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City Council working to create better cap on ‘affordable’ microhousing rent

The Boylston Flats are being planned as an "affordable" microhousing development with rent-controlled units

The Boylston Flats are being planned as an “affordable” microhousing development with rent-controlled units

A bill in front of the Seattle City Council’s planning housing committee Thursday would limit the rent affordable housing developers can charge for Small Efficiency Dwelling Units, the city’s slightly euphemistic term for microhousing and congregate-style apartments.

The legislation is an attempt to patch up Seattle’s Multifamily Tax Exemption program which currently has a loophole allowing developers taking part in the program to consider SEDU-style units as standard studios in calculating affordable rent limits.

The program provides a 12-year tax exemption in exchange for making 20% of a project’s units income and rent restricted.

According to the staff memo on the legislation, the bill “would reduce the maximum rent threshold for income-restricted SEDUs in MFTE projects to a level affordable to individuals earning 40% of AMI, resulting in a maximum monthly housing cost of $618 and a maximum annual income for a one-person household of $24,720.”

“[T]ypical SEDU market-rate rents are anticipated to be less than not only market-rate rents but also the restricted, affordable-rate rents for studios,” the analysis notes.

While the microhousing type developments that last year’s regulations have left plenty of room for on Capitol Hill are seen as one small part of the answer to achieving greater affordability in the city, a quick pass through Craigslist ads shows that many units around the Hill are going for more than 2x the proposed affordable cap. While one place will give you your 300 square feet for $900 month, others with 400 or so square feet weigh in around $1,400 per month.

In the meantime, here is one example of a microhousing project planned to be part of the MFTE gearing up for construction on Boylston.


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12 thoughts on “City Council working to create better cap on ‘affordable’ microhousing rent

  1. This is the problem. There’s already tons of programs for people making 20%-40%, (still need more programs) and virtually no programs that enable the people earning 40%-100% to live in Seattle.

    • Wes, I agree. There should be sufficient programs to help those making 20%-40%, but as someone who makes right around 100% I have a hard time too. I’m not complaining about what I make, I realize I’m better off than many. But it feels like those in the 40%-100% are just overlooked. If the city is truely interested in making Seattle livable for everyone, they need to include those who are fortunate to make more than 40% of the AMI, but are not paid tech salaries

      • Agreed. I can’t afford to rent my own place in my own neighborhood despite being a white-collar professional working at a local institution. Those of us with middle-class incomes are priced out by the greedy gentrifiers.

      • I think it’s a simpler “solution” for the City Council to force a percentage of affordable well-located apartments to the working poor on developers than to deal with the larger issue of the growing middle-class housing crisis in the metro Seattle. It would take a lot more honesty to tackle to direction this city is going: the NY or SF route with a big hole where the middle class used to be. No easy answers for this!

  2. One more flaw is that the requirements usually say can’t earn more than $27,000 for one person, $29,000 for two people. So if you get married, marry someone that either has some money or someone who earns their living selling stolen candy and bottled water on the street.

  3. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t this just “rent control,” albeit on a limited basis? And isn’t there a state law outlawing rent control?

    • It’s a voluntary tax exemption for developers, which isn’t mandatory, all-encompassing rent control. Just an incentive.

    • Not really. From what it sounds like, this just tightens up how buildings qualify for the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE). Currently, studios have to be affordable to people earning up to 65% of median income to count towards the MFTE program.

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