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Upzones In The Central District Approved By Seattle City Council 

Washington Hall in the Seattle Central District

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously to allow developers to build several stories higher on various properties in the Central District. The three upzones around the intersections of 23rd Avenue with East Union, East Cherry and South Jackson streets will set off Seattle’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability program. Developers who build on 23rd Avenue’s upzoned intersections will need to commit 5% to 11% of their projects to affordable housing or pay $8/SF to $32.75/SF into a fund the city uses to help nonprofits build affordable housing, the Seattle Times reports.

Rapid development and subsequent gentrification in the Central District has concerned locals in the historically black area. The population of African-Americans in the neighborhood has dropped from 70% in the 1970s to less than 20% today.

In an effort to slow the displacement of local residents, a coalition of Central District developers and community groups purchased the 2.5-acre block at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, where the MidTown Center strip mall is now, for $23.3M in May. The group plans to build 520 apartments, with about half of the units offered at affordable, subsidized rates to low-income renters.

Africatown, a member of the coalition and a nonprofit organization that buys land to support the cultural and economic vibrancy of the black community, plans to develop at least 120 of the new apartments. The housing will be reserved for local residents earning as little as $27K, with one-bedroom rents starting at $720. For comparison, that is less than half what the average Seattle renter pays.

The 23rd and Union plan will also put a portion of the project under the ownership of the local community through a community land trust. That gives locals and people living on the site a voice in how the building is operated going forward. The plan guarantees the housing will be permanently rented at affordable rates making the rentals the first of their kind in Seattle, the Seattle Times reports.

Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate is another stakeholder in the Central District. Vulcan bought a 3.6-acre site at 23rd Avenue South and South Jackson Street for $30.9M in 2016. The company has been moving out small businesses ahead of building a mixed-use project with 530 apartments. One-fifth of the apartments will be reserved for lower-income households and construction is set to begin in early 2018.

In addition to the Central District, upzones for the University District, downtown and South Lake Union have been approved by the Seattle City Council. The council is considering an upzone for the Chinatown International District and plans to review upzones for several more neighborhoods next year.