An Lowrise 3 example. (City of Seattle)

Seattle for Everyone is a broad coalition of affordable housing developers, for-profit developers and businesses, labor and social justice advocates, environmentalists and urbanists, all united to build an equitable, thriving, and inclusive Seattle. The Seattle for Everyone coalition was built on a foundation of support for Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) and its core strategy, Mandatory Housing Affordability or MHA, to produce and preserve the affordable and market-rate housing critically needed to achieve our goals. We appreciate Council’s leadership and work in moving the MHA citywide legislation towards the finish line. We are also immensely grateful to the many housing advocates who showed up last Thursday night to speak in support of MHA.

As Seattle Councilmembers consider amendments to MHA, we call on them to prioritize the maximum goal of affordable homes that MHA was designed to produce. The amendment package should preserve the 6,300-home goal of MHA and lay the foundation for the equitable city that we thrive to be. Here are specific amendments that we ask Council to consider as it deliberates on the final consensus amendments

Ensure maximum affordable home goals in all Districts and neighborhoods throughout the city

In the face of a significant affordable housing shortage and a record number of people moving to Seattle, amendments reducing the scale of MHA zoning changes are of utmost concern. Various areas in Districts 1, 2, 4 and 6 that are near transit, or set for future station areas must be priority areas for more housing. The carve-out of historic districts in opportunity-rich areas marks many areas as off-limits for much needed multi-family housing and, together with other scale reductions, will reduce the ability to achieve the MHA goal of producing 6,300 affordable homes in the next ten years. We are calling on Council to only adopt amendments that increase housing options throughout the city.

Extend the time for SDCI to report on performance of MHA framework

We support Councilmember Johnson’s amendment B2 that would extend the time that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) must report on the performance of the MHA framework for residential development, which is slated under current law to be reported by July 1, 2019. Amendment Option 1 by Johnson and co-sponsored by Councilmember Juarez would extend this to July 1, 2021. The extended time would allow the legislation time to be in effect and give actual baseline implementation to prepare for the report, which could be used to consider any necessary modification to the program.

Define a process for technical review support for the SDCI performance review

The 2021 SDCI performance review of MHA should be supported by a technical review committee. The current legislation should provide definition for the composition of this committee and the scope of its work program. Specifically, the technical review committee should include non-profit and for-profit developers, a housing economist, a lending institution representative, multifamily architects and others with expertise in housing production, design and finance. The technical review committee should assess affordable housing yield under MHA and evaluate the factors (including rates, performance criteria, regulatory requirements, construction costs, lending standards and market conditions) that influence that yield. The committee should report its findings to SDCI and make recommendations to SDCI for refinements to the MHA program and other City regulatory standards. 

Do not adopt the reassessment of low, medium and high areas.

Amendment B3 would adjust the intent language of the original Ordinance 125108, which established the purpose of the MHA framework. The unprecedented appeal and delay of the implementation of MHA has cost us time and opportunity to employ the framework. Attempting today to re-evaluate and modify payment amounts and boundaries of high, medium, and low MHA areas by July 1, 2019 would not be validated by adequate data from projects that have been implemented through the program.

Reject the Claw-back Clause

In the face of the unprecedented housing need in our communities, we are greatly concerned about amendment B6. This amendment would establish the intent to reverse added development capacity or regulations by the city in the unlikely event that the MHA program is found to be unlawful. We believe this amendment diverts from the vision and principle of increasing housing choices throughout the city to begin to confront our history of redlining and exclusionary zoning. Declaring an emergency moratorium on development until an alternative approach is enacted would set an anti-development precedent that reinforces exclusionary zoning. MHA has been working successfully in the densest parts of Seattle for years now. Please reject this framework amendment and its moratorium option.

We look forward to working with Council as it continues to hone the consensus amendment package and prepare for a MHA Select Committee vote on Monday, February 25th. It is our hope that we can all stand together in the future and celebrate the MHA citywide legacy of real affordability and livability for our city. 

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Patience Malaba is the executive director of the Housing Development Consortium, a group of nonprofit housing developers.