City of Seattle MHA Program and EIS

The MHA program requires developers of new commercial and residential development projects to either build affordable housing within their Seattle city project or pay a fee-in-lieu. To offset this requirement, the City is increasing the development capacity—i.e., height and density—allowed to be constructed under the zoning code in multifamily, commercial, and some single-family zoned areas. This EIS studies the impacts of those capacity increases in multifamily and commercial areas, and in areas zoned single-family in existing urban villages or potential expansion areas.

For example, the EIS studies the impacts of potential height increases of “standard” development capacity increases in neighborhood commercial zones ranging from and increased 15 feet in height and 0.5 FAR in NC-40 zones (to become NC-55 zones), to 40 feet and 1.5 FAR in NC-160 zones (to become NC-200 zones).

The City has already completed zoning changes to implement MHA requirements in the University District, Downtown, and in South Lake Union, so those areas are not considered in the EIS. There are a few other areas that are being considered for zoning changes on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and those areas, like Uptown and Chinatown/International District, are also not considered in the EIS.

The EIS studies three alternatives. None of the alternatives are formally designated as the “preferred” alternative. Alternative 1 is the “no action” alternative that contemplates no zoning changes. Alternatives 2 and 3 are “action” alternatives that contemplate two different approaches to zoning changes. Alternative 2 proposes zoning changes to increase development capacity in a uniform approach consistent with the City’s urban village strategy that does not consider risk of displacement of existing affordable housing. Alternative 3 proposes zoning changes that allocates more or less development capacity to certain urban villages based on the risk of displacement of existing affordable housing, and by an area’s access to opportunity. Areas with high risk of displacement are considered for smaller development capacity increases in an effort to preserve existing affordable housing.

The EIS projects that either of the action alternatives would generate more than 5,500 new affordable, income-restricted, units over the next 20 years within the study areas. Without the changes contemplated in the alternatives, only 205 affordable units would be generated through existing affordable housing incentives.

The City is accepting public comments on the EIS until July 23, 2017. After the public comment period closes, the City will review the comments and publish a final EIS, which may include additional alternatives. Legislation to complete the zoning changes contemplated by the final EIS is anticipated to follow in summer 2018.