Ten other projects—which would raise another $20 million—have been identified as good candidates to opt into the program, council member Rob Johnson said. He announced the development at a former Chevron gas station on Brooklyn and 47th Avenues in the University District, an example “of an unsustainable, car-dependent past,” Johnson said. (Because of the new zoning regulations for the U District passed in February, Johnson said, it allowed the plan for a midrise building at the site to expand from 74 units to 142 units.)
The legislation last month for the MHA program downtown and in South Lake Union required new developers to either dedicate a certain percentage (ranging between 2 to 5 percent, depending on the location) of their square footage to affordable housing or impose fines if developers don’t meet that amount. An amendment by Johnson also allowed developers who have already been permitted to opt into the program voluntarily.
All of those opting in are commercial buildings, and very few commercial developments are going to choose to build rather than get fined for affordable housing, Johnson said, since it’d be difficult to put residents in an otherwise commercial building.
The announcement comes in the middle of an election season that’s made affordable housing the center of some candidates’ platforms. Council member Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative on Wednesday endorsed Nikkita Oliver for mayor and Jon Grant for city council position eight, and announced the group’s affordable housing plan. It involved tens of thousands of public housing units “paid for by taxing big business,” 25 percent of new housing to be dedicated to affordable units, and rent control as an emergency measure.
An advantage to the MHA program is the market rate housing and the revenue it creates by incentivizing developers, allowing the city to meet demand for all income brackets. It’s unclear what kind of taxes from big businesses they would propose, but the city’s already working on a city income tax proposal that would likely take a couple years to implement (and that’s only if the legislation wins in its inevitable legal battle); the city’s already increased the business-and-occupation tax, and a capital gains tax would also have its challenges.
Rent control is illegal by state law implemented in 1981. And despite Sawant’s pressing since her election promise in 2015, that’s not going to change anytime soon with a Republican majority in the senate. There’s also a question of whether rent control accomplishes its objective at all.
Johnson said in other cities that accomplished the 25 percent number have also seen “very few” units, both affordable housing and market rate housing, being built. Units that were being built were also at a very different scale than the current zoning, like a five-story to a 20-story building in New York.
“We’ve got a solution here that’s identified that will result in real funding for affordable housing without depressing the production of market rate housing,” Johnson said.