Council Member Rob Johnson-compressed

Councilmember Rob Johnson. Photo: Seattle City Council/Flickr

On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the the South Lake Union and Downtown Seattle rezone, in hopes of creating more affordable housing opportunities for thousands of Seattle’s lower- and middle-income workers.

If all goes well, the rezone, a part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, will add 2,100 units of affordable housing to the two neighborhoods over the next ten years.

“I’m thankful for the unanimous vote from my colleagues to provide opportunities for people making less than $40,000 year (< 60% Area Median Income),”  said Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle), chair of the Council’s Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee in a press release. “The Downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods will be all the stronger for it.”

Under the new legislation, residential height increases in SLU and downtown will surpass the current maximum height — ranging from 10 extra feet where the limit is currently 85 to 50 extra feet in zones with a 500 foot limit. Areas of Downtown with no height limit would be given an extra 1,000 square feet of width. Commercial buildings would be given additional floor area ratio.

In exchange, as with the U District upzone, developers will either have to designate a portion of their building to affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund. In residential buildings, 2.9 to 5 percent of units will need to be affordable — significantly lower than the U District requirements, since the change in density isn’t as notable. For commercial buildings, that requirement spikes to 5 to 10.6 percent.

“Downtown and South Lake Union are two of our fastest-growing neighborhoods in our city, and we need to take advantage of that growth by ensuring developers that aren’t required to build affordable housing opt-in to this mandatory program,” said Councilmember Johnson in a press release. “These projects, which are permitted but haven’t yet started construction will be asked to opt-in to the MHA program so we can create more funding in the short term for affordable housing.”

Mayor Ed Murray must review the rezone and sign off before the new legislation goes into effect.

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