Housing advocates in Seattle nearly broke their mice hitting the refresh button on Wednesday afternoon, waiting for an update on the fate of the city’s controversial Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policy.
At 4:30 p.m. they got their cheese:
The Seattle Office of the Hearing Examiner ruled largely in favor of the city in a suit brought by a coalition of neighborhood groups that tried to overturn the city’s MHA policy.
MHA “upzones” neighborhoods, readying them for tall, dense buildings, and leveling a fee on developers who do not make a portion of the units in these developments affordable.
Brought by the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity (SCALE), the suit focused on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) conducted by the city as part of the process of developing the MHA policy. Appellants challenged the adequacy of the study, focusing on whether or not the study went far enough to determine the potential impacts of putting more people into taller buildings near transit.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the community groups trying to fight the policy.
The Hearing Examiner “must give substantial weight” to the decisions of Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections director, leaving it to SCALE to prove that the highly technical EIS was insufficient.
They were not able to meet that standard.
Opponents of MHA did not show sufficient evidence that the EIS was flawed because they failed to prove that there was a probability that certain resources would be harmed by MHA, the examiner wrote.
Although some issues raised by SCALE didn’t have to be addressed by the city under environmental law, the city could have saved iself a lot of pain by presenting more granular data about the impact of MHA.
“…[T]he more ‘granular’ level of analysis called for and debated at the hearing may have averted at least some of the deeply felt community concern expressed in nearly four weeks of hearing and in a hearing process that has taken the better part of a year,” the examiner wrote.
That said, it was a substantial victory for the city outside of issues with the historic resources portion of the review.
“The ruling is a step forward for more affordable housing in Seattle,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a written statement.
Now we wait to see if the ruling is appealed to Superior Court.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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