Herbold: MHA Public Hearing set for Feb. 21
From District 1 City Councilmember Lisa Herbold
The Public Hearing on the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program will be on Thursday, February 21, at 5:30pm in the Council Chambers. This is your opportunity, and I encourage you, to come share your thoughts about this proposal with the Council and to comment on amendments you are interested in. The committee intends on voting on the legislation on February 25 after Full Council.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit the committee webpage here, you can also sign up to receive committee agendas while you’re there. And finally, you can also see the committee schedule which will be updated if there are changes.
For a quick primer: MHA requires developers to contribute to affordable housing either by paying a fee based upon the square footage of the building that they are building or by “performing,” which means devoting a percentage of housing units to be offered at lower rents. In exchange for that contribution, the city must grant a small bit of additional development capacity. I believe that, with the proposed zoning changes that are intrinsic to MHA, we are granting additional development capacity to developers, consequently, we should be getting the value of that additional development capacity as contributions to affordable housing. Some believe the current MHA program does require developers to contribute sufficiently to affordable housing. Others do not. Although I support the program, I am in the latter camp of those that say that the affordable housing contribution should be greater.
The city plans to develop 6,000 affordable units with the implementation of the MHA program.
The broad principles of the MHA program were approved by the City Council in the Fall of 2016 MHA framework legislation. This framework legislation laid out how all developers would newly be required to contribute to affordable housing in all developments in exchange for additional zoning capacity. MHA requirements apply to development after a rezone is approved that increases the maximum height or floor area ratio (FAR) for the area. Most areas where MHA applies will have an (M), (M1), or (M2) suffix added to the zone name identifying the affordable housing requirements for that zone. Requirements vary based on housing costs in each area of the city and the scale of the zoning change.
I have been working with community members in each of the Urban Villages in District 1, specifically South Park, Admiral, West Seattle Junction, Westwood-Highland Park, and the Morgan Junction. They have helped me to develop a number of amendments that will, if passed, make changes to the current proposal to reflect the goals held by the community organizations representing those communities, while still implementing MHA in all areas proposed from MHA implementation.
Specifically, I am proposing five amendments with the Junction urban village that would upzone those five areas currently zoned as Single Family to Residential Small Lot (RSL), as opposed to the Executive’s proposal for Low Rise 1, 2, and 3 zoning. The reasoning for this is that the Junction has been identified as the location of a future light rail station; however, the specific alignment and location of the station have not yet been determined. Once that is determined, it will become more clear which properties Sound Transit will need to acquire. This is important because increasing development capacity in these locations may increase the value of the land, and Sound Transit is required to pay for the highest and best use of the land. Sound Transit is already needing third party funding for the development of these lines, and I do not want to see that problem exacerbated. The Community has expressed a desire for additional zoning capacity, but in accordance with the light rail station. To that end, the Office of Planning and Community has committed to beginning a neighborhood planning process in 2019 and 2020.
Additionally, three other amendments I have proposed, one in the Morgan Junction and two in the Westwood-Highland Park urban village, would provide better stair-stepping and avoid harsh transitions from one zone to the next.
At the last meeting of the Council’s Select Committee on Mandatory Housing Affordability, I presented these amendments and some of my colleagues expressed concern. I am proud of District 1, for the most part, embracing the conversion of Single Family Zoning in Urban Villages to RSL. This is significant progress from a year ago when there was fierce opposition in some corners to any changes to Single Family Zoning in Urban Villages. I believe it’s my responsibility, in governing to collaborate with my constituents, and in that spirit, I will continue to champion these amendments. I encourage you to come to the public hearing on Thursday the 21, to share your thoughts about these amendments, because I could use your help.
In addition, and critically important, I have a separate bill to address those instances when existing affordable units in areas identified as having a higher risk of displacement and low access to opportunity by the MHA Final Environmental Impact Statement are proposed to be demolished as part of new residential development. This ordinance would use authority granted under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) to create a requirement to mitigate the impacts resulting from the loss of affordable housing in those areas of the city that, if we didn’t do so, the result would be a failure to fulfill our obligation to “affirmatively promote fair housing” -- in other words, in areas where disproportionate displacement of communities of color and other protected classes is likely to occur.
The MHA Framework legislation, passed in 2016, stated: “The Council intends to consider whether to include higher performance and payment amounts, subject to statutory limits, for those areas where the increase in development capacity would be likely to increase displacement risk…the Council will consider whether to implement additional or alternate MHA program measures to increase affordable units sufficient to offset the affordable units at risk of demolition as a result of the increase in development capacity due to MHA.” – MHA-R Framework Ordinance (Ordinance 125108, Section 2.A.2.a). I have, over the years, expressed my great concern that the City describes MHA as “housing displacement mitigation tool,” but has badly analyzed how development removes more affordable housing than the resources from MHA are sufficient to replace.
For example, in the case of the University District MHA upzone in 2017, the City estimated that only 40-275 units of existing affordable units of housing would be demolished over 20 years. The EIS estimated likely demolition by identifying specific redevelopable parcels and quantifying their existing housing (zero, for parking lots and commercial buildings). The “full buildout” scenario wherein construction occurs on all redevelopable parcels to the full capacity of the proposed rezone was estimated to result in the demolition of 275 homes over 20 years. In just 2 years, based upon a Council Central Staff analysis of new development projects that are currently in some stage of having their Master Use Permit issued or Early Design Guidance reviewed and that are subject to the new zoning put in place in 2017, 96 units of affordable units are already planned for demolition. An analysis by an advocacy organization, the Displacement Coalition, places the estimate at 168 units planned for demolition. Contrast either of these numbers to the 2017 estimate. that 40-275 units of existing affordable units of housing would be demolished over 20 years.
Using the same approach used in the University District in 2017, the City estimates that over 20 years only 574 units of housing will be demolished in the MHA rezone areas. Considering how far afield the University District estimate was, you may understand my concerns about displacement today.
Finally, there is also a companion resolution that will identify many of the future planning priorities for each of the Districts. I will share that when it’s available.
After Thursday’s public hearing, the Select Committee on Citywide MHA will meet in February 25 after Full Council to vote on the package. It will then be held until the March 18 Full Council meeting for consideration.
Ms Herbold forgets the clawback amendment she is proposing, which will revert all upzones if ANY part of the MHA conflicts with state land use law/regulation. If SCALE is successful with any of their next round of lawsuits, practically all the effort that went into MHA will be set back another 5 years and Seattle will continue becoming increasingly unaffordable. Jobs will move elsewhere as they are now doing in the Bay area, and our house prices will decline. Going the way of Detroit is one way of making Seattle more affordable I guess.