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April 7, 2020

Affordable housing would be expedited under Durkan order

The Seattle City Council is taking up Mayor Jenny Durkan's proposal to keep certain housing and other key projects under development during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Durkan last week announced emergency legislation to help advance projects that have been delayed by Gov. Jay Inslee's restrictions on public gatherings. Public meetings have been put on hiatus to reduce human contact, as has most construction.

The legislation makes temporary land use permitting process changes that prioritize affordable housing development, keeps those projects moving forward by allowing experienced city staff to complete the review processes, and enlists community participation by replacing in-person meetings with virtual and electronic outreach.

Durkan's order targets several city-backed affordable housing projects for seniors and those exiting homelessness, exempting them from design review and allowing limited departures to be granted outside the design review process to shorten the permitting process.

The proposed ordinance shifts the projects from needing full design review to needing just administrative design review. The design review exemption applies to certain affordable housing projects that file for building permits in the next six months.

“Finishing these projects as soon as possible and maximizing the ability of vulnerable populations to access affordable housing is critical to the city's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the proposed ordinance.

A news release from Durkan's office said the plan will allow over 30 projects creating 3,000 homes to proceed, including some targeting middle-income families. It said these projects were facing regulatory challenges based on the current Seattle Municipal Code. It didn't list the projects.

“Seattle's need for more housing, especially affordable housing, was felt before the coronavirus crisis, and is more critical than ever for families suffering from the economic impacts of this health crisis,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss in the news release. “I'm grateful our city staff is finding creative ways to ensure construction on important housing projects can continue.”

Strauss is chair of the council's land use and zoning committee.

Upon council passage, Durkan's legislation would allow design review projects to be reviewed by staff from the Department of Construction and Inspection and would expedite reviews for city-funded affordable housing projects projected to come online next year.

The legislation also authorizes the Department of Neighborhoods to keep projects on track by allowing historic preservation staff to execute required approvals for minor changes to city landmarks, special review districts, landmark districts and historical districts.

The legislation would be in effect for six months. It was unclear on Monday when the council would make a decision on the ordinance.

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