Hearing Examiner knocks down one big barrier to Seattle Mandatory Housing Affordability program

A barrier to Seattle’s plan for Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning in its densest neighborhoods has been breached as the city’s Hearing Examiner has ruled against a coalition of neighborhood groups calling for further review of the program.

In the ruling released late Wednesday afternoon, the Hearing Examiner upheld the city’s environmental review of the program across most of the 55 points brought against MHA in the coalition appeal. “On review of the entire record, the level of environmental analysis under the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) satisfies the rule of reason in all aspects except historic resources, and the Department’s determination of adequacy should be confirmed,” the examiner writes.


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Pro-housing advocate group Seattle for Everyone Coalition lauded the decision. “As we look forward to the thousands of affordable homes and millions in investments that will house people at risk of being priced out by rising rent rates, Seattle for Everyone Coalition celebrates the energy of MHA’s champions on the Council and in the community,” the group’s statement reads.

Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the proposed upzoning vary by scale and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including rent-restricted units. The legislation was expected to result in $380M in revenue from the payment option and 1,325 units over 20 years, according to city planners. That $380 million could build another 4,300 affordable units, according to the city’s analysis.

CHS reported previously on the possible changes that would come to Capitol Hill zoning and the neighborhood’s relatively strong support for the plan — especially in comparison to some of the backlash that has emerged in other parts of the city.The proposed zoning changes for Capitol Hill and the Central District include transitioning Broadway from around Cal Anderson Park all the way north to Roy to 75-foot height limits and “neighborhood commercial” zoning that would allow seven-story buildings with commercial use throughout. Some of the bigger changes would also come around the Miller Community Center.

In the Central District, most proposed changes are focused on the area around Madison and 23rd with smaller areas around 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson where surgical upzoning has already been approved.There has been considerable opposition to the planned changes in some corners of the city though Capitol Hill’s community groups have mostly been supportive of the changes. The Miller Park Neighbors have not. The Miller Park YAY-bors? All for it.

Before it is implemented and available to developers, MHA still will require another pass through the City Council for amendments. Further legal battles could follow.


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6 thoughts on “Hearing Examiner knocks down one big barrier to Seattle Mandatory Housing Affordability program

  1. The MHA is a fool’s errand. It will not improve affordability in desireable areas, because most developers will choose to pay the fee instead of providing affordable units in their new buildings, and these buildings will be all market rate (aka expensive). Yes, the fee could be used to build more affordable buildings, but these will be in areas where land costs are less (aka less desireable areas). Thus, neighborhoods like Capitol Hill will continue to be pricey, and displacement will continue to occur.

    • This is not true. The investments, when they come in the form of in-lieu fees as you are talking about, are getting invested right back into central Seattle neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and other light-rail adjacent neighborhoods.

      In 2017, Office of Housing funds invested in 90 units on Belmont Avenue, 74 units at Judkins Junction, and 113 units in the Liberty Bank building are currently under construction through Capitol Hill Housing. Read the report! https://www.seattle.gov/housing/data-and-reports

      That is, of course, completely separate from the additional units that will get built in our neighborhood under the additional zoning capacity that are, yes, market rate. Additional units that reduce pressure on existing units and therefore rents in the often-cited “naturally affordable” housing stock.

      (Since most of North Capitol Hill has been excluded from the upzone, as well as additional transit-adjacent neighborhoods like Montlake, the upzone clearly will not go far enough in this regard with past land-use wrongs continuing to be perpetuated)

      • Thanks. Are you sure that the “investments” you cite are using money generated by the developer fees? In other words, would they have been made regardless of MHA? My understanding is that, so far, there has been very little money collected as developer’s fees…..this may change in the future with the planned upzoning.

    • It’s MHA and the previous program in place in downtown and SLU, the Incentive Zoning program, as well as Housing Levy dollars. It all gets leveraged with any state/federal dollars.

  2. It’s a shame that it has taken so much fighting over such a long period of time to accomplish such a trivial amount of upzoning. We have a long, long way to go.

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