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The Grand Bargain

Mar 10, 2017



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The AIA Seattle Urban Design Forum recently hosted a panel discussion on ‘The Grand Bargain’, an agreement negotiated between the City of Seattle, developers and housing advocates to implement some of the more impactful recommendations in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). The presentation and discussion were led by Rick Mohler and Marty Kooistra, and provided an informative overview of this recently passed piece of legislation. VIA’s Dylan Glosecki, Co-Chair of the Urban Design Forum, attended and has detailed the major takeaways from the presentation. 


During the Urban Design Forum presentation, it was noted that while The Grand Bargain policies are aimed at providing affordable housing, they do not address the lack of family-sized housing units in the City’s newest multi-family buildings.



‘The Missing Middle’


Nor do The Grand Bargain policies address what has been described as the ‘missing middle’ in Seattle: the lack of medium-density townhouses and small apartments that create transitions between single family neighborhoods and the 65’+ mixed-use construction that is becoming characteristic of Seattle’s Urban Villages.


Incentive ZoningSeattle citizens need to continue to voice their support for The Grand Bargain as the City Council votes on its implementation over thenext year. The policy is not yet a sure thing, city-wide. Additionally, to combat housing inequity and ensure our city supports an array of urban family types, citizens must stay engaged in housing policy discussions and encourage the City to pass more of the HALA recommendations and encourage the City to increase their focus on policy that creates family-sized units.


The discussion around HALA has been an ongoing topic for years now. We love some good stats here at VIA, .so below we offer our HALA cheat sheet, a more in-depth write up as to the makeup of this legislation, as well as some links to upcoming public engagements.


HALA Cheat Sheet:

The Grand Bargain

  • Affordable housing agreement between City, affordable housing advocates and developers.
  • Negotiated by HALA co-chairs, Mayor, Councilmember O’Brien, Housing Development Consortium, Coalition for Housing Solutions.
  • Past attempts focused on controlling developer profit and failed.
  • This attempt focused on generating affordable housing and what policies and land use changes would be necessary to generate affordable housing: upzones, Urban Village expansions and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA).

Mandatory Housing Affordability plan (MHA)

  • Requires developers to build affordable housing on the site of new commercial or residential development or to pay a “Fee in Lieu”.
  • Affordable housing defined as rent-restricted to 60% Area Median Income (AMI) for 75 years.
  • In the UW Urban Center, developers are required to build 9% affordable units on site or pay $20 per sf of built area.

Mayor Murray’s goal

  • 20,000 total 60% AMI units constructed or acquired and rehabbed in next 10 years.
  • 3,700 units from residential MHA.
  • 2,400 units from commercial MHA.
  • 13,900 units from other (i.e. Seattle Housing Levy, MFTE, Preservation Tax Exemption, State Real Estate Excise Tax (REET 3), Increase State Housing Trust Fund, Federal government resources)

Average Seattle rent

  • $1989 = New Construction
  • $1641 = All units
  • $1009 = 60% Area Median Income (AMI) household spending 30% of income on rent.
  • Has increased 35% in last 5 years.
  • 45,000 households spend more than 50% of their income on housing.

Seattle Housing Levy

  • In August 2016, the Seattle Housing Levy was approved, dedicating $290 million towards affordable housing.
  • Passed with 70% voter approval.
  • Costs the average homeowner $122 per year over 7 years.

Multi Family Tax Exemption (MFTE)

  • Already in place and has been successful at incentivizing 80% AMI units in Seattle.


Upcoming HALA engagements to be on the lookout for:

Public Hearing on Downtown/South Lake Union Rezone
Monday, March 13, 6 – 8pm
@ Seattle City Hall, Council Chambers

Community Open House hosted by HALA
Thursday, April 27, 6 – 8pm
@ Hale’s Ales Brewery (All Ages)
4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle, WA 98107

 Community Open House hosted by HALA
Tuesday, May 16, 6 – 8pm
@ Washington Hall
153 14th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122


Links to the presentation and additional info on HALA:
The Grand Bargain Presentation
HALA Report

The Grand Bargain is a compromise between multiple stakeholders to implement the Mandatory Housing Affordability program (MHA) in Seattle’s Urban Villages. The agreement is unprecedented in Seattle history. Never before have Seattle developers and housing advocates been able to compromise on a policy with the potential to provide affordable housing at such a large scale. By implementing MHA, developers contribute by building affordable housing onsite or paying fees that fund affordable housing elsewhere in the City. To put the MHA requirements into effect, the City is making zoning changes that allow for more development in the City’s Urban Villages, offsetting the costs to developers for providing affordable housing. However, The Grand Bargain is a tenuous agreement that could fall through should any of the primary stakeholders become discontent and decide to litigate.

The major pieces of The Grand Bargain are the MHA program, upzoning in Urban Villages and the expansion of several Urban Village boundaries. The City Council will be voting on the implementation of The Grand Bargain policies in several stages. The City is currently conducting a series of public outreach workshops where Seattle citizens can share their voice to shape how the proposed policy will impact their specific neighborhood.  

The University District is the first Urban Village in which Grand Bargain policies are being implemented. The City Council unanimously passed the zoning changes in the University District in late February. Later this year, the City Council will consider implementing Grand Bargain policies in the Downtown and South Lake Union Urban Villages, followed by the International District and 23rd & Union-Jackson. The City Council will likely vote on a city-wide Urban Village rezone to implement Grand Bargain policy in the remaining Villages in 2018.