Hearing Examiner Issues Decision in Favor of the City of Seattle Regarding Mandatory Housing Affordability

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On Monday, January 7, 2019, the Seattle City Council (“City Council”) began debating a proposed legislation that would allow for construction of larger buildings and the imposition of mandatory affordable housing requirements in twenty-seven (27) neighborhoods and commercial corridors throughout the City of Seattle (the “City”), including Wallingford, Fremont, Beacon Hill, Ravenna, and West Seattle Junction (among others).

The Mandatory Housing Affordability (“MHA”) legislation will require new developments to include affordable housing with rent-restrictions (performance option), or alternatively, to contribute to the Seattle Office of Housing fund for affordable housing (payment option).  MHA requirements will vary based on housing costs in each area of the City and the scale of the zoning change.  Higher MHA requirements will apply in areas with higher housing costs and larger zoning changes.  As currently proposed, MHA would require five (5) to eleven (11) percent of projects in new, multi-family residential buildings to be reserved for low-income households, or a contribution between $5.00 to $32.75 per square foot.  The Citywide MHA implementation comes after the City Council in 2017 unanimously approved MHA requirements and rezones in South Lake Union (April 2017), Downtown (April 2017), the University District (February 2017), Chinatown-International District (August 2017), along 23rd Avenue in the Central Area (August 2017), and Uptown (October 2017).

The legislative review process begins after a lengthy legal battle initiated by a coalition of Seattle neighborhood groups against the City’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) in support of MHA.  The coalition groups argued, among other things, that the FEIS did not sufficiently examine impacts to traffic, tree canopy, air quality, economics, and historic resources.  However, in November 2018, in a final, written decision, Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil ruled in favor of the City and affirmed the adequacy of the FEIS on nearly all accounts, except with respect to its impacts on historic sites, which the City is expected to update and revise accordingly.

This will be the first of five planned meetings, with a public hearing scheduled for February 25, 2019.  A final vote on the proposed legislation is expected to take place on March 18, 2019.

If you have any questions regarding the MHA legislation, please contact one of the attorneys in Helsell Fetterman’s Real Estate and Land Use practice group.

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