Skip to main content

Seattle Mayor Unveils 'Grand Bargain' For Affordable Housing

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a package of proposals Monday aimed at dramatically increasing the supply of affordable housing in a city that would be taller and denser.

The goal is to build 20,000 more affordable housing units over the next decade.

At the heart of the proposal is something that Murray calls “the grand bargain.” The city is proposing what it calls an upzone that will allow developers to build taller buildings in about 16 percent of the city -- including downtown, in urban villages, and along arterial streets -- places where there is already significant density (see map).

Developers have been asking for the change because it gives them the ability to build more profitably. But in return, residential developers will be required to build affordable housing within their projects, or else pay the city to build them. Separately, commercial developers will be required to pay a linkage fee that will fund affordable housing.

In most cases, the upzone will result in an extra one or two stories. Residential developers will be required to make 5 to 7 percent of their units affordable to households with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median income.

“We are taking areas that are already upzoned, and we are going to add a floor and we are going to get affordable housing built in every neighborhood and private developers that are going to do it,” Murray said at a news conference. “It’s going to allow families to be in neighborhoods that have transit and schools and parks. To me that is the heart of this grand bargain.”

Sixty-five recommendations were made by the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee and range from doubling the housing levy to providing more tax incentives to developers. (Also see the Seattle 2035 plan.)

The proposals also call for some changes to the city’s single-family neighborhoods, which make up about two-thirds of the city. About 6 percent of single family zones that are currently adjacent to denser urban villages would be upzoned as well.

That was not good news to Al Pacifico, who was struggling to get his tired 2-year-old into the car.

Under the mayor’s plan, his quiet street in the Roosevelt district would become part of an urban village nearby. He says the neighborhood is already getting too crowded.

“I’ve lived in this city for 25 years, and I feel done. I feel that the things that have made me live here instead of San Francisco this City Council is destroying,” Pacifico said.

The remaining 94 percent of the city’s single-family neighborhoods would not be upzoned, but the proposal calls for allowing more types of housing in them, such as duplexes, triplexes and backyard cottages.

Murray acknowledged that there will be "anxiety" in neighborhoods because of the proposed changes, but that once people realize they will create both more affordable housing and also help ease congestion as people are able to move closer to their jobs, "I think some of the temperature will come down," he said.

But some housing activists don’t think the plan goes far enough. City councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant joined council candidate Jon Grant in calling for more dramatic measures, including rent control. The mayor’s office says there will be plenty of time for people to comment on the individual proposals because it will take up to two years to fully implement them.

Why you can trust KUOW