Just how much affordable housing can Seattle get out of private developers? Council member Sally Clark plans to find out before taking any action on an incentive zoning proposal that housing advocates call weak at best.
Clark is the new chair of the City Council's Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhoods Committee. On Feb. 13, the committee took up an incentive zoning resolution first introduced by the mayor last fall but delayed until a December public hearing.
But last week, Clark said she wants to know more -- a lot more -- about an alternate proposal from the Housing Development Consortium, a group of nonprofit housing builders that's calling on private developers to contribute quite a bit more affordable housing than what the mayor's legislation is asking.
What the developers get in return is more height. Like a downtown incentive program the council passed in 2006, the resolution would let developers who make a portion of their new rentals "affordable" -- that is, to someone making $43,600 to $54,500 a year -- build to the new height limits in neighborhoods that have been upzoned.
This year, the city is looking at passing upzones in the Interbay/Dravus area off Queen Anne, in parts of Northgate, south of downtown, and in South Lake Union, with housing advocates now pushing council members to get an incentive program in place before the rezones start coming before them in a few months.
The proposal replicates the downtown program, and is non-binding and purely voluntary: It merely sets guideposts for the benefits that council should get from upzoning a given neighborhood (60 percent affordable housing and 40 percent other amenities, like open space), with developers free to avoid the whole thing -- they can just build to the old height limits if they want.
Developers who do build up must provide the affordable units in their buildings or, as with the downtown plan, pay a fee-in-lieu of $10 to $25 per square foot to an affordable housing fund.
Realty interests say the mayor's proposal asks too much of developers. The nonprofit developers of HDC say it asks too little: It would require just 11 percent of the extra floors in a new building to be affordable versus the 35 percent that HDC members are calling for. Cities that have such programs, they say, generally require 30 percent.
With a height increase from eight to 16 floors, for instance, that means 11 percent of the units on the "bonus" floors, 9-16, would be affordable under the mayor's plan, but a third under HDC's. The group is also urging the council to charge a fee-in-lieu based on actual development costs and make the units affordable in perpetuity rather than for 50 years, as the mayor proposes.
"I'd like to see the mayor's proposal be a lot more aggressive in what it's asking developers to give back to the community in exchange for what they're getting," says Sheldon Cooper, executive director of Home Sight Community Land Trust, an HDC member.
At last week's committee meeting, Council member Clark latched on to the idea of a 30 percent requirement on the bonus floors, asking Adrienne Quinn, the city's housing director, to run some numbers on just how much the city can require of or charge developers and still expect them to participate in an incentive program.
With upzones coming the council's way, "We don't want to mess around with this too long," Clark said, but "I'm personally interested in knowing if a higher number would work."