Seattle City Council rejects more density for affordable housing

by Heidi Groover at

The Seattle City Council has rejected a proposal that would allow nonprofits to build taller and larger developments if those projects included affordable housing or certain community spaces, an attempt to fight displacement as housing costs continue to soar across Seattle.

The council voted 7-2 against the measure. Only the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Tammy Morales, and Councilmember Dan Strauss voted in favor.

Tuesday’s vote reflected new political dynamics on the council, where Morales is now in the minority after a rightward shift in last year’s council elections. Some new council members say the city should address zoning questions as part of its larger growth planning effort underway now, rather than in a standalone bill.

The proposal would have allowed nonprofits and developers partnering with nonprofits to build larger buildings than zoning codes currently allow if those developments included affordable housing or space for “equitable development uses” such as social services. Developers could tap additional density allowances in areas of the city where residents face a high risk of displacement or where covenants once excluded people of color.

The bill would also have allowed qualifying projects to avoid design review and parking requirements, two regulations developers say add time and costs. The new rules would expire in 2029 or once 35 projects qualified, whichever came sooner.

For housing developments qualifying under the new rules, the bill would have required at least 30% of new homes to be affordable. 

Morales’ original proposal defined affordable rentals as affordable for people making 80% of area median income, about $71,000 for a single person or $91,000 for a family of three. After other council members objected, Morales proposed lowering that to 60% of area median income, or $57,500 for a single person, for studio and one-bedroom apartments and 80% of area median income for other units.

Morales urged her colleagues to back the proposal as a way to encourage more housing development without the need for new city dollars. Allowing more apartments in a single development typically translates to more revenue to help offset construction costs.

“This is how we address displacement in the city … by giving residents more affordable housing options,” Morales said.