Seattle passes Mandatory Housing Affordability plan to allow its densest neighborhoods to become even denser

A North Capitol Hill resident made his case against Eastlake upzoning prior to Monday’s vote

Four years and 40 Seattle City Council meetings later, the plan to surgically allow taller and more multifamily-packed development in the city’s densest neighborhoods including Capitol Hill has been approved.

“We’re embracing growth by embracing inclusion,” council member and Mandatory Housing Affordability committee chair Rob Johnson said Monday before the vote. “And we’re embracing inclusion by changing plans that were made 25 years ago.”

The vote Monday ran 9-0.

The MHA plan ties upzones in 27 of the city’s densest neighborhoods to the creation of affordable units and will transition a reported 6% of Seattle’s current single family-zoned property.


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It comes in a city with an ongoing affordability crisis where you need to earn more than $60,000 a year to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Though the council has worked to shape the legislation for three years, opposition from homeowner groups continued through the end and could likely continue after Monday’s vote — in court. CHS reported Monday on a group of Capitol Hill homeowners opposed to upzoning in the plan that will allow taller, denser buildings in the nearby Eastlake neighborhood.

The MHA program will allow developers to add extra density to newly constructed buildings. In exchange, they will either have to set aside a percentage of the units as affordable housing, or pay into a fund that the city will use to build affordable housing.

The city expects the program will generate $380 million in revenue from the payment option and 1,325 units over 20 years. That $380 million could build another 4,300 affordable units.

The upzones under the MHA are confined to the Urban Villages dotted across Seattle – areas of generally higher density that surround commercial development and transit hubs.

The most significant changes to Capitol Hill zoning will come along Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to Roy with plans to implement 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning to allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout.

You can view a full map of MHA zoning changes here.

The MHA structure is already in place around 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson where surgical upzoning has already been approved.

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant included amendments in the plan for surgical changes to the MHA upzones that were approved in a package with other similar changes across the city. Each of the four Sawant changes introduced increased density at locations in the Central District including the land owned by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on 22nd Ave currently home to a “tiny house village” encampment.

Another amendment approved by the council added a so-called “claw back” provision intended to allow the council to roll back upzoning if the plan’s affordability elements are challenged legally.

Prior to the vote, Sawant said she supported MHA in part because of her experiences growing up in Mumbai where her family lived in a 450 square foot flat — “the only affordable housing available for working people.” But she said that the support for MHA had been “Inaccurately grandiose” calling it only “small affordable housing mandates” on big money developers.

“It is better than nothing,” Sawant said.

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15 thoughts on “Seattle passes Mandatory Housing Affordability plan to allow its densest neighborhoods to become even denser

  1. According to the Seattle Times, the city’s estimates for what will happen under MHA over the next 10 years assume that 50% of developers will opt for including affordable units onsite, and the other 50% will pay into the fund. I think this is an erroneous assumption, and that far fewer developers will go for the first option. The result will be more affordable apartments in the fringes of the city (where land costs are less), and very few in more desirable neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, and this means that these neighborhoods will become even more expensive and less diverse than they are now.

      • Actually if you look at the historic investments, it’s not been geographically distributed… at all. But this is in part to federal designations that made certain parts of the city more economical to invest in. However that federal designation changed last year and the Office of Housing is activity encouraging affordable housing developers to look at sites throughout the city to get more geographic distribution through all neighborhoods.

    • FYI Ryan… not very long ago the Central District *was* the fringes…Unless you’ve been living here for more than a few years, you wouldn’t know that. There’s still some legacy affordable housing hanging around, but that’s being slowly but surely pushed out by new development – and if you think that whole 4 OMG 4!!!! affordable units at 23rd and Union are coming even close to replacing what’s being demolished every day you are deluding yourself.

      • Where are you getting the 4 units at 23rd and Union from? The publicly available info states the Midtown property is slated to have 125 affordable units, and that’s not including the Africatown portion of the block which claims another 120-135 affordable units.

  2. Getting into these affordable housing units is a sham…They open the phone line up when a unit becomes available and basically it’s fastest caller because they fill the spots and then that’s it. Then when a person moves out they can coordinate with a friend and tell them when to call in and mention the property and unit number. The city does 0 I repeat 0 auditing on the people in the units. So if you apply when you maybe are low income but suddenly you aren’t low income they don’t ask you to move on and open the space for others. I know it makes city council feel like they are helping people by having these units but the process is a joke. I know people that have been on these “lists” that are non existent for years and still are barely making rent while eating top ramen daily. WAY TO GO SEATTLE!!!!

  3. More poop in the Sound!
    Go Seattle!
    Seattle was not built to be a large city, and there is no effort to fix some of the fundamental problems with city, our combined sewer and storm run off being just one problem that is already harming the environment around us, which will be exaggerated by adding more people and allowing more lot coverage.
    As Seattle grows it will pull more resources from the surrounding area, and the cost of this new infrastructure, both material and effect on the Environment has not been considered.
    Will the regions around the city wake up quickly enough to have the courts put a stop on additional build out before damage is done to the region?
    Otherwise?
    More poop in the Sound.

    • More like more poop in your comment.

      Seattle was not built to be a large city, and there is no effort to fix some of the fundamental problems with city, our combined sewer and storm run off being just one problem that is already harming the environment around us, which will be exaggerated by adding more people and allowing more lot coverage.

      First off, very few major cities in this world were “built to be a large city”. There are some, like DC, Amsterdam, Seoul, Paris (after it burned down), but look at London, New York, Mexico City, Beijing, etc. Hell, even Madrid as recently as the 1920s had a population less than Seattle today and now it’s a shining example of a city. Because you don’t believe it was “built to be a large city” is not a reason to stop building.

      Second, the City and County are spending billions to upgrade our CSO system after getting slapped with fines from the EPA. I mean, there’s projects going on all over the City/County right now. Despite the population nearly doubling in the last 40 years, King County has reduced sewage overflows by 90%. That’s not per capita, that’s total volume.

      So to say we have done nothing and are doing nothing shows that you have absolutely zero clue what you are talking about. We are certainly setting ourselves up to absorb more density.

      • Are you referring the fines Seattle had to pay for the discharges when our sewer treatment plant dumped millions of gallons of sewage in 2017 into our water ways, or are you referring to the 2013 settlement that Seattle had to make with the EPA for the ongoing/historical dumping of sewage into our local water ways?
        Seattle’s been floating poop into Sound for a longtime.
        How are we addressing? With a bandaid, or well… a bigger hole and longer pipes into the Sound and Lakes.
        Portland spent 1.4B on separating its sewage and storm run off ( and they did it without the EPA taking them to court,… and they realized that they needed to start the project about a decade ago ).
        New York City has been doing the same.
        There is no reason why cities should build sewage systems that are designed around dumping sewage into our natural waterways.
        We should be demanding to see a plan that modernizes the cities approach to sewage.
        And this is just one piece of the puzzle, which could even be solved by picking areas to up zone areas based on what infrastructure we have in place to support better density.
        Putting this aside, Seattle is using up ~20% of the water supply coming out of Cedar River Watershed ( and that number doesn’t included water required for the opening/closing of locks/etc,…).
        How much water can we take before we start seeing issues pop up with the environment?
        Do we want to create another natural disaster like Southern California?
        And power?
        No one wants to build more damns (yeah!). But… Seattle is no longer net positive for power generation. We now buy power to supplement what we are already using. Up until recently Seattle was sustainable off of local power generation, that is no longer the case.
        Oh,… and we need to start putting lines under the ground ( which is done sparingly at the moment ). A lot of basic stuff that costs money.
        Sure, there is a lot of NIMBY floating around, but there is not enough “not in anybody’s back yard” thinking being applied as well.

        So yes, more poop in the water.

      • Are you referring the fines Seattle had to pay for the discharges when our sewer treatment plant dumped millions of gallons of sewage in 2017 into our water ways, or are you referring to the 2013 settlement that Seattle had to make with the EPA for the ongoing/historical dumping of sewage into our local water ways?

        I’m referring to the EPA lawsuit in 2013 that decreed that Seattle and King County need to reduce sewage overflows.

        How are we addressing? With a bandaid, or well… a bigger hole and longer pipes into the Sound and Lakes.

        With a multi-billion dollar additional treatment facility (Brightwater), upgrades to other treatment facilities and new/upgrades to massive underground storage tanks/pipes to absorb runoff during major runoff events. For example, SPU and King County are currently boring an almost 20 ft diameter 30 million gallon storage pipe from Ballard to Gasworks, essentially under the Burke Gilman Trail.

        That’s not a band aid.

        Portland spent 1.4B on separating its sewage and storm run off ( and they did it without the EPA taking them to court,… and they realized that they needed to start the project about a decade ago ).

        You might want to look up “Northwest Environmental Advocates v. City of Portland”. It may not have been the EPA that sued them to force them to fix their CSOs, but they did not do it out of the goodness of their heart. NYC was forced to fix their CSOs by the New York State, look up the 2005 an Order on Consent.

        There is no reason why cities should build sewage systems that are designed around dumping sewage into our natural waterways.

        I’m in concurrence with you here, but CSOs are due to shortsighted policies from a century ago to save short term money. Not really anything we can do to change that short of banning new CSO systems countrywide.

        We should be demanding to see a plan that modernizes the cities approach to sewage.

        SPU is trying, with encouraging water reducing fixtures and appliances and green stormwater infrastructure. But it’s just that for now: an encouragement. Short of a law banning certain fixtures/appliances or storm infrastructure, a lot of people won’t change voluntarily. And if SPU tried to ban things, people would throw a fit.

        How much water can we take before we start seeing issues pop up with the environment?

        The biggest issue here is not Seattle using too much water. No experts are concerned that we are in danger of eclipsing our expected water supply. However, climate change has started causing lower snowpacks and long dry spells during the summer, which is starting to change what our expected water supply is.

        That is an issue for sure.

      • There is no reason to accept “oh well, they sure were short sighted a century ago, that is the way it is…”.
        Just as other cities are doing, we could separate the two systems.

        If we are going to build for density in areas that are CSO then we should be making it a requirement that the CSO be replaced. It is that simple.

        Can you imagine the cost of doing this afterward? That is incredibly shortsighted.

        When density increases the allowed total lot coverage is going up. Green stormwater infrastructure? That is at odds with allowing lot coverage to increase.

        The Ballard storage pipe is a band-aid, it will still allow for poop to flow into the sound. Are you equating cost with solution? When compared to fixing the CSO problem it looks like a bargain.

        I was looking at “Northwest Environmental Advocates v. City of Portland” this morning, to see if it is any sort of template that could be used to get Seattle to appropriately invest in and require the appropriate infrastructure for all of building they just gave the green light too.

        There is no cry of concern about how much total water we can take from the watershed because no thought has went into it ( certainly not in any of planning that the city did).

        No major studies, or minor that I have found, beyond those that looked fish and the drop in water level in lake after we chance the course of the river that provides us our water.

        Diverting 20% of the water is not chump change. What is the breaking point?
        At 50% I would be surprised if we didn’t see a sizable change.

        Do we need to continue to be so short sighted?

        Until then, more poop in the water.

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