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Seattle City Council passes affordable housing design review exemption package

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(The Center Square) – A package of bills intended to speed up the production of affordable housing in Seattle has passed out of the city council.

The two bills look to increase affordable rental and for sale housing by exempting specific housing projects from design review to increase efficiency in permitting and decrease the time it takes to build affordable housing.

Council Bill 120591 makes temporary exemptions from design review that were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent. Projects that are exempted include home-ownership projects with 40% of the units affordable at up to 80% of the area median income and rental housing projects with 40% of the units affordable at up to 60% of the area median income.

The Seattle City Council also passed Council Bill 120581, which allows housing projects that elect to meet Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability requirement with on-site performance to receive departures from design standards. The bill also eliminates “obsolete or outdated language in the city’s Land Use code,” according to the city.

“We cannot allow self-imposed city processes to delay building the affordable homes Seattleites need,” Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss said in a statement. “Our legislation cuts bureaucratic red tape to speed the delivery of housing projects and homeownership opportunities.”

The legislation was originally going to last for 12 months, but Strauss added an amendment to increase the time to 24 months to allow additional time to assess the revisions and better inform a permanent code change.

The city previously extended the temporary exemption from mandatory design review for affordable housing projects in December 2022. Strauss and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said they would work together to develop bills that would permanently exempt affordable housing projects from design review.

“Reducing barriers and creating a more efficient permitting process to expedite construction is an important part of our comprehensive approach to meeting Seattle’s urgent housing needs,” Harrell said.

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