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Mayor Murray’s affordable housing plan ready for official release — UPDATE

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UPDATE: Murray and the gang at City Hall Monday morning (Image: CHS)

UPDATE: Murray and the gang at City Hall Monday morning (Image: CHS)

After months of painstaking negotiations, Mayor Ed Murray and members of his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee are set to officially unveil a long-awaited, comprehensive housing plan.

The 38-page draft report, leaked by the Seattle Times last week, included 67 recommendations to meet the mayor’s call to create 20,000 units of affordable housing in the next decade. UPDATE: The final plan includes 65 recommendations — nope, we haven’t sorted out what got cut.

The mayor and City Council chair of the planning and land use committee Mike O’Brien are set to unveil the final report on the HALA committee recommendations Monday morning at City Hall:

Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Mike O’Brien will announce an action plan to build more affordable housing in Seattle. Co-chairs David Wertheimer and Faith Li Pettis will deliver to the mayor and council the recommendations of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda advisory committee.

Meanwhile, the mayor will face immediate opposition to his committee’s recommendations as HALA member and City Council candidate Jon Grant has announced he will release “an alternate housing proposal.” The un-leaked counter-proposal reportedly has the support of Council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata:

UPDATE 12:30 PM: Grant’s proposal has been released. We’ve added the document at the bottom of this post. Although he supported many of the HALA committee’s recommendations, Grant said he abstained from voting on the final plan.

While officials said the draft HALA report leaked by the Seattle Times was incomplete, it was the eighth draft of a document that has been shaped for months and one committee member told CHS was being voted on to finalize early last week. The draft report was broken down into four policy categories:

  1. More Housing — upzones, expand urban villages, reduce off-street parking
  2. More Resources — create a new real estate tax, expand the city’s housing levy
  3. Acquisition — allow city to acquire multifamily properties for affordable housing
  4. Innovation — reform the city’s design review and environmental review process

Most of the major recommendations will at least require action by the City Council.

UPDATE 7/13/2015 11:12 AM: The final report — which Murray said he hoped would end the “two-decade war” in Seattle over affordable housing — has been posted. We’ve embedded it below.

As in the draft version, the set of 67 65 recommendations make their main thrust in pushing Seattle forward in requiring inclusion of affordable housing in new development along with linkage fee taxes on commercial development that would fund affordable housing. Developers that choose not to include affordable housing in their multi-family developments would be required to pay a fee to the city’s Office of Housing, which will be used to create more affordable units. Details on how that system works and where that housing will be created are still getting ironed out, according to one Office of Housing official.

Calling the final plan a “grand bargain,” Murray said the proposed commercial linkage fee was not expanded to residential development because city attorneys said it would face legal challenges.

The plan is multi-year, at least, in making a dent in Seattle’s continuing to rise rents. None of the 67 65 recommendations appear poised to give tenants in the city any form of immediate relief.

The mayor’s office released this map showing where zoning changes would be made in the city — as you can see, a big chunk of Capitol Hill including Pike/Pine and the areas below Broadway are lined up for more change:

New buildings will have taller height restrictions in existing multifamily residential, mixed-use and commercial zones throughout the city. A substantial portion of the additional development will occur within the existing Urban Centers and Urban Villages, designated two decades ago as the preferred location for denser housing. Only single-family zoning within Urban Villages and along major arterials will be converted to low-rise residential.

The new recommendations will mean a much larger housing levy in Seattle’s future:

No one in Seattle should have to face homelessness, and our housing resources must be part of the solutions that make homelessness rare, brief and one-time. This means a much higher Housing Levy. A mandate that developers provide a share of the apartments in their new buildings to people who cannot compete in the market, i.e., people with annual incomes at 60% of the area median income or less.

The current $145 million Seattle Housing Levy runs through 2016. “The City should renew and double the size of the Seattle Housing Levy to provide more local resources to build and preserve housing for low-income people and to provide operating subsidies at the lowest income levels,” the report says.

The report also includes a recommendation to work with the state legislature to increase the tax on real estate transactions:

King County currently collects REET at the maximum rate allowed under state law: 1.78%. The state legislature should enact legislation that would allow cities, via Council action, to impose an additional REET, so long as it is specifically dedicated for affordable housing. This additional REET capacity, which the HALA recommends be 0.25% above and beyond the existing State cap, would allow local jurisdictions to capture a portion of the appreciation of real estate prices upon the transfer of property and reinvest it in affordable housing.

In his announcement of the final recommendations, Murray said the plan will meet goals to create 50,000 more housing units in Seattle, including 20,000 new affordable units over the next decade.

The mayor also attempted to quell fears that the recommendations will lead to the elimination of single-family home neighborhoods in Seattle. Under the recommendations, 94% of existing single family neighborhoods would see no upzones, Murray said. However, the committee did recommend easing regulations on backyard cottages and dwelling units in all single family home areas.

Council president Tim Burgess said a select committee on affordable housing to implement HALA plan will begin meeting next week.

UPDATE 7/27/2015: The full report from the HALA committee is below. We originally posted the final report the first day it became available but today posted an updated file after a discrepancy was identified in a local online discussion forum. Here is the only change we can find between the version we posted in conjunction with the announcement and the version now available at

We’ll reach out to the mayor’s office to ask about the change in wording.


HALA Report

Council member O’Brien tweeted a series of infographics in support of the HALA report:

Reading the draft
In the draft version, the first “more housing” recommendation calls for the city to devote more land to multi-family zoning. According to the report, the new zones should be “near green belts, open space and parks; near schools and community centers; and within walking distance of the frequent transit network.” The committee acknowledged the risk of “some increased displacement pressure in areas that are upzoned.”

Upzones were also recommended in areas with 30-foot and 40-foot height limits, where the the committee said limits could go as high as 75 feet.

Yes, the committee did recommend scrapping the name “single family zones” in favor of something akin to “low density residential zones.” Fanned by this Seattle Times headline, the suggestion ignited some serious backlash from slow growth and community groups.

Specific policies changes could include removing parking and ownership requirements for backyard development and easing regulations on height limits and setbacks for those structures.

hillurbanvillage-600x776The committee also called for expanding the city’s urban village borders to include more single-family home areas. The Capitol Hill Urban Center Village — which currently stretches east to around 17th Ave and north to Aloha — generally allows for multi-family housing while new development is guided by established design and growth plans.

The new low density residential zone envisioned in the report would also bolster the economic and demographic diversity currently lacking in many single family zoned areas.

While it’s not currently allowed under state law, the committee also recommended the city enact an excise tax on real estate transactions in order to fund new affordable housing.

Fees on developers that would pay for new affordable housing didn’t make the final recommendations. However, so-called “linkage fees” may be coming soon anyway. The city recently released a plan at the behest of City Council that calls for developers to pay a linkage fee on new developments, as high as $28 per gross square foot, into an affordable housing fund. Over ten years, the city estimates the fee could generate around $1.16 billion to create 14,500 new affordable units.

Murray’s 28-member, multi-disciplinary committee first convened in November to start drafting its proposals. The final recommendations were due in May, but the committee twice asked for more time to find common ground on key issues. Here are a few more of the recommendations made in the report:

    • HALA committee members are not fans of neighborhood conservation districts that could allow for a small group of neighbors to establish design guidelines on their block.
    • Reduce parking requirements for areas outside urban villages that currently require one parking space per unit.
    • Calling it an “artifact of an earlier era,” the committee recommended scrapping off-street parking requirements in single family zones
    • Allow flexible reuse of large, unique development sites.
    • Increase the Seattle Housing Levy and expand the Multifamily Tax Exemption Program.
    • Explore collecting hotel taxes from homeowners who temporarily rent spaces through services like Airbnb.
    • Allow the city’s Office of Housing to acquire multifamily properties to turn into affordable housing.
    • Explore how to create more housing options for people coming out of prison.
    • Reduce the number of housing projects that are required to go through environmental review

It’s still unclear how the recommendations could affect recent changes made to the city’s lowrise zoning code. Last week, the City Council finally passed a series of multifamily zoning adjustments in an attempt to rein in apartment building size near single-family homes.

You can view the full draft HALA report here.

UPDATE 12:30 PM: Here is Jon Grant’s counter-proposal. The HALA committee member and Council candidate already has announced the plan is supported by Council members Sawant and Licata.

Grant’s plan calls for an expanded linkage fee program that includes residential development in order to fund construction of 9,000 units of affordable housing for households at 0-30% of area median income — 4,000 more units than recommended by the HALA committee. Grant would also dedicate 5,000 of those units towards homeless housing.

In announcing the competing plan, Grant said the mayor’s plan is “a step in the right direction” but needs to do more — and faster. Sawant said she was concerned that developers dominated the HALA process. “What would a committee of renters do?” she asked.

One major difference in the proposal is the presence of a rent stabilization ordinance including:

Annual rent increases tied to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This allows landlords to increase rents to keep up with building costs based on inflation. This would allow additional increases, taking into consideration other landlord costs such as increased taxes or utilities in adjusting the rent increase formula.

“The gains made from increasing the minimum wage could be lost if they are recouped by property owner’s rent hikes,” the proposal reads. “The city must begin the process to remove the state ban on regulating rents because the vast majority of tenants live in unregulated, non-subsidized rentals units and are subject to unconscionable rent hikes; in some cases as much as doubling their rent.”

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David Holmes
David Holmes
5 years ago

So, I don’t really get the point of someone serving on an advisory board (with foreknowledge of obvious compromise from all corners) who then comes up with an alternate/amended plan. Why not just stay an independent player, and come up with a totally separate plan instead of changing the rules on a committee you agreed to serve on right as the game is ending. It seems a bit sore loser-ish.

5 years ago

The committee is loaded with developers which no one on the uber liberal city council seems to mind. Stretching urban villages beyond their “boundaries” is an outrage. The wannabes just can’t stand that people like single family neighborhoods here and there. There really are no single family neighborhoods in Seattle anyway as MIL units have been allowed for years, cottages in the backyard also have been allowed for years.

5 years ago
Reply to  harvey

Wrong. Of the twenty or so HALA members, only two were market rate developers.

5 years ago

Would like to know what local politicians are benefiting from developers. In the end Seattle will be ruined, just like San Francisco.

5 years ago

” Sawant said she was concerned that developers dominated the HALA process. “What would a committee of renters do?” she asked.”

That’s some nice populist rhetoric, but they would do exactly what a committee of developers would do: put their own self interests ahead of others. They would fight to keep rents low through government regulation, require low-cost housing, blah blah blah; the developers would fight to reduce the red tape, lower the regulatory costs, leave rent to the free market, blah blah blah. Listening to one group alone will skew the process; a renter-first solution will likely lead to less development, which will mean even more people will be pushed out of the more desirable areas. A developer-first solution, well, that’s mostly what we have now, and it allows people to be booted with short notice due to exorbitant increases.

The only solution will include both groups, and both groups will have to compromise. That’s how things are done. It seems like the mayor’s proposal is a pretty decent compromise, as even Grant concedes.

5 years ago
Reply to  hmm

You sound as if you think there are two groups that live in Seattle- developers and low-income housing advocates. What about the rest of us! These two groups came up with a great compromise that works for THEM. The changes to single family zoning is a big mistake for the city.

5 years ago

Affordable housing is quite simple to accomplish if your truly
Property tax credit to the building owners let’s say building owner offers
30% of their units
At a discount to the renters they than would receive a property tax discount.
The higher percentage of units set aside for the adorable unit
Program the higher the discount on the property tax and or city fees.
This way you could have units all over the city. I’m thinking
Many building owners would be wiling to lower the rents if
The city help them cut operating cost. That’s what the rents are high
Cut the overhead to the land lord And the rent will come down!

Socialism has failed everywhere it was tried .

5 years ago

The city is either for the working (or non-working) poor or the rich. People in the middle are the ones who lose.