Seattle to Use Surplus Public Land for Affordable Housing

New municipal and state laws have made it possible for Seattle to sell excess land to affordable housing developers at below-market rates, or even to give it away.
October 5, 2018, 1pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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In expensive cities, land acquisition is a persistent conundrum for affordable housing developers. City-owned land, especially parcels close to jobs and urban amenities, could be one way to meet that demand. "This year," Josh Cohen writes, Seattle's "Office of Housing received $245 million in project applications, but had only $70 million in funding to disburse. By providing land to affordable housing developers at little to no cost, the city could make those limited funds go much further." 

"The approach has seen some success in the region," Cohen says. "In the past year, several Seattle nonprofit affordable housing developers have been able to purchase public land at a discount or have been outright gifted the land on Sound Transit surplus property." 

Legal changes have been a big part of the push. Seattle's City Council recently passed a resolution requiring city departments to prioritize affordable housing in their disposition of surplus land, stipulating that "if a department sells land for a purpose other than affordable housing development, 80 percent of the net proceeds must be directed to either the city's Low-Income Housing Fund or Equitable Development Fund."

In addition, the nonprofit organizations Enterprise Community Partners and Futurewise have debuted a mapping tool showing all publicly owned and tax-exempt properties in King County, to aid affordable housing developers on the lookout for sites. 

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Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 in Crosscut
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