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Housing affordability rezones (mostly) clear appeal

The rezones were one recommendation of the city’s HALA committee

An aerial view of homes in West Seattle.

About a year after coalition of neighborhood groups filed a legal challenge to a series of proposed Seattle upzones, and the city’s hearing examiner has finally reached a decision: The rezones are mostly cleared to move forward after additional work to examine the legislation’s impact on historical sites.

The city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation to implement upzones throughout the city, which exchange greater density for either building or paying for a certain amount of affordable housing, was unveiled last year. Soon after, a coalition of neighborhood groups filed an appeal to the hearing examiner, tasked with deciding whether the city’s analysis of its plan was sufficient.

In its appeal, the group alleged, among other things, that the city’s analysis may not have sufficiently examined impacts to traffic, air quality, and open space. After what City Councilmember Rob Johnson, who championed the legislations, called “one of the longest appeals in Seattle’s history,” the hearing examiner found that the analysis was sufficient, save for some extra work on historical sites that the city expects to resolve quickly.

The legislation is expected to create 6,000 affordable homes over the next decade as just one branch of a series of recommendations created by the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA. The city’s Office of Planning and Community Development announced earlier this month that according to its analysis, around 700 units were lost as a result of a delay. Still, in the six neighborhoods where MHA was first implemented, the city has raised about $13 million for affordable housing, according to estimates released by the mayor’s office.

“As the current development boom winds down, it is my hope that we can adopt the citywide MHA proposal as soon as possible so as not to miss this development cycle and the opportunity to build affordable housing that comes with it,” said Johnson in a statement Wednesday. “I am ready and excited to work with community members and my Council colleagues to move MHA forward quickly so we don’t lose even more affordable housing funding.”

When then-mayor Tim Burgess and Johnson first announced the full plan for rezones, they acknowledged that a hearing examiner appeal was likely. But it went longer than they initially estimated—originally, the city estimated that a City Council vote would happen sometime in fall 2018.

The mayor’s office said that city staff is prepared to conduct the additional analysis in early 2019.

The decision was praised by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Calling the ruling “a step forward for more affordable housing in Seattle,” Durkan said in a statement that the city “will move quickly to do the minor work required so we can begin to build these much-needed affordable homes.”

Carl Guess, a representative of West Seattle neighborhood group JuNO, which was involved in the coalition, said in a statement reported by West Seattle Blog that the organization is “disappointed” and that the ruling is “a big setback.”