Here is where Seattle City Council is considering backing off Mandatory Housing Affordability changes on Capitol Hill — UPDATE

“Replacing the house at 16th and Thomas” (Image: Kate Clark via Flickr)

The City Council committee shepherding Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation toward eventual reality will continue its work Wednesday fine-tuning the plan’s upzoning — block by block.

New amendments could mean areas like Capitol Hill’s Miller Park neighborhood won’t see some of the big changes originally proposed, moves that will slice some of the more ambitious upzoning on the Hill but compromises that could also quell concerns from neighbors worried about taller buildings.

UPDATE 10:55 AM: Wednesday morning’s session included very little discussion of the merits of the possible amendments as the council members went through each listed area district by district and item by item.

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant said her office has been contacted by D3 residents and people across the city asking that MHA not contribute to the city’s displacement problems. “What does MHA actually offer and what are the displacement costs?” Sawant asked. She said she supports the plan and is in favor of “any affordability” gains that can be “eked out” but hopes the amendment process can help address some of the questions around possible displacement.

Sawant also surfaced concerns of the Madison-Miller Park Neighbors group and said “in order for MHA to work in best possible way,” there should be a philosophy of a “no net loss policy” for affordable housing including older apartment buildings and single family houses divided up as multifamily housing when considering the amendments.

The D3 rep also said she would support possible additional upzones following any needed additional environmental study — Sawant said several properties in the Central District from the Low Income Housing Institute should also be considered for more intensive development.

As they discussed the overview around the possible amendments, committee members for the most part said they remain committed to seeing equitable and thorough upzones through and that a “do nothing” approach will only bring more affordability problems and displacement.

“What occurs when we don’t try to almost mandate affordability? We’ve seen what happens,” committee member and City Council president Bruce Harrell said. “People continue to be priced out. They continue to lose their homes.”

Committee member Rob Johnson also pointed out that any areas of the city left out of the MHA program will face an incentive for some developers to target those areas because of the lack of affordability requirements.

Original report: Some of the main areas for possible changes on the Hill can be seen in the maps below. A full roster of the preliminary areas under consideration for changes from the original MHA plan is listed in the table. You can see the complete roster for the city here (PDF).

The proposals were compiled “based on input from council members and community members,” the Seattle Times reported.

The likely reduction in upzoned areas across Capitol Hill, District 3, and the city will mean a decrease in funding and new units created by the program when it is ultimately implemented. Under MHA, affordability requirements will vary by scale and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including rent-restricted units. The legislation has been expected to result in $380 million 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.

Neighborhoods slated to be part of the rezoning from across District 3 will be on the agenda Wednesday along with areas of Districts 1, 2, and 5. The other districts passed through a session of refinement Monday. A council vote on proposed amendments to the MHA legislation is slated for February 25th.

Despite a so called affordability crisis in Seattle, the path to implementing MHA has been long and winding. In November, the city’s Hearing Examiner ruled against a coalition of neighborhood groups calling for further review of the program clearing the way for the legislative process started in 2014 to finally continue.

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. The list of potential amendments seems to mostly leave the important changes in the neighborhood’s core intact.

For District 3 and Capitol Hill, some of the areas under consideration for backing off original MHA plans are blocks where single family style homes could be most directly mixed with multifamily development. That kind of mix can be exciting for urbanists and proponents of affordability — but also can be the types of changes most likely to spark homeowner backlash and the City Hall-dreaded community concern.

Some possible alterations could possibly see areas go the other way and receive an upzone but those amendments are less likely, city officials say, because they would require further environmental study. They include a few possible surgical strikes with specific addresses like E Yesler’s Country Doctor Clinic where a more significant upzoning could be introduced.

According to the council memo on the amendment process, not all of the possible changes will be picked up by council members — and new changes could be introduced:

This is not an exhaustive list of potential map changes. Other changes to the proposed zoning may be identified in the course of the Committee’s review and discussion. Inclusion in this memo does not imply that there is a Councilmember sponsoring any change suggested.
Changes that are requested that are consistent with the options studied in the FEIS may be considered as an amendment to the proposed bill. Changes that are beyond the options studied in the FEIS, including requested zoning changes to property that falls outside of the FEIS study area, may be included in a companion resolution with a request to the Executive to conduct a planning process, including additional environmental review, to determine if those changes are appropriate.

Before the final roster of amendments is voted on, the committee will draft a notice for a public hearing “to receive input on all potential changes to the MHA legislation.” That notice is slated to be ready by January 22nd with plans for a February 21st public hearing. A committee vote is planned to take place February 8th with a final vote on the changes slated for February 25th.


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25 thoughts on “Here is where Seattle City Council is considering backing off Mandatory Housing Affordability changes on Capitol Hill — UPDATE

  1. Great pic for this article. That was an affordable rental that was replaced with 900k townhomes. MHA is only going to make this city more unaffordable while destroying neighborhoods.

    • You have chosen to live in a C.I.T.Y. where housing density is a fact of life, especially if the homeless crisis is to be adequately addressed. If you want to keep renters and other rabble away from your McMansion, maybe move to one of the many gated communities in the strip mall called Bellevue where you can plant your lawn chair and shake your fist at the world.

      • RFLMAO…. Inner city used to be code for danger stay away.. people were fleeing in droves and in some C.I.T.I.E.S people still are, but for whatever reason here in Seattle and in San Francisco, people have decided not to. People moved back in, rather than moving out and now you youngins think that it’s *always* been cool, neat and trendy to live in these neighborhoods, but because it’s a C.I.T.Y that it should be as cheap as Detroit.

        It’s so funny that you think we care about “rabble and renters” moving in… LOL… when I moved into my house my next door neighbors were drug dealers – and not just some schmoo dealing pot – serious, full time drug dealers and they didn’t even try to hide it- and we’d wake up to ladies o’ the evening taking their morning ablutions under the cool water of our outside hose. If I was afraid of “rabble and renters” I NEVER would have moved in, in the first place. There was no craft beer, no tacos, no legal pot, no trendy upscale food – there wasn’t even a *grocery store* when I moved here.. There was a towing company, an nightclub that had nearly nightly incidents an exterminator’s HQ though… You wouldn’t have recognized it and you likely wouldn’t have even wanted to live here….

      • C.I.T.Y. living is all about balancing the conflicting interests of many different people with different ideas about how to live.

        It requires some compassion and the ability to consider other perspectives.

        People who find diversity of perspectives annoying should probably move out to the country where they won’t encounter so many.

        TL:DR: Humble yourself, you’re acting like a jerk, which is bad news for C.I.T.Y living.

  2. There are some cities which build four plexus which look like really neat (large) single family homes. Perhaps 1 developer could build 1 such project and show that density doesn’t need to be scary to the neighborhoods.

  3. My favorite example of density that’s not scary are the historic cottages scattered around the city. I’d love to see more of these built.

    A couple of examples are at 22nd and Pine and 16th and Jefferson.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@47.6152916,-122.3038808,3a,75y,355.03h,91.09t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sunXhgtuziXalCp4z1vvmyw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    https://www.google.com/maps/@47.6055647,-122.3115728,3a,60y,272.94h,93.84t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s8GNtAT7DpV6H30-OnT4TmA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    • Exactly – and as you yourself have pointed out we *already have* it in this area.. People who live in my immediate vicinity aren’t opposed to density – we already have some of the very smallest lots in the city due to the area being developed long before minimum lot sizes were established. It’s been this way for 100 years… so we wouldn’t have moved in if we’d wanted acreage or to never see our neighbors… Not to mention we are already zoned Residential Small Lot… and have been for the last 20 years – we were the test area to see if it would work and what’s the thanks we were going to get? Here – have another rezone.. I’m very, very happy that we’ve been heard and this has been rethought.

      Trust me… even under the proposed rules, you’d need my lot and likely at least 3 of my neighbors to even be able to redevelop – not that they haven’t been trying… for a while if we did not get at least 3 canned offers to buy our house for “over market price any condition!” a week it was a slow one…. One even had the gall to send me a contract in a fake official package!!

      • Yes there have been. One of only two remaining full lots on this side of the street was redeveloped into 6, 2 story cottages and one on the other side kept the original small home and added 3 loft condos. All of these have been kept to the scale of the existing neighborhood, being no taller than the tallest of the existing homes, and have kept the setbacks from the street, so they fit in well and no one here was terribly opposed to or disappointed in them as far as I know. The rest of the block is already cut into 1/4’s and halves and has been for a century.

        Around the corner on the next block up there’s at least one 1/2 lot that was split again and had a small house put on it and another that got an additional dwelling in the back yard. There may be a bit more, but as I don’t look at it every day, I’m not as familiar with the changes.

        It’s been working and working without having to wholesale rip out what’s here.

        Not to mention that the peripheries of the residential zone, where it has long been zoned for commercial and taller buildings has been getting them – and not just businesses, but ground floor businesses with apartments above, replacing things like a gas station, a strip mall and a building that was so earthquake damaged that it was condemned… These were places where no one was able to live at all until quite recently.

        People who are a bit newer to the area may not think it, but there’s already been quite a lot of recent growth here, and no one’s saying stop it completely, just let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • addendum – I’ve looked a the Google map view – there is another cottage development on the next block too with 8 units on it, and two more that have been turned into tandem lots.

  4. As far as the future for single family zones, I think that things which blend in to the scale of the neighborhood, but at the same time increase density, are ideal……things like the cottages shown above, duplexes and triplexes, and backyard cottages. What is not acceptable are tall, cheap apartment buildings (apodment-style) and those “townhome” developments where 8-10 units are packed into a small lot…..if allowed, these will destroy the character of our quieter residential areas.

    • I agree, more cottages, duplexes, and triplexes is fantastic…but unfortunately its not enough. Large apartment buildings and townhomes also have a place in the city, especially on main streets and near transit.

      More townhomes might be the only thing that allow people to be homeowners in our neighborhood. Not everyone wants to live in an apartment forever or can afford a single family home.

  5. Well, I am disappointed the Council seems poised to further downsize the upzoning efforts, especially in the areas adjacent to the 19th Ave East corridor. I was excited by the possibility that denser area would expand to include more small apartment buildings, whose residents could patronize the new and existing businesses (Zeeks, Cone & Steiner, etc.) and take advantage of the community center, playfields, and schools. The propsed amendments seek to further reduce the upzones from L4 and L3 to L2 and RSL, designations which will not produce much new housing in the area. I see it as a missed opportunity to bring in new residents and continue to build a vital and interesting small urban center. As for affordable housing units built in or funded by new development in this area, well, it just won’t be happening under the proposed designations. Another missed opportunity.

    • Agreed! Upzoning doesn’t mean that the entire neighborhood is going to be bulldozed and built up overnight. It allows homeowners to choose what they want to do with their property and provides the market with diverse housing.

      • MHA as currently proposed increases the allowable lot coverage in lowrise zones. You will not see new, small apartment buildings. Developers will build as large as they can. You will see a dramatic loss of tree canopy as old SF houses, duplexes and apartment buildings with yards and trees are replaced by row houses, townhouses, apartments and condos with very little ground level green space.

      • That depends on what you consider a small apartment building. I consider anything thirty or fewer to be a small apartment building. Those are achievable in an LR3 zoning designation, but not in an L2 or RSL designation. The 19th Ave East corridor already has many such buildings, and would benefit from more of them, especially along the arterial itself.

  6. Buildings have three dimensions that determine their size. Height is only one of them.

    The trend will continue to be consolidation of lots, little if any tree retention, and little if any meaningful canopy replacement.

    MHA also proposes to remove all tree protections during development in single-family zones, as part of Rob Johnson’s “Trees For All” initiative. How that is beneficial, and in whose interests, is an open question. Or perhaps not.

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