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October 14, 2014 at 3:59 PM

Seattle City Council committee takes step on affordable housing ‘linkage fee’

The Seattle City Council moved a step closer Tuesday to establishing a new set of fees on real estate development to pay for affordable housing.

The council’s land use committee recommended approval of a resolution directing city staffers to draft legislation to create the so-called “linkage fees.”

The full council is expected to vote on the resolution next Monday. The legislation could be ready by June 1, 2015. The land use committee began considering the issue last month.

The fees could phase-in over three years and would apply to new construction in the denser parts of the city.

The concept behind the fees is that real estate development leads to higher rents and makes housing less affordable.

More than a dozen tenant advocates, affordable housing developers and local architects spoke in support of the resolution Tuesday, citing soaring rents in Seattle.

“As new, high-end development continues to displace low- and moderate-wage earners away from the city, it’s clear that the time to act is now,” said Chase Craig, a lawyer and a resident of downtown. “Please do not allow Seattle to become a city occupied only by the wealthy.”

Some developers who oppose the fees say the opposite is true. They argue new residential construction leads to lower rents because it increases the overall housing supply.

The resolution says a developer could choose to pay a fee or to build a certain amount of affordable housing units on-site as part of his or her project.

The city would spend the fees on housing for families with 60 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income, or roughly $45,000 to $65,000 for a family of four.

The on-site units would be targeted at tenants with less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

The size of the fees would depend on what part of Seattle the project is in. In the city’s most costly neighborhoods, such as South Lake Union, the fees might be $16 to $22 per square foot. In the city’s least costly neighborhoods, they might be $5 to $7.

A consultant has told the council that linkage fees could raise much more money for affordable housing than is being collected through an existing program called incentive zoning.

But linkage fees may not be legal, Seattle lawyer Keith Dearborn warned the committee Tuesday.

Comments | More in Business/Technology, General news, Government | Topics: linkage fees, real estate development, Seattle City Council

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