A new lawsuit has been filed challenging Seattle’s “Mandatory Housing Affordability” ordinance because it makes housing unaffordable in the city.
The case is being brought by the Institute for Justice on behalf of Anita Adams and her family.
The idea by the city is to create a hammer to use against developers who want to build pricey units, as the alternative to extreme fees is to promise to rent out units at below-market rates for at least 75 years.
The IJ reported, however, that there are concerns about the scheme.
“Working with the Institute for Justice, Anita’s lawsuit argues that the MHA law is a violation of her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court has held that the fees for land-use permits, like those being sought by Anita, must be proportional to the costs the development will place on the city. Put another way, the city cannot set fees disproportionately high to fund unrelated projects or services—especially when Anita’s development will only have the positive effect of building more housing in the city.”
Anita Adams is a lifelong Seattle resident, and raised a family there.
“With Seattle’s housing costs remaining stubbornly high, Anita’s two children cannot afford to live near her. That didn’t sit right with her, so she started to dream about building an addition to her property with room for her two kids and father-in-law. But when she started to research the process, she determined that although the city’s zoning-code made her plans permissible, the MHA effectively made it too expensive to build her addition: the law could force her to pay more than $75,000 in fees just to get a building permit. That made Anita’s dream unattainable,” the IJ said.
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“No one should have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in extra fees to build an addition to house their family,” explained IJ lawyer Suranjan Sen. “It is a measure of the city’s lack of understanding of basic economics or even common sense, that a law claiming to lower the cost of housing actually makes housing prohibitively expensive.”
Huge fees are charged whenever property owners build a “new” structure or made additions to existing buildings.
“To avoid paying the fees, the only other option is to lease constructed units at below-market rates for a minimum of 75 years. The law makes no distinctions between longtime homeowners looking to make an addition, like Anita, and major developers building high rise luxury apartments,” the IJ explained.
Further, the $35 per square foot fee that Anita would have to pay is higher than some of the city’s “wealthy” neighborhoods, the report said.
“The city was warned of the economic impact MHA would have on small-scale developers. The city-commissioned report on MHA’s ‘economic feasibility’ acknowledged that MHA’s fees were economically feasible for high-end housing development, but would make developments of affordable housing economically challenging—warning that many projects would ‘need to attain above-market rents in these areas to be feasible,’” the report said.
“My family has lived in this neighborhood for three generations and we want to stay here,” Anita said in a statement released by the IJ. “But because of this law, that’s impossible. I’ve owned my home and land for 25 years. I’ve endured decades of city policies trying to push us out, but we’re not leaving. The city should be encouraging residents to develop for themselves—to take care of their friends and family—rather than make development something only developers can afford to do.”
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