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More than 2,000 affordable homes expected from downtown Seattle rezone

caption: Seattle skyline
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Seattle skyline
Flickr Photo/Steven Santiago (CC-BY-NC-ND)/

Downtown and South Lake Union are poised to get even denser. Seattle lawmakers have approved a rezone to increase the building heights for both neighborhoods. Mayor Ed Murray signed it into law on Friday, April 14.

The zoning change also requires a portion of new housing units to be affordably priced, but it’s set lower than some council members wanted.

In downtown and South Lake Union, at least 2 percent of units must be priced for lower income households. Commercial buildings will have a 5-10 percent requirement, depending on height. Developers also have the option of paying into a city fund for affordable housing, instead of building units.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold says 2 percent is not enough. In the University District the requirement is a minimum of 5 percent. In other cities it's even higher - San Francisco has a 15 percent affordable housing mandate in some areas.

Herbold says Seattle should ask more from downtown developers.

Herbold: "We are not capturing the value of the upzones with this legislation in the same way that we are capturing the value of the upzones in other neighborhoods."

The majority of the City Council voted to stick with the 2 percent requirement in part because that's what developers agreed to in the earliest talks about the upzone.

That requirement is expected to bring 2,100 new affordable units to downtown and South Lake Union, in addition to thousands of market rate homes.

Herbold says her plan would have brought a few hundred more affordable units.

The City Council is working to rezone each neighborhood to make way for more housing. Next up is Chinatown-International District.

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