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July 8, 2015

Housing committee may suggest big changes to single-family zones

The final report isn't due until next week, but a draft of recommendations from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's housing committee shows major zoning changes are being considered all over the city to increase the supply of housing.

The Seattle Times obtained a draft of the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee's report and posted it online Tuesday.

There are 67 recommendations in four categories: housing supply, funding for affordable housing, support for tenants and strategies to increase efficiency.

One of the biggest changes would be in single-family zones. The document recommends changing single-family zoning “to a low density residential zone that allows more variety of housing” such as small-lot dwellings, backyard cottages, duplexes and triplexes.

This new zoning could allow more housing types than just single-family, but still be more restrictive than current multifamily zoning.

In the draft, the committee also recommended increasing the amount of land zoned for multifamily housing and expanding the boundaries of designated urban villages.

The committee's goal is to get 50,000 new housing units over the next 10 years, with 20,000 of them income-restricted.

Once a final document is complete, it will go to Murray for his review. Murray will forward his recommendations to Seattle City Council, which will go through its own review process.

To get more affordable housing, the draft shows the committee may recommend expanding the Multifamily Property Tax Exemption Program; re-authorizing and expanding the housing levy; and reinstating a city fund that set aside property tax revenue from new construction to buy and rehab affordable housing.

The draft also suggests reforming design review and reducing the number of housing projects subject to the State Environmental Policy Act to speed up review and reduce development costs.

The draft left out a few notable policies that have been hot topics around City Hall in recent months: rent control and linkage fees.

But a spokesman for the mayor's office told the Seattle Times that the recommendations are not final, and the committee is still working on the linkage fee issue.

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