Tuesday afternoon, the Council unanimously approved the U District rezone which is part of the city government’s effort to increase density and housing affordability in our urban centers and villages, such as the U District. I voted in favor of this legislation for the following reasons:
- For the first time in Seattle’s history, this legislation created a mandatory affordable housing requirement. Builders of commercial and multi-family residential buildings must either include affordable units or pay into a city-managed fund which is combined with other city funds, plus state and federal housing dollars, to build affordable housing. This is a huge, positive step toward our goal of 20,000 new affordable units in the next 10 years. (All future rezones throughout the city will include this mandatory affordable housing requirement. South Lake Union/Downtown, and then Uptown and Northgate, are likely the next to come before the Council.)
- The rezone of the U District is expected to lead to the creation of as many as 5,000 new residential units over the next 20 years, including up to 900 affordable units.
- We removed University Way—The Ave—from this rezone because of objections from small business owners who feared the rezone would cause their rents to increase dramatically. The Ave rezone will be considered at a future date after a more detailed study of the potential impacts on small businesses is completed.
- Builders who opt to include affordable units in their building must set aside a minimum of 9% of the livable space of the entire building for those affordable units. This set aside percentage was set after extensive review and economic modeling by city planners, outside economists and real estate experts. Early models indicated the set aside percentage should be 5% to 7%, but the city chose the higher 9% requirement primarily because of the significantly higher heights being considered. (Three Council members favored a last-minute amendment to require a 10% set aside, a change that would have created approximately 44 to 65 additional units over the next 20 years; approximately two or three more per year, if spread evenly over those years. This change was not justified, in my mind, especially coming late in the five-year process the city followed in developing the legislation we adopted.)
- The legislation will create affordable housing for those most in need, serving those earning 60% or less of the area median income. (60% of AMI for an individual is $37,980; for a family of four it is $54,180.) Some cities in Washington have an affordable housing set aside of 10%, but those cities define affordable housing to include those earning up to 100% of AMI. Seattle’s approach is designed to meet the needs of lower income individuals and families.
- The legislation added an area immediately north of NE 50th Street to the rezone since it is just five blocks from the new light rail station at 45th and Brooklyn Avenue. Clustering density near major transportation facilities, like light rail stations, is not only wise, it is essential as the city continues to add population.
The city’s growth management and planning is on a good path. Addressing our affordable housing needs as we adhere to our urban village and urban center approach to growth is smart and fair.