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Credit: City of Seattle

Seattle's U-District could get much taller under mayor's plan

The University District is gonna be HUGE. We’re talking towers – up to 32 stories tall in some places – where right now there are just one and two story buildings.

Officials say the neighborhood has more room to grow than Capitol Hill, because of all the parking lots in the U-District.

Much of the old U-District is being knocked down to make way for a bigger, taller, and more expensive U-District.


But some of the U-District will be remain affordable.

That’s thanks to zoning changes the mayor announced this week.

Murray: “That’s a first in Seattle…”

The U-District will be the first neighborhood where affordable housing is required, under new laws. Every new building will either have to build some – or at least pay for some.

Sam Assefa directs Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development. He says the mayor’s plan is the city’s best chance to respond to forces outside its control.

Assefa: “You can’t legislate how many people can live in your city. It’s not realistic. Maybe you can in China or other places. But we live in a market economy.”

Right now, the market economy is sending 50 new people to live in Seattle every day. Assefa says even with all the construction you see around, we’re only building enough places for 12 of them to live.

Assefa: “And you do the math for what that will lead to. It’s not by accident Seattle’s becoming one of the most expensive cities.”

A lot of people have been doing the math. And they’ve concluded that the U-District could be a great place to put a lot of new apartments.

But here’s the thing. There’s a lot of affordable housing here already.

John Fox and the Seattle Displacement Coalition says development will destroy many more affordable homes than it creates.

Fox: “What’s their solution? Fan the flames. Pour more fuel on the fire with a high-rise plan that will greatly accelerate the loss of that existing stock. This is a blueprint for displacement and gentrification.”

The mayor says Fox’s numbers are off. And besides – those affordable apartments are doomed anyway. Current zoning laws don’t protect them at all.

Under the new plan, the mayor says at least some of them will be replaced.