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Seattle struck a 'grand bargain' on housing. Initial results are coming into view

Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

She and other advocates pushed the council in 2017 to pair MHA zoning changes in the Chinatown International District with a resolution that promised to provide the neighborhood with additional support.

City Hall followed through on aspects of the resolution, such as a "community preference" policy that allows nonprofits to reserve affordable units in new projects for people with ties to a particular neighborhood. Other aspects need more attention and investment, Morishita said.

Tracking a complex program like MHA to make sure regular people benefit can be difficult for community groups, noted Gregory Davis, who chairs the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and wants to see the program produce affordable housing in his organization's neighborhood.

MHA must be complemented by strategies that help existing residents stay, Puget Sound Sage policy director Howard Greenwich said, suggesting City Hall spend more money helping community groups save old apartment buildings from the wrecking ball and cap rents at such buildings.

"Sage would like to see more money spent on preservation," he said.

Since April 2019, about 1,180 housing units were demolished or slated for demolition on blocks where apartments are allowed, including 167 occupied by low-income renters, the city's construction department said in April. In that two-year span, Seattle added about 20,000 new housing units.

Ruby Holland, a Central District homeowner, opposed MHA when the program was adopted. Seattle's urban villages encompass neighborhoods long occupied by people of color, while many wealthy white neighborhoods were untouched by the zoning changes, she noted.

 

The zoning changes have saddled some homeowners with higher property taxes because their properties are now worth more, she said. In theory, the changes mean the homeowners can redevelop their properties, but in practice, MHA fees and other soft costs may be a barrier, Holland said.

"We're paying the cost without getting the reward," the homeowner said. "They want us to sell our properties and go on our merry way."

Some housing advocates are wondering whether the city could exempt longtime homeowners from MHA fees or help them some other way.

A racial equity analysis of Seattle's urban village strategy for growth, released this month, recommends the city allow multifamily options on more blocks, including wealthy neighborhoods dominated today by single-family houses.

The city concurrently should bolster community development and homeownership programs aimed at residents of color, the analysis says.

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