Environmental Works News March 2018

This month we’re focusing on Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda (HALA) and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezoning.

And, EW has a busy schedule of great activities coming up this spring.  Please read on to learn more, and mark your calendar to join us!

  • HALA/MHA
  • Upcoming EW Events: EW at UW Headlines, Earth Day Celebration, 15th Avenue E. Community Design Workshop, Downtown Affordable Housing Week Event, GiveBig!

Spotlight on HALA/MHA

Maybe you’ve seen the #HALAYes signs around Seattle, and wondered what they’re about.  Or maybe you’ve testified at a Mandatory Housing Affordability hearing, or attended events hosted by Seattle For Everyone or Seattle Fair Growth.  For those of all stances and knowledge levels, this month’s newsletter presents background on Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda (HALA), Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), and a few projects involving HALA/MHA upzones.

Background on HALA/MHA
For several years, Seattle rents and housing prices have been increasingly dramatically, as have the number of people experiencing homelessness.  In 2014, Seattle’s Mayor and City Council convened a committee of community leaders to develop ideas for working on increased housing accessibility and affordability.  Their July 2015 report contains 65 recommendations, focused on the four themes of more support for affordable housing, more housing of all types, more support for vulnerable tenants and marginalized communities, and innovation in housing development and supports.  Key recommendations included increasing city housing supply through rezoning to create more areas zoned for multi-family housing, and to allow for larger multi-family housing.

Between February and August of 2017, the Seattle City Council voted to implement Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones in the University District, downtown and South Lake Union, Uptown (lower Queen Anne), Chinatown/International District, and along 23rd Avenue at Jackson, Cherry, and Union.  The City now proposes implementing MHA throughout the City.

Two MHA rezone elements that have been receiving substantial attention are upzones; and requiring market-rate developers to support affordable housing.

  • Upzones change current zoning to allow development of buildings that are taller or have a larger floor area ratio (the ratio of a building’s floor area to its lot size).
  • MHA rezones require market-rate developers either to reserve 5-11% of residential units in new multi-family buildings for low-income households; or to pay $5 to $32.75 per square foot into a fund managed by the Seattle Office of Housing for the preservation and building of affordable housing (also known as a commercial linkage fee).

The City now seeks to implement MHA rezoning city-wide.  Because of the size of the proposed rezoning, state law required that an environmental impact statement first be conducted.  The City released a final environmental impact statement in November of 2017, reporting the impacts of four possible alternatives for city-wide implementation of MHA.  The environmental impact statement describes its “Preferred Alternative” as MHA implementation that factors in the risk of displacement of marginalized communities and access to economic opportunity, by moderating development increases in areas with high displacement risk and environmental constraints.

MHA Process
The MHA process is lengthy and complex.  Some have found it challenging to obtain clear information on how proposed options would affect their neighborhood, and to provide feedback to the City.  A group of neighborhood associations has appealed the final environmental impact statement on the grounds that the alternatives identified will produce insufficient affordable housing units; that developers will choose to pay the commercial linkage fee, so that affordable housing will only be built in areas with cheap land rather than throughout the city; and that the alternatives presented fail to consider several factors such as the individual character and demographics of each neighborhood, developmental impact on tree canopy, displacement of seniors and working-class residents, and school capacity.

City outreach on MHA is ongoing through at least August of 2018.  The City’s HALA website has a calendar of upcoming MHA Open Houses.  The Seattle Fair Growth website’s calendar also includes upcoming MHA public hearings and City Council sessions.

Upzones and EW Projects
For examples of MHA upzones in action, below are descriptions of two projects on which EW is collaborating with affordable housing providers.  All residential units in these projects will be affordable housing.

The 23rd and Jackson project with Community House Mental Health Agency (profiled in our April 2017 newsletter) will include an additional floor of affordable housing (12 units) due to the 2017 MHA upzones along 23rd Avenue.  This project will add a total of 128 units of affordable housing to the Central District: 75 units for residents earning 60% or less of area median income, and 53 units for formerly homeless Community House clients.  The final design for this project has been approved, and construction is expected to begin in May or June of this year.

The Ethiopian Community in Seattle is in the feasibility phase of a project in Rainier Beach to build up to 96 units of senior housing on three floors (pending MHA upzone approval) above two floors of community and meeting spaces, including a coffee shop and child care.  Their inclusive design process has been engaging people of all ages in selecting meaningful design elements and building layouts.

Upcoming EW Events

EW has a busy spring ahead!  Please mark your calendar for these upcoming events:

  • UW Headlines: Please join us on Friday, April 13, 5-8 pm, for the opening reception of the University of Washington Department of Architecture’s annual Headlines exhibit!  Firms from around Washington will submit displays highlighting their projects ‘on the boards’, to provide a glimpse into the design process.  EW will be submitting boards on the Everett Safe Streets Project (permanent supportive housing) and the Ethiopian Community in Seattle Project (described above).
  • Earth Day and EW Anniversary Celebration – Free Ice Cream!!: Stop by our patio outside 402 15th Ave. E. on Friday, April 20, from 3 to 6 pm, for treats, information on our upcoming 15th Ave. E. Community Design Workshop, and more.  Free Full Tilt ice cream for the first 75 visitors!!!
  • 15th Ave. E. Community Design Workshop: If you live, work, or play around 15th Avenue East on Capitol Hill, please join us for this free two-hour community design workshop co-hosted by EW and Board & Vellum on Saturday, April 28, from 10 am to 12 pm at the Summit on Pike.  We’ll be collecting information from the community to share with developers and city agencies as future projects are proposed.  Refreshments to be provided.
  • Affordable Housing Presentation and Happy Hour: Please join EW for a brief presentation on affordable housing, along with free drinks and snacks, on Tuesday, May 15, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson in conjunction with Affordable Housing Week.  RSVPs welcome (though not required) to jwilchins@eworks.org.
  • GiveBig 2018: Mark your calendar for 2018’s GiveBig on Wednesday, May 9, with early giving opening on April 26, to support EW and other local nonprofits’ work.