New housing on Seattle’s Dexter Ave.

The long-studied Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is moving to the top of the Seattle City Council’s agenda. MHA requires new multifamily construction to pay include on-site affordable housing or pay into a housing fund. (Single-family construction is exempt, because reasons.)

Former Mosqueda staffer Mike Maddux had a great analysis of each of the amendments and how each of the council members approached the task differently when it came to their particular district:

So here we are with a series of amendments, most of which would limit the ability of MHA specifically, and affordable home development broadly, to be successful, but in different ways. I’ve broken these out into the District 1 amendments, the District 6 amendments, the Historic District carve-outs, and some miscellaneous amendments. Of note: District 3 managed to get away with no amendments for limiting growth, and District 7 no amendments at all. Essentially these two areas are taking growth (and happen to be the most expensive areas to build).

Kevin Schofield has a solid rundown of the political battle lines:

In each case, the Council member representing that district went to bat for the reduction: Herbold for West Seattle Junction and Morgan Junction, Harrell for Beacon Hill, Johnson for Roosevelt and Wallingford, and O’Brien for Crown Hill. But on the flip side, the two city-wide Council members, Mosqueda and Gonzalez, held firm in their desire to maximize the upzones wherever possible and resist reductions. Council member Juarez joined them in the resistance; Baghsaw was conspicuously silent on the matter, and Sawant was absent from the meeting.

Both are worth reading if you want to understand where things stand. With Bagshaw and nominally pro-density Sawant as the swing votes, it’s possible all these amendments get voted down next week.

It’s not the most novel piece of analysis to add that MHA is both necessary and insufficient. It’s hugely regrettable that Mayor Murray dropped single-family zones so early on. It’s puzzling that three lame-duck council members are being so hostile to zoning changes. Furthermore, it’s terrible policy that the EIS is a one-way ratchet: in the bizarro world of our state environmental policy, up-zoning causes impacts but downzoning causes none.

There will be a public hearing this Thursday at 5:30pm at City Hall with a vote likely for Monday the 25th. You can also contact the council and let them know your thoughts.

10 Replies to “Affordable Housing Legislation Nearing the Home Stretch”

  1. Where exactly are the historic districts? Is the plan to basically cease all new construction in those districts? If I buy a house there and want to do an addition (on the outside of the house) am I allowed to? Am I allowed to buy up a small house and replace it with a bigger house? What about converting the house to an apartment (which is fairly common with big, historic houses) — is that allowed?

    1. National Historic District listings are typically just acknowledgments by the Federal government that the site or district is “historic.” There are usually no specific protections and little other than some possible tax benefits that go along with them. Many listed properties both here and nationally have been dramatically modified or even torn down. Local protections can be much more stringent (although in reading the article it seems as though these two districts are only listed as a NHD). My guess is that the districts are more of a political barrier to upzoning rather than an actual one – it becomes difficult to say “let’s tear down stuff in this historic district!” To your own house, however – you can pretty much do what you want if it’s only federally listed.

      There are good reasons for historic preservation of some neighborhoods that evoke a particular period of design or local history (otherwise the shave-it-and-pave-it brigade would have put paid to Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market decades ago); certainly the bungalow streets between Roosevelt and Ravenna Park could be considered in that group, although I don’t think anything really near Roosevelt Station is particularly worthy of that designation save possibly a little bit to the SE. The business district certainly isn’t. I’m not nearly as familiar with Beacon Hill although I admit to being surprised there was an area designated up there.

  2. This last snow event should have taught us that affordable multi-family housing is best placed where the infrastructure already is.

    1. Great, let’s upzone the parts of those areas that are single-family. We can start with Link stations and designated urban villages like Beacon Hill.

      My ideal would also be a large urban village from Ballard to the U-District and the Ship Canal to at least 50th. The exact boundaries are less important, whether it should extend to south Greenlake and the commercial part of Laurelhurst. But Wallingford really needs to get over its bungalows two blocks from 45th.

  3. Over the years building codes and other limitations on what can be built have tended to lock in every higher prices for construction. Those codes and restrictions need a good review, and a number of requirements simply need to be discarded. One of the priorities after safety needs to be reducing building costs. Outlets in new construction cost $100-800. Circuits $300-2000. Plumbing fixtures $1000- to a few thousand. The alternative to reducing these costs are more people camping on our streets and other public places.

      1. That’s enough for like two rooms though. Modern code requires a ton of outlets.

        NEC 210.52: Generally, receptacle outlets in habitable rooms shall be installed so that no point measured horizontally along the floor line in any wall space is more than 1.8 m [6′] from a receptacle outlet. A receptacle shall be installed in each wall space 2 feet or more in width.

        Kitchen counters have a more stringent standard: no point along the back of the counter can be more than 2-feet from a receptacle, and any counter more than 1-foot long requires a receptacle.

        We just can’t trust people with extension cords anymore. (I’m ambivalent myself. Clearly best practice to put outlets where they might be needed but the code does lead to numerous excess, unneeded outlets. Also freedom.)

      2. 4700 fires and 50 deaths from extension cord fires every year on average says CPSC. I can’t find a stat on kids horrifically burned by coffee makers pulled off the counter by an extension cord, but I’m sure there’s a few of those too.

        Building codes are like reading the safety warnings for power equipment: they seem outlandish but every one of them is written in somebody’s blood.

      3. The burgeoning use of electronic devices of all shapes and sizes does militate towards more outlets than code previously allowed for, however – anyone staying in a slightly older hotel runs into this (“now where should I plug this thing in?”) Personally I don’t miss unplugging other things or being tied to a specific outlet when I have to iron or vacuum – although I agree that things in the NEC like the 2-foot wall requirement is a bit of overkill.

        Years ago a friend bought a 1960s house that had two – TWO – 15 amp breakers for the entire 1500 sf house and the paucity of outlets to match. That’s certainly “underkill!”

      4. Ron is exactly right about building codes – the entire point of them existing was for life safety (as opposed to zoning codes, which are something else entirely and often are what add potentially unnecessary costs to buildings). I find the building codes challenging to work with but there is reasoning to most of what you’ll find in them and they can really get down into the weeds.

        Local jurisdictions can and often do add things that are more stringent than the international code series – those can be debated as by definition the international codes are sufficiently safe for many jurisdictions – but at their heart they are life safety-based (and now of course that includes things like accessibility).

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