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Upzone proposal may backfire on Seattle’s housing plan

It's another crane in South Lake Union. (MyNorthwest)

Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess and Councilmember Rob Johnson released a proposal that would allow for more construction and taller buildings around Seattle neighborhoods in order to increase affordable housing options. The idea seems sound in theory — increasing a housing stock could lend itself to lower rent prices — but KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis argues it doesn’t always work out that way.

The reason being, Lewis said, is that people forget an important thing when it comes to increasing housing density with new development: sometimes, it can remove affordable housing that already exists.

Seattle mayor, council pushes forward affordable housing plan

“One of the things that happens that people forget when you upzone is that property that was not going to be developed, or maybe was not at ‘X’ value and didn’t pencil out, suddenly does,” Lewis said.

“If you go from 40 feet to 80 feet, you have increased the property value. And sometimes what happens – and what has been happening in Seattle – is that you will take down an affordable, small apartment complex that was at a low rent and put in expensive condos. And that’s not exactly increasing affordability, even though you’ve increased density.”

The new upzone plans affect 27 Seattle neighborhoods, expanding areas where multi-unit housing and apartment complexes can be constructed. The zoning changes would allow developers to build bigger, higher complexes as long as they either include affordable housing as part of that complex or make a payment to support affordable housing in Seattle.

Listen to Lewis’ entire conversation with KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney here.

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