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May 2015

Coalition for Housing Solutions outlines strategies to boost housing supply

May 2015

Coalition for Housing Solutions logoResponding to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's unprecedented goal to build 50,000 housing units over the next decade, a partnership of building industry representatives (including Seattle King County REALTORS®) voiced support for the ambitious plan but urged the City to incentivize builders and change policies that jeopardize supply and affordability.

In late March, Mayor Murray announced the goal to his 28-member Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee (HALA). Of the 50,000 units, at least 20,000 would be targeted as income-restricted -- affordable to households at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) -- with the balance slated to be market-rate units.

The builder's group, known as the Coalition for Housing Solutions, commissioned a policy brief, which was released in mid-April. Its purpose "is to outline a preliminary list of housing strategies for inclusion into the HALA process." The 43-page Policy Framework and Recommendations report outlines three strategies:

  1. Improve affordability through market rate housing
  2. Grow housing opportunities for lower-income households
  3. Increase the resources for affordable housing efforts

Within each strategy are actions to achieve the bold vision plus measures for "no net loss" of housing in the city. Included in the brief are potential changes to zoning, housing flexibility, permitting and entitlement measures, along with proposals for limited financial incentives for market rate housing.

"Housing is critical to the city's future success," the authors of the report stated. Continuing, they say, "It plays a central role in the economic vibrancy, environmental quality, and social wellness that all residents rely on and strive for. A robust housing strategy must be rooted in how private and supported markets deliver affordable housing. Without this central insight, the city may miss the 'low hanging fruit' or pursue counter-productive strategies. "

Shortly after the mayor announced his goal, the Coalition issued a news release announcing support but cautioning against policies that would discourage housing production.

"Seattle's existing and future residents are well-served by Mayor Murray's recognition that the only way to meet growing demand for housing is to produce more housing for various income levels," said Ada Healey, vice president of real estate, Vulcan Inc. "The City will need to proactively incentivize production in order to meet these record-setting market-rate and affordable housing goals. A new tax on housing production, as proposed by the City Council, will keep Seattle from meeting the mayor's goal."

"The Council will need to revisit actions it has taken that limit or disincentivize housing production - including restrictions on micro-units, accessory dwelling units and overly conservative zoning around transit stations," said Coalition member Joe Gievett, founder and principal, Emerald Bay Equity. "The City must ensure that adequate zoned capacity is available for developable property throughout Seattle to meet a target of 50,000 housing units."

In its responses to the mayor's announcement, the Coalition noted there has never been a 10-year period when Seattle produced 50,000 units. The closest the city came was the post-War boom from 1945-1956. King County Assessor data show 34,889 units were built during that timeframe.

The Coalition for Housing Solutions formed as a response to a resolution stating the City Council's intent to create a "linkage fee."  Believing the policy would have negative consequences, it organized to advocate for alternatives, including the need for comprehensive solutions.

Coalition members, in addition to SKCR, include Seattle-area builders, land use attorneys, architects, housing advocates, membership-based organizations and urban advocates.