precautions at home and when traveling. Residents should defer traveling during the storm, avoid and report downed power lines and trees, and be cautious near areas experiencing flooding.    

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a chance of heavy winds arriving in the Seattle area on Saturday evening, with the strongest winds expected between 6 P.M. and 9 P.M. Saturday night. For the most current weather updates please visit theNational Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office, Impact Briefing for Seattle. For up to date information on impacts in the City of Seattle please visitAlert.Seattle.gov.

Mayor Ed Murray activated the City of Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 3 P.M. today to coordinate City agencies ahead of and during the severe stormThe City of Seattle also activated the Joint Information Center (JIC) in support of EOC Operations. Please direct all media inquiries to the JIC using 206-233-5072.

Storm Safety Information 

  • Please call 911 to report downed lines, do not touch or attempt to remove lines that have fallen during the storm. 

  • If you lose power at home, please call (206) 684-3000 to report the outage or call the Power Outage Hotline at (206) 684-7400 to hear a recorded message with power restoration updates.

  • Sign up for and use AlertSeattle atalert.seattle.govfor up-to-date information from the City of Seattle.

  • For individuals using life-sustaining and medical equipment, please contact and register with your utility company. For more information call (206) 684-3020.

  • Remember to treatintersections that are impacted by power outages as four-way stops.

  • Check the Metro and Sound Transit websites for any impacts to your transit routes.

  • Maintain gutters, downspouts, rain barrels, private culverts by keeping them clean, flowing and directed away from properties and hillsides.

  • Keep storm drains free of leaves and other debris to prevent streets from flooding. Be sure to stay out of the road when raking.

  • All Seattle Parks and Recreation grass athletic fields, including West Seattle Stadium, will be closed through the weekend. Most importantly, please remember to safe and use extreme caution outdoors. Parks officials encourage residents to avoid Seattle parks entirely this weekend due to the high-winds.

  • Seattle Parks has cancelled programs and activities in parks across the system. For the most up-to-date information please visitseattle.gov/parks

  • Generally, we want to remind you that if you do lose power, keep grills, camping stoves and generators outside. Fuel burning appliances are sources of carbon monoxide, a dangerous and poisonous gas.

  • Have an emergency preparedness kit ready to help you get through until power is restored.

  • Storms can create a storm surge impacting high-tide. For information pertaining to tides visitNOAA.

Expanded shelter capacity for people experiencing homelessness 

  • A co-ed emergency shelter for 100 adults will be openSaturday and Sunday nights (10/15  10/16) at the Seattle Center Fisher Pavilionnear 2ndand Thomas, south of Key Arena and west of the Armory on the grounds of the Seattle Center. The shelter will open from 7 P.M. to 7 AM.

  • In addition, the King County Shelter for adult males has expanded capacity to serve 50 additional men through Tuesday, (10/15 – 10/18). The King County Shelter is located at the King County Administration Building at 500 4thAvenue in Seattle.  The shelter opens at 7 P.M.

  • The City Hall Co-ed shelter at 600 4thAve in Seattle will expand capacity through Tuesday (10/15 – 10/18) with an emphasis on accommodating women seeking shelter.  The shelter is open from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M.

  • The Salvation Army provides staff and operational management for these shelters.

The City will have additional staff and crews available throughout the evening and weekend to respond to emergencies as they arise. 

Additional preparedness information can be found at: Take Winter by Stormwww.takewinterbystorm.orgor What to do to make it through –http://makeitthrough.org/

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