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Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Affordable Housing, or Just Taller Buildings?

posted by on September 11 at 10:13 AM

If it works, a plan from Mayor Greg Nickels’s office will create more affordable housing and increase building heights in neighborhoods across the city. But critics say that as the proposal is currently written, the housing benefits are negligible.

The plan takes a formula already in use downtown, which allows developers to build taller in exchange for funding affordable housing, and applies it to new housing citywide. For example, developers who want to build taller in South Lake Union would have to dedicate some of the extra stories to affordable housing, or put money into an affordable housing fund.

But because the mayor’s proposal only requires developers to dedicate 11 percent of the new height to affordable housing, some advocates for low-income people are skeptical that it will do any good. “I don’t see this as a plan that would increase the number of affordable homes,” says Anna Markee, outreach director of the Housing Development Consortium, which represents nonprofit housing developers Markee says the city council should increase the affordable-housing requirement to at least 20 and as much as 30 percent. (Affordable, in this case, works out to more than $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.) Markee says there should also be more incentive for developers to build actual affordable housing, instead of paying into the affordable housing fund. Others, such as John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, say any incentive to build taller could backfire by encouraging developers to tear down affordable housing that already exists.

Markee and Fox may find support in City Council Member Sally Clark, chair of the city’s land-use committee. “I think 11 percent is too low,” Clark says. “Even in the market right now, I’m more interested in looking at figure that is around 20 percent.” The mayor’s office will send the legislation down to Clark’s committee next week.

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"Affordable" in city lingo means what "middle class" means in most parts of the country. When you knock down $700 a month units to build $3000 a month units, with a light sprinkling of $1000 a month units, you are showered with "affordability" accolades, even as you drive the working poor, and even the lower middles, further out of the city.

Posted by Fnarf | September 11, 2008 10:52 AM

"Markee says there should also be more incentive for developers to build actual affordable housing, instead of paying into the affordable housing fund."


One would assume the fund could be used more efficiently to subsidize housing in existing older buildings that will become more affordable as their desirability is driven down by competition with newer more attractive buildings?

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 11, 2008 11:01 AM

@ 2) Paying into the fund delays the construction of housing for years and adds administration costs.

Posted by Dominic Holden | September 11, 2008 11:04 AM

So to be clear, all of you claim to want more density, as long as someone else pays to make sure that you get to live cheaply downtown, enjoying all of the social benefits of public transportation, closer to work, no vehicle needed etc etc, and you want us taxpayers to finance your pipe dream of making sure "affordable" apartments still exist?

Looks like you poor folks making under $60,000 a year, will have to move out to the 'burbs. You know.. the burbs. That 21st century ghetto that you have been predicting?

How is it that you think free market pricing is fine as long as it doesn't affect your rent, or your living location? What possible justification do you have that says we tax payers should subsidize your "cheap" living in the downtown corridor (including Cap Hill)?

I just don't get the logic. If you are going to promote height and density, don't expect a free handout that subsidizes your (in)ability to afford your own price given current market demand.


Posted by Fact Finder | September 11, 2008 11:54 AM


Possibly, assuming that the housing has to be built. What about down market inventory that is freed up by people moving up market into the new buildings?

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 11, 2008 11:56 AM

@4, you're a boob. The handouts are, in fact, going to the people making $60,000 a year. That's what "low income housing" has come to; it's mostly available to those with high incomes.

Posted by Fnarf | September 11, 2008 1:10 PM

@4. There are no tax payer subsidies involved here. that's the point. it's just saying that if the city is allowing all this new development, they shouldn't ALL be for the rich.

A small portion should be set-aside so that people can live near where they work instead of spending hours on the bus from Auburn to South Lake Union. Just exactly what income we're talking about remains to be seen.

In exchange, developers get more height, meaning more view condos worth mega bucks so they are still making a handsome profit.

Posted by Marie Antoinette | September 11, 2008 1:22 PM

Well put, FNARF!

Unfortunately, no matter how often that point is repeated, faith-based density advocates apparently still don't get it.

Oh, and keep in mind that the other 89% of units will rent for a whole hell of a lot more than those $1000/month studios...

Posted by Mr. X | September 11, 2008 1:40 PM


Wrong - in both a direct and indirect sense.

Indirectly - these property owners bought their lots with open eyes and the existing zoning, so upzoning them in fact is a gift of added value, which is why the Council can ask for affordable housing set asides (in this case, as usual, they just aren't asking for enough).

Directly - we the taxpayers will wind up paying for the infrastructure to support this growth. Seattle doesn't have impact fees, and the myth that "growth pays for growth" is just that - a myth.

Can you say $200,000,000 tax dollars to make Mercer Street a pretty new boulevard for Paul Allen, just to name one particularly egregious example?

Posted by Mr. X | September 11, 2008 1:47 PM

OK, one more time, please. How exactly is the addition of new housing units to the existing supply supposed to result in higher prices?

Posted by TLjr | September 11, 2008 7:39 PM

What FNARF said @1. Can you read?

Posted by Mr. X | September 12, 2008 12:46 PM

@3 Dom,

In addition, paying into the fund just to hand it over to the non-profits isn't enough because the non-profits know that they don't have the capacity to build the housing that's needed in the time that it's needed.

Check with Housing Development Consortium (the non-profit aff housing industry group, in case anyone is wondering). They will freely admit that they alone cannot produce the housing that's needed. That's why they support getting for-profits involved in creating affordable housing. (So it's not all about showering money on non-profits, it's about trying to increase the production of affordable housing units.)

Also, boneheads (not Dom), you can find the income restrictions and affordable rents (30% of income) at the Office of Housing website:

(Though you should know that HUD determines the numbers.)

Posted by Hey wait | September 12, 2008 2:58 PM

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