Seattle approves prioritizing affordable housing in city land sales

The sales pitch for the “Mercer Megablock” — a valuable chunk of city-owned land being put up for sale — is geared around Seattle’s expensive luxury housing market (Image: mercermegablockseattle.com)

Even before the final vote was taken, affordable housing advocates were pushing to put the new policy to work on Seattle’s “Mercer Megablock” Monday afternoon as the Seattle City Council approved new rules for how the city sells off its surplus land.

CHS reported here on the prioritization for affordable housing in the surplus property disposition policies built on Teresa Mosqueda’s work to reshape how Seattle sold off Seattle City Light land.

The new legislation applies to all city-owned property and “sets a policy that requires the city to prioritize using surplus land for affordable housing, parks or open space, child care, early learning and educational facilities, light rail station area development, and community and economic development,” according to an announcement from the City Council. 

It also:

  • Allows for land leasing, which means the City could maintain public ownership or partial municipal use, when a property will be developed into affordable housing;
  • Directs the Office of Housing to partner with community-based organizations in areas at heightened risk of displacement, allowing for greater community ownership of affordable housing development;
  • Sets a benchmark that 80 percent of net revenue generated from city parcels that are not used for affordable housing be used for production and preservation of affordable homes in Seattle;
  • Adds annual reporting from the Office of Housing regarding implementation of this policy; and,
  • Requires the policies will be reviewed again in 2023.

“This policy sets forth a vision for prioritizing housing on city surplus land, in addition to creating more mixed-use opportunities with open green spaces, child care and educational programs, small business and more,” Mosqueda said in the announcement. “The City needs to use every tool at our disposal to increase access to affordable housing, especially for low- and very-low-income households. This policy is another step towards expanding that access, while upholding the City’s promise to prioritize community-driven development.”

Meanwhile, housing advocates called on the city to put the new policies to use immediately on the so-called “Mercer Megablock” (PDF), two huge plots of land that the city is in the process of selling in South Lake Union. The plots are expected to be sold at a rate too expensive for affordable housing developers. With Seattle’s new surplus land policies and the state now allowing cities to sell public property at below market value for affordable housing development, advocates are asking that the sales process be halted and reevaluated for a possible affordable housing-friendly future.


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