Proposal builds on “Homes Within Reach” as neighborhoods grow
SEATTLE, Oct. 4 – As a second part of his “Homes Within Reach” strategy, Mayor Greg Nickels today announced a proposal to extend to other neighborhoods throughout the city a successful program that is creating hundreds of affordable homes in the downtown area.
“The troubling fact is that today’s housing market is rising beyond the reach of too many people and we need new tools to keep Seattle an affordable place to live, work and raise families,” Nickels said. “What I’m proposing today will help create more needed homes for working families and ensure that the neighborhoods that accept growth also benefit from the growth.”
The mayor’s proposal doesn’t change any existing neighborhood zoning, but would be incorporated whenever a significant zoning change is adopted in the future. If approved, the program would become part of zoning changes now under consideration for the south downtown, South Lake Union and Dravus areas.
Under the program, developers who take advantage of an increase to height and density limits would be required to either build affordable units as part of their residential project, or pay into a fund to create housing affordable for working families and other neighborhood amenities, such as parks and open space.
The proposal, sent to the City Council this week, is the second element of Nickels’ “Homes Within Reach” strategy, launched in July. The efforts aim to create new opportunities for teachers, nurses, grocery clerks, hotel workers, firefighters and other moderate-wage earners to find homes they can afford in the city.
Rents on apartments built under the plan would be affordable to households making up to approximately $50,000, while the sale price of condominiums would be affordable to households earning up to about $63,489 a year. Both rental and homeownership units must remain affordable for 50 years.
Similar zoning incentives for affordable housing were adopted in early 2006 for Seattle’s Center City – the downtown central office core and adjoining areas, including the Denny Triangle and a portion of Belltown.
As construction costs soar, developers have been looking for ways to make housing affordable to a wider group of people. “We commend the mayor for taking steps that will provide the flexibility to meet our needs as developers while giving us the opportunity to contribute to, or even directly provide, much needed housing for Seattle’s moderate-wage workers,” said Hal Ferris, principal with Lorig Associates LLC.
“Zoning incentives for affordable housing are an important tool to provide homes for working people, such as nurses and teachers, who may not qualify for the city’s subsidy programs yet who are having difficulty finding housing within the city limits,” said Adrienne Quinn, director of Seattle’s Office of Housing,
In July, the mayor announced part one of his Seattle “Homes Within Reach” plan, which would extend the existing multifamily incentive program to all urban villages to help a broader range of people find affordable apartments or condos in more neighborhoods across Seattle.
In part one, which the City Council is currently reviewing, the program will provide a 12-year tax exemption on the residential portion of any new apartment building in which 20 to 25 percent of the units are set aside for individuals earning up to $49,000 or families earning up to $62,300.
Seattle has a long history of meeting the housing needs of the poor or low-income earners. During the past 20 years, the Housing Levy and other programs have created nearly 10,000 homes for those earning between zero and $45,000 a year.
In recent years, as housing prices climb, the new challenge has become trying to provide opportunities for those who don’t qualify as low-income earners, but who are increasingly priced out of the market with few places to turn. The median price of new condos now exceeds $350,000, requiring an annual income of more than $74,000. Median-priced single-family homes now require an annual income of more than $100,000.
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