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Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts hoped to be a sign of things to come with Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability expansion

Mayor Jenny Durkan and city officials were on Capitol Hill Wednesday to sign the city’s new legislation expanding Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements and upzoning to Seattle’s densest neighborhoods, the largest step yet in addressing the city’s ongoing affordability crisis, and likely part of more to come if Seattle is to reach its ambitious goals for new affordable units over the next decade. The signing took place in the lobby of 12th Ave Arts where the 88 units of affordable housing are an example of how the new development fees will be put to work creating new places to live in an increasingly expensive city.

“The reason 12th Ave Arts was selected for this event is that the housing component was funded in part by city Incentive Zoning funds, the precursor to MHA,” Chris Persons, CEO of 12th Ave Arts nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing, said Wednesday.

“What was built here is far more than 88 units of affordable housing. We built community. The mission of Capitol Hill Housing is not simply to build housing. Our core purpose is to build vibrant and engaged communities”

Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to pass the legislation expanding its MHA program to 27 neighborhoods across the city including Capitol Hill. MHA ties those upzones to the creation of affordable units either by requiring a portion of new housing to be made available at affordable rates or by requiring developers to pay into funding to build affordable housing elsewhere across the city.

The expansion signed Wednesday will also transition a reported 6% of Seattle’s current single family-zoned property to allow denser development.

The city says more than 45,000 Seattle households spend greater than 50% of their income on housing. MHA-generated housing will create a rent-restricted two-bedroom apartment for a family of four earning $60,200 would be $1,353, the city says. For an individual making less than $42,150, a one-bedroom would cost $1,128.

In a sample of recent ad listing for Capitol Hill apartments, a one-bedroom unit currently lists for around $1,800 — up only about 3% from a sampling we made this time of year in 2015 when rents had already exploded across the region.

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.

You can view a full map of MHA zoning changes here to look up how zoning will — and won’t — change in your neighborhood.

Projects already in planning and under construction won’t be subject to the new zoning or payment requirements. Projects vested to the Land Use Code in effect before the upzones aren’t part of the expanded program.

Under MHA, developers have two options:

  • The performance option includes affordable housing in the development;
  • The payment option allows developers to contribute to the Seattle Office of Housing to support the development of affordable housing.

MHA requirements vary based on housing costs in each area of the city and the scale of the zoning change, with higher MHA requirements in areas with higher housing costs and larger zoning changes. With the performance option, between 5 percent and 11 percent of homes in new multifamily residential buildings are reserved for low-income households. With the payment option, development will contribute between $5.00 and $32.75 per square foot.

Legal actions could still unfold to roll the expansion back.

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

Those first MHA neighborhoods have already generated significant funding, City Council member and MHA committee chair Rob Johnson said during the 12th Ave Arts signing that the six areas where the program has already been implemented have generated $13 million in affordable housing fees. Johnson said the MHA expansion puts Seattle on track to create 3,000 new units of affordable housing over next decade — half of the city’s goal. More will need to be done. Monday, he said, was a good start.

“Monday, my council colleagues acknowledged that effectively planning for that growth, we need to find more space to welcome more neighbors here in the city of Seattle,” Johnson said. “We have to harness that growth to create more opportunities for people bearing the burden of that change. And MHA is a vision that I think will help us really realize the creation of more housing-rich neighborhoods throughout the city.”

The time to prepare to build more affordable housing is now, Johnson said. More people are coming.

“We expect to add about another 33% of our population in the region and the lion’s share of that is going to continue to be focused in the city of Seattle,” Johnson said.

Over the last 10 years, Seattle has grown around 20% to just over 730,000 residents.

As for 12th Ave Arts, the Capitol Hill Housing development opened to rave reviews — and huge demand for its affordable apartment units — in 2014. The 29,000 square-foot development included 88 apartments, and office space for Capitol Hill Housing and several other organizations, all built over parking for the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, and 6,000 square feet of theater space and commercial and restaurant space that is today home to U:Don Noodle, Dumpling Tzar, and Rachel’s Ginger Beer. The $47 million budget was paid for using a mix of tax credits, levy dollars, state programs and commercial bank loans. City Hall also transferred the property to the nonprofit developer in an agreement pounded out in 2012.

Saturday, Capitol Hill Housing will celebrate its latest affordable development as the Central District’s Liberty Bank Building debuts at 24th and Union.

Wednesday, Mayor Durkan didn’t make any headlines in her time at the microphone inside 12th Ave Arts. It’s true. “Seattle is becoming unaffordable,” she said.

“People cannot afford to live here and they are finding it hard to find a place to live. Our workers, our community must travel longer and longer distances to get to their jobs,” the mayor continued. “We must stop this. We have to take bold steps to reverse this trend so that Seattle as it experiences its great growth in jobs also is a place that makes sure that those jobs, the neighborhoods, and communities across the city are open to everyone.”

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15 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts hoped to be a sign of things to come with Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability expansion

  1. $47 million for 88 affordable apartments. This is why we have an affordable housing problem. Our affordable housing is ridiculously expensive to build. They didn’t even have to pay for the land.

  2. It would be nice if CHH spent time actually managing their properties. For two years in a row tenants in our CHH property have gotten no notice of a rent increase until months after the fact. IOW 3 weeks ago there was a note on door telling us we’ve underpaid and owe back rent. This January but there was no notice until we were informed we same thing happened last year. Both times rent went up in hadn’t paid rent in full for January, February, etc. CHH has been contacted by numerous tenants and they have not responded.

    • Wow, that was kind of botched, let’s try again:

      It would be nice if CHH spent time actually managing their properties. For two years in a row tenants in our CHH property have gotten no notice of a rent increase until months after the fact. IOW 3 weeks ago there was a note on tenant doors telling us we’d underpaid and owe back rent. There was no 30 day (or even 1 day!) notice rent had gone up. Same thing happened last year. CHH has been contacted by numerous tenants about this and they have not responded.

      • As most tenants are aware from articles in Crosscut recently, CHH staff is largely incompetent and there is zero accountability. Administrative mistakes like paperwork are nothing compared to Capitol Hill Housing’s rats; bed bugs and crime. Look at the review links on their Facebook page for more information. If you want any type of action taken, let alone a response, you MUST get an outside agency such as the Department of Construction and Inspection or the police involved; otherwise, CHH staff could gives two you know what’s about their tenants once they are leased . Seattle is hearing this more and more, but the wall of denial is so thick that it will take another rat/rapist event and at least a year or two for it to really get thru, but once it does, they need to fire that Chris Persons and get someone with integrity in there promto. Chris has a few years to turn Capitol Hill Housing’s budget out of the red or he’s out. And him being out will be a great day.

      • Dear LA~
        Thanks for sharing your concerns about the resident communication needs around rent and customer service. These aren’t issues we take lightly and understand that they are important to you, too. We will share your comment with our property management team and apologize that you have not received the service you were seeking. As we do not know which building needs attention from this comment, please feel free and encouraged to contact us at so we can work to better address this issue.

      • Wrong Capitol Hill Housing staff! These are issues you mostly definitely take lightly. Maybe if you really didn’t take them lightly, tenants wouldn’t need to resort to the internet to be heard. Either way, the continuing PR CHH does to cover up its problems and it’s 18 or 19 or 20 Point Plan, or whatever Chris Persons came up with after it became known to Seattle four, read it, four CHH building’s have rats, has not touched the real problems with infrastructure and accountability you currently have there. Because CHH has chosen to basically cover more of its poor management up, and because tenants are so disenfranchised and have literally no idea how to advocate for themselves or assert their rights, which you know, these problems will continue till another horrible issue ends up in the public eye. It’s sad to watch, an entire waste of public funds and frankly, it’s pathetic and far far below any point I’d ever in a million years think the city of Seattle could get.

  3. So at the maximum in-lieu fee rate, a 600 sq ft apartment would generate less than $20K toward “affordable” housing? How much does a 600 sq ft unit cost to build?

    How can this possibly replace the relatively affordable units in older buildings whose destruction it incentivizes?

    • The program anticipates the funds will be leveraged with State and Federal funds so dollars generated by HALA would be exponentially increased. That is the idea. If it works, that $20,000 might go further than you think.
      And think about that cost when it comes to developing a property. Under your scenario the typical 30 unit apartment building will pay $600,000 in HALA fees. That is a large line item expense for a small/medium sized project to absorb. I mention that because many people describe these fees as a drop in the bucket, as if they have no significance to developers. They are very significant, and must be accounted for when assessing the economic viability of projects.

      • I have read that other cities with HALA-type programs charge developers much more when they opt to pay into the fund. If this is true, Seattle needs to increase the fees charged in order to generate more affordable housing.

  4. So this manages to make all new market rate housing even more expensive while producing only 100-200 units/year that benefit only 100-200 people/households? Sounds like more failed Seattle City Council ideas.

    • Seriously though, what’s your alternative? What alternative have you recommended over the past four years?

      • Reduce the number of building codes that are required to build a unit. Those codes are over 1500 pages long and go over certain materials you are required to use in every part of a unit. That drives up expenses. You’re not going to spend houndres of thousands of dollars and take a cut. Think about it.