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Seattle To Consider Charging Developers A Fee To Help Pay For Affordable Housing

Transit Nerds

A record 13,000 apartments are being built in Seattle this year and next, according to the real estate data firm Dupre + Scott. But most of those are not affordable for your average restaurant worker or store clerk, prompting Seattle City Council Member Mike O'Brien to push a plan to create more so-called workforce housing by charging developers a new fee.

O’Brien says it’s a good thing there’s so much construction going on.

"I want to see the development that’s happening in Seattle," he said. "But they’re also creating pressure on rents."

The city has tried to generate money for affordable housing by allowing developers in certain parts of the city to build higher buildings in exchange for a fee or creating lower-rent units on site, through a system called incentive zoning. But that hasn’t had as big an effect as officials had hoped.

So now, O’Brien says it’s time to stop making it optional. He says the city should just require all developers to pay a so-called linkage fee toward housing for low- and moderate-income people.

"Everyone’s going to participate, which means it’s not one of these deals where some developers have to help with affordable housing but others don’t have to contribute at all," he said. 

Developers are already speaking out against the plan, saying rents for market-rate units will have to rise to offset the costs, or the buildings just won’t get built.

O’Brien says based on the economic analyses he’s seen, he thinks developers will be able to absorb the fee. The planning and land use committee he chairs will be talking about the idea on Tuesday. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.