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Originally published Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM

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Editorial: Seattle needs more affordable housing

Whoever wins the Seattle mayoral election must be able to work effectively with the City Council to streamline the permitting process for developers and increase the number of units for all income levels.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Anybody notice the scarcity of land close to downtown offices? Anybody notice the... MORE
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THE mayor of Seattle cannot single-handedly make housing more affordable for all, but the city's top leader must articulate a strong vision for what’s possible and work with the City Council to advocate for fast changes.

Numerous Seattle Times reports over the past week outline how rents are skyrocketing throughout the city. Lifestyles are changing. More people are rooming together. The micro-apartments that anger some for their high-density designs are beloved by others for their low monthly rental rates.

While the City Council is charged with approving building regulations and permits, the mayor has the power to staff the departments that oversee and enforce those processes.

Cranes and bulldozers are a common sight around Seattle, but there still isn’t enough construction to meet the demand for diverse housing options. Part of the problem is that developers lack incentives and face overly burdensome permitting procedures. Often the only way they can get a return on their investment is by building structures tailored toward either the luxury or the subsidized-housing markets — very little in-between.

What will the next mayor do to ensure that developers have a predictable, streamlined permitting process that will produce the kind of housing Seattle’s workforce needs?

The next step is to ensure those dwellings are actually affordable — generally, the standard is that rent is no more than one-third of household income.

During his term as mayor, Mike McGinn has continued efforts to revise Seattle’s housing strategy. He created a task force with Councilmember Richard Conlin to update the state's zoning regulations to entice developers to take on more affordable housing projects. More studies, basically.

Challenger Ed Murray shares McGinn’s support for micro-apartments and Seattle’s Housing Levy, but he says he prefers a more active approach to permitting that ensures incentives are both uniform and tailored to each neighborhood. He suggests expanding a 2009 ordinance allowing more accessory units and cottage housing. Murray views affordable housing as a regional issue with opportunities for collaborating with other cities.

Both contenders agree Seattle should be a vibrant place for people with diverse incomes.

Now they need to demonstrate their commitment to this issue through specific policy proposals, beyond studies, that create more housing and keep those costs within reason.

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