City The Future of Affordable Housing
posted by December 13 at 10:59 AMon
I have piece in this week’s issue about the proposed citywide expansion of a downtown program that allows developers to exceed height limits in certain zones if they build affordable housing, or pay into the city-managed housing fund. But no matter how this zoning incentive program debate settles, Seattle still won’t have enough affordable housing.
Carla Okigwe, Executive Director of the Housing Developing Consortium of Seattle-King County, estimates Seattle must build 155,000 units for low-to-moderate wage earners in the next ten years. But non-profits can only construct one-third of those units, she says. Market incentive must drive construction of the other two-thirds. So how do we do that?
1) Expand the height-bonus area to mixed-use zones around entire city and bump up the affordable housing fee from $19 per-square-foot to at least $25—as a penalty for developers who choose to omit affordable housing from new buildings. We need housing now, not years after developers pay into a fund.
2) Rezone arterials in the Central District: Between downtown and MLK Way, on Jackson St, Yesler St, Cherry St, and Union St (plus MLK Way and 23rd Ave) units that face the street and their adjacent lots should all be zoned for 40’ mixed-use development. Property values are soaring in the CD and this would create more affordable units there. Owners whose houses are rezoned may bitch and moan, but their property values would increase overnight, and these are the primary arterials between the closest residential neighborhoods to the downtown core. As an incentive to build apartments there, provide developers a height bonus to reach 65’, waive the ground-level retail requirement, and dismiss the affordable housing penalty if they construct rental units.
3) Provide an incentive to develop small-unit and family condos: Any residential building that averages fewer than 550 square feet per unit or builds three-bedrooms units less than 1000 square feet should be allowed to use the height bonus without paying into the affordable housing fund—because that is creating affordable housing.
We can’t rely on a city-managed fund as the end-all solution to the affordable housing shortage; it pushes money around City Hall and the Office of Housing, and people will still be in committee meetings deliberating over proposals when cockroaches rule the earth. Developers are always lobbying the council for a laundry list of zoning changes, but these should be made in 2008.