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Central Area housing affordability rezones pass City Council

A companion resolution seeks additional solutions

Joe Wolf/Flickr

Legislation passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday will bring zoning changes to three points in the Central Area that trade building height for affordable housing and “implement a community vision” for the neighborhood.

The rezones, which only affect three hubs along 23rd Avenue at Union, Cherry, and Jackson Street, implement the mandatory housing affordability (MHA) requirements recommended by the 23rd Avenue Action Plan and the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

New residential development will have to contribute to the city’s affordable housing stock by either building in between 7 and 11 percent their units as affordable, or paying $20.75 to $32.75 per square foot to a city affordable housing fund.

New commercial development, as is the usual case, has different requirements: between 5 and 9 percent of total floor area or $8 to $14.50 per square foot in the in-lieu fee.

These requirements are among the highest planned for the city, although they’re still below what some community groups, activists, and elected hopefuls (including mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver and City Council candidate Jon Grant) want for MHA rezones: 25 percent affordability requirements across the city. Others, including Sightline, argue that if the ratio is too high, no new development will be built, and the city won’t be able to take advantage of affordability requirements at all.

Zoning changes passed Monday included a rezone of the site where Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank Building broke ground last month to allow for its six-story height.

A companion resolution recognizes the 23rd Avenue Action Plan and Urban Design Framework. The latter lays out a “shared design vision.” The former lays out priorities for the neighborhood, including a “safe and comfortable environment,” “an inviting street network,” “connected people and community,” a healthy business community, and “recogniz[ing] the Central Area as the historical heart of the African American community.”

The rezones were also laid out as part of the plan.

In the companion resolution, a recital proposed by City Councilor Lisa Herbold (and passed by full council) drove that last point home with the historical context:

The City acknowledges that African Americans residing in the Central Area have been impacted by structural and institutional racism, including redlining, restrictive covenants, and other discriminatory practices that led to racial segregation and current racial disparities in quality of outcomes such as access to quality education, living wage employment, healthy environment, affordable housing, and transportation.

Starting in the 1930s, redlining pushed Seattle’s black community into the Central Area. But now, area presents a high displacement risk for those same longtime residents. In 1970, the area was 73 percent black. It’s projected to be only 14 percent black by 2019.

The 23rd Avenue Action Community Team supervised (and will supervise) creation and implementation of the rezones, the urban design framework, and and the action plan. That team is more than 50 percent black or African-American and more than 50 percent comprised of longtime residents of the neighborhood.

That doesn’t mean that everyone felt engaged in the process. City Council candidate and NAACP leader Sheley Secrest told The Stranger earlier this month that seeing the International District rezones get pushed back for more community input, “Blacks in the Central District are asking why the same efforts to bring folks to the table aren't being applied for the CD upzone."

The resolution acknowledges that “implementation of the Mandatory Housing Affordability programs alone is not sufficient to fully meet the demand for affordable housing or to fully address displacement of vulnerable populations.”

It commits the city to working with the team and with the Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District, Central Area Collaborative, Africatown and Africatown Community Land Trust, Black Community Impact Alliance, Centerstone, and others.

To that end, the resolution says the city is “committed” to additional strategies to fight displacement, consideration of race and social justice impacts, and continued investment in the Equitable Development Initiative, “which builds creative anti-displacement, community-driven solutions.”

The MHA rezone, along with similar ones in the U District, Downtown and South Lake Union, and the International District, are part of a larger strategy recommended by HALA. Next year, the city is planning a citywide rezone for housing affordability, including more changes in the Central Area.