Public comment closes Monday, August 7th, for the City of Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Please submit your comments by Monday to have your voice heard. Here is the website.

The Urbanist covered the DEIS and its three studied alternatives when they were released in an overview piece and a takeaway piece. The Office of Planning and Community Development has advised that a hybrid of the alternatives is likely to be the preferred alternative. This is how I recommend mixing and matching to create the best plan:

  • Alternative 2 for Northgate would provide greater zoning capacity at the County-owned parking lot where a large affordable housing complex is planned right outside Northgate station. Alternative 3 scaled down the upzones in Northgate to reduce displacement risk, but parking lots have no displacement risk.
  • Alternative 2 for Capitol Hill would provide more housing capacity to help absorb the neighborhood’s incredible housing demand, which is spilling into neighboring areas like Central District. With light rail already in Capitol Hill, we need zoning that unlocks a virtuous cycle of transit-oriented development.
  • Alternative 3 for Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, and Crown Hill. The displacement analysis found low displacement risk and high opportunity in these North Seattle neighborhoods. It’s a no-brainer to funnel more growth here with M2 upzones (which come with a higher affordability requirement) and with urban village expansions.
  • Alternative 3 for West Seattle Junction and Morgan Junction would better capitalize on light rail investments to West Seattle thanks to a larger urban village boundary expansion and more M1 and M2 zoning.
  • Follow the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan, which encouraged mid-rise multifamily development near Rainier Beach Station and recommended an 85-foot height limit for commercial and mixed-use areas there–similar to Alternative 2. Alternative 3 undercuts the neighborhood plan near the station area, but may well be appropriate in other parts of the neighborhood in order to reduce displacement pressures.

Alternative 2 adds more capacity in Rainier Beach versus Alternative 3. Notice the shrinking of teal zone which is a 95-foot zone. (City of Seattle)
  • Hybrid approach in Othello? In Othello some of the most pronounced differences between Alternatives 2 and 3 emerge. The Othello urban village expansion is much bigger in Alternative 2. Moreover, Alternative 2 includes significantly more LR3 east of Othello Station whereas those areas are RSL or unchanged in Alternative 3.
Othello grows much bigger in Alternative 2. (City of Seattle)

Perhaps the best solution is somewhere in the middle? Expanding the urban village boundary would ensure more development within the walkshed of Othello Station contributes to affordability, but more measured changes (perhaps LR2 instead of LR3) might lessen the displacement pressure. Additionally, part of the Othello urban village expansion could be delayed until a bigger batch of urban village expansions down the road. Just when would that be? We have to fight urban villages additions and expansions onto the Comp Plan docket in 2018 and through the Comp Plan process in 2019, and from there through its own EIS. That way, there could be a whole batch of urban village expansions (here’s the ones we’ve recommended) in 2020ish. The Seattle Process at work!

Anyway, please take the time to comment on the web form this weekend to help give the City of Seattle some direction. The next round of MHA rezones could become law in early 2018 if the process goes smoothly. Let’s help it go smoothly.

Four Exciting Urbanist Data Points From Seattle’s MHA Study

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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“… M2 upzones (which come with a higher affordability requirement) …”
We should note in this connection however that for these reason, upzones that ought to be classified as M2 have instead been classified as M1. I refer to University District high rise office tower upzones, which O’Brien tried to rectify in an unsuccessful amendment to the adoption vote. Maybe some area has actually been assigned M2 since then, in an adopted MHA rezone?


No, they are not there. Those – the maps in the draft EIS, or any other maps you may have seen of Wallingford, Fremont etc. MHA upzones, are fictional. My point is that when they actually adopt them, which has not happen yet for our neighborhoods, historically they have chosen not to categorize them as M2, even when clearly justified by magnitude.


I live in Othello (in a sf house s short walk to the station that is currently proposed to be upzoned to RSL) and houses are now selling for $500k. I think the risk of displacement even with no zoning change is very high and need to be addressed bough other mechanisms such as property tax relief for long time residents and public housing. At this point not upzoning mean saving sf housing within walking distance for rich folks. Also, LR2 will probably lead to more townhouses that will also sell for 500k+ while the LR3 zoning will allow for more apartments and it will be more likely that affordable units will be built in the neighborhood through MHA and the MFTE program. Lastly, the voters have spend billions on a light rail system to connect housing and work in order to reduce sprawl and lower green house gas emissions. To not allow the maximum amount of housing to be built within the walkshed of stations is a betrayal of the voters/taxpayer who fund light rail.


The biggest difference between option 2 and 3:

Option 2 puts most of the development around light rail stations. Option 3 puts most of the development in neighborhoods without light rail. The exception is Roosevelt station, which gets more development under option 3.

Option 2 is clearly superior from a transit perspective.

Partially we put light rail through the rainier valley in order to help those neighborhoods develop. The premise of option 3 seems to be that we don’t want those neighborhoods to develop after all because it might cause displacement. Well, if that’s the case then we’ve really misallocated our transit funding in a way we can’t take back.

It seems like the justification for option 3 is very confused.

Andy Katz

Is it too late–or too displacement-risk-inducing–at this stage in the EIS process, for First Hill-Capitol Hill Alternative 2, to suggest M1 rather than M upzones for the current NC3-65 and -85 areas from Melrose Promenade westerly through Pike/Pine up to Madison/15th Ave? Most of those areas appear to be within a short walk of either the LINK station or the Madison BRT line. Upzoning from NC3P-85 to -95 instead of -145 seems particularly shortsighted. If someone’s aware of a specific rationale for going with lower heights I’d appreciate hearing it.