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Sawant plays density ‘swing vote’ as Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan finalized

District 3 rep Kshama Sawant played the swing vote Monday afternoon and into the evening as the Seattle City Council’s legislative tinkering on the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan was finally completed.

The plan that 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 will go to the full City Council for a final vote on March 18th. But that vote is mostly symbolic — all nine of the council’s members have been part of the MHA committee’s two years of meetings.

Sawant, Monday, took a swing at the overall legislation’s shortcoming despite joining her companions in unanimous committee approval of the plan.

“Those small affordable housing payments are the only part of this so called Grand Bargain that mitigates the rampant displacement and gentrification driven by the for profit real estate investment of big developers and other larger investors,” Sawant said.

The Socialist Alternative council member said she doesn’t believe MHA-generated apartment units will be able to keep pace with affordable housing being lost in Seattle.

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

During Monday’s proceedings, Sawant played a kind of swing vote role as surgical amendments to modify planned upzoning were considered — and mostly defeated with citywide members Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda consistently voting to “hold the line” on the planned density increases.

Sawant did break with the “hold the line” effort, however, on a so-called “claw back” amendment that was barely passed and is intended to allow the council to roll back upzoning if the plan’s affordability elements are challenged legally.

“It ties the upzones that are so profitable to big developers to the affordable housing contributions that those developers are required to pay,” Sawant said of the amendment.

It’s less clear why Sawant also did not include any D3 related line items in a “companion resolution” for the MHA legislation meant to recognize “challenges and opportunities raised by the community” during last week’s public hearing and in years of similar meetings, online surveys, and constituent emails. Her office has not responded to our inquiry about D3’s absence in the resolution.

Meanwhile, amendments for surgical changes to the MHA upzones in District 3 put forward by Sawant’s office 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.

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One thought on “Sawant plays density ‘swing vote’ as Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan finalized

  1. I would (reluctantly) support the MHA program IF:

    1) Developers were required to include more affordable units in their buildings. As it is, they are only required to include something like 5-8% of the total units.

    2) For those developers opting to pay the fee (which I think will be the majority), that fee should be much higher than it currently is. Other cities with similar programs charge much more.