McGinn announces new board, strategy to promote affordable housing
The city of Seattle has created an advisory board to ensure that Seattle’s current building boom doesn’t price low-income and poor people out of the city.
“This is a fundamental economic development and social justice issue,” Mayor Mike McGinn said. “People that work here should be able to afford to live here.”
McGinn’s statement came during a Feb. 22 press conference held in response to a surge in development permits. The mayor created the advisory board to identify effective and appropriate ways to get new developers to support affordable housing. The board will consist of community members, affordable housing providers, developers and other experts.
McGinn appointed retired Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Executive Director Tom Tierney to chair the board.
Tierney led the effort to rezone and redevelop the Yesler Terrace neighborhood, one of the oldest public housing developments in the country. The project will replace 561 units of housing and allow private developers to build several highrises for housing, business offices and shops.
According to Marshall Foster, planning director in the Department of Planning and Development, 26 percent of the rental population is “extremely low income” and 35 percent is “low and very low income.” He also said that 22,000 renters are cost-burdened, meaning they are spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing.
In order to provide attainable housing to these vulnerable populations, the advisory board will examine zoning, housing levies, tax exemptions, the amount of public land available for development and more efficient development processes.
One plan is to utilize the Seattle Housing Levy, which provides rental units and assists first-time homebuyers.
Since 2005, the levy has supplied $157 million for more than 3,600 rental units and $31 million to help 620 first-time homebuyers.
Levy dollars proved controversial for Tierney.
At SHA, he secured city funding, including money from the housing levy, to support the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. Many housing advocates protested using city money designated for low-income housing to subsidize a project that included privately built highrises and market-rate housing.
The Multi-Family Tax Exemption program will also be under review, McGinn said. This program exempts private developers from property tax for a time if they offer affordable housing. The advisory board will analyze how to make the program effective in creating affordable housing.
Making publicly owned land more available for housing and reducing the cost of development are two other strategies the advisory board will consider. Getting projects reviewed quickly and constructed in a timely manner helps to keep cost downs.
Zoning issues will also be on the advisory board’s agenda. The city has previously used “up-zone,” meaning that in exchange for additional height, developers agree to offer affordable housing in the development.
Because this use of up-zone was established during the recession, McGinn wants to know if it is still effective in a different economic time.
McGinn acknowledged that people might be concerned for the quality of their neighborhoods. But, he said, Seattle is a diverse city, whose residents require an equally varied array of housing options.
“If we don’t have a broad-based approach to this over time, what’s going to happen is that those with money will out-compete those without money for all the available housing in Seattle,” McGinn said.
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