University District upzone presents opportunity for some organizations

By: Natasha Chen

Updated:

SEATTLE - A proposal to allow developers to build taller buildings in the University District also requires them to create affordable housing within the same neighborhood. While some worry this plan could displace existing residents, others see an opportunity.

Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson, who represents that area, said the plan could produce 500 to 1,000 new, affordable units in the University District.

The conversation about how to rezone the neighborhood has been ongoing for about five years, centered around the coming light rail station at Northeast 43rd Street and University Avenue. The proposal is now designed to fit within the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

Johnson said the council considered “what are the services we need to make sure we maintain in the neighborhood, what kind of childcare benefits do we want to see in the neighborhood, what kind of affordable housing we want to see in the neighborhood.”

The current plan requires developers to keep 9 percent of units affordable for households making under 60 percent of area median income. In 2016, 60 percent of area median income is about $43,000 a year, for a couple or $54,000 a year for a family of four.

Those units would be required to stay at below-market rates for 75 years.

These proposals are being discussed Wednesday evening when the Seattle Displacement Coalition plans to protest the changes. Buildings that are currently low-rise could end up becoming five stories tall, and buildings along University Avenue could be allowed to increase to between seven and nine stories tall.

Opponents said the changes would displace existing businesses and tenants, who currently have affordable units.

“Existing residents are already being priced out. My rent went from $1,650 to $2,000 this year,” said Laura Bernstein.

But she said she noticed that some displaced businesses were able to find a spot one block away from where they were before. Bernstein said she would rather see the growth happen with a guarantee of some affordability.

“If we don’t build, it’s going to be even more rapid displacement,” she said.

Organizations like the YMCA see this rezone as an opportunity to expand services. Their current space is 16,000 square feet, but they would like to build a 60,000-square-foot structure.

“Right now, we have 20 units planned of transitional housing that will include job placement services, substance abuse services,” said Steve Lewis, the executive director of the University Family YMCA.

Pastor Pat Simpson of the University Temple United Methodist Church said the rezone could also help the congregation stay in its space.

The current church has two sections, one built in the 1920s and one built in the 1950s. The congregation no longer needs so much space and much of it is leased by human services organizations.

But the historic building is expensive to maintain.

“This building is not sustainable for us for the long-term,” Simpson said.

She said the rezone would allow the church to consider leasing or redeveloping part of the building and earn enough money to maintain the remaining historic space.

“We want to stay in the neighborhood, we want to serve the neighborhood, and we need a building that fits us,” Simpson said.

The Seattle council is expected to vote on the rezone in January.

 

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