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The Council is preparing to vote on the University District Rezone this coming Tuesday, February 21st. This is the first legislation that will incorporate the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, which will require developers to contribute to affordable housing. While we passed the framework legislation for commercial and residential buildings in 2015 and 2016, this will be the first legislation to implement it. We have the opportunity to require that the tallest buildings, receiving the largest height increase, set aside 10% of new units for people making no more than 60% AMI. I am currently unsure if we have the votes to make that happen.
The legislation is currently written to set aside 9% in the high-rise zones, and my proposal would make that a 10% set aside. It is not a huge jump, but we believe it could create an additional 44-64 additional units over the next 10 years in the University District. It also sets the precedent for future rezones that we require significant housing contributions for significant height increases.
Thus far, the main arguments I have heard in opposition is that my proposed increase would make it infeasible to build in the U-District. I don’t agree. The estimated costs per square foot for building high-rise construction in the U-District is $284-303/SF. My amendment would raise that cost by $2.25/SF to $286-305/SF. I don’t believe this difference will make or break a project.
For example, a new 300 unit high-rise residential building would need to set aside 27 units. My amendment would require an additional 3 units be set aside for people making 60% AMI or less, bringing the total to 30 units. Again, I don’t believe this is infeasible. But it does set a precedent.
When we finalized our MHA framework legislation that sets in place the nuts and bolts of the program, we made clear our intent to require greater set asides in areas with significant increased capacities and areas in the city with a high risk of displacement. This is our chance to operationalize that intent and set the tone for future rezones.
If not now, when? The best way to ensure strong requirements is to incorporate this change into the bill this Tuesday. If you feel strongly, the easiest way to communicate with council is to email email@example.com.