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A win and a setback for Seattleites who want more affordable housing

Moving into a Seattle apartment just got a little more affordable. Landlords across the city will have to limit how much they charge new tenants when they move in. That’s thanks to our city council, which just voted to do two things: cap all the city’s rental move-in fees to no more than one month’s rent and require landlords to accept move-in fee payments in installments. The news should make renters feel pretty good. One renter told the council he came across move-in fees that totaled more than $5,000 when he was looking for a new place recently, reports David Kroman in Crosscut. “That was more than I make in two months and was totally unaffordable,”the renter said.

The city’s landlords are, predictably, none too pleased. “You’re declaring war on us,” said one landlord quoted by Dan Beekman in The Seattle Times. They told the Council that the restrictions would lead them to raise rents or sell their apartment buildings to developers who might replace them with newer, more expensive units. Meanwhile, at $1,830, Seattle already has the nation’s 8th highest median rent for one-bedroom apartments. That’s gone up 11 percent in just one year.

And in other we-could-probably-use-more-affordable-housing news…

The city won’t squeeze more housing into neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. Yet. Ever heard of ‘backyard cottages’? That’s one official name (another is ‘detached accessory dwelling units’) for those smaller houses you sometimes see packed into the same lot as another house. There’s a proposal to make it easier to build more of those backyard cottages in areas zoned for single-family homes (the yellow areas that cover most of this map). BUT the city just hit the pause button on it. Why? Because a Queen Anne neighborhood group convinced a city official that more backyard cottages would lead to gentrification, reports Dan at the Times. How? They argued developers would buy a cheaper house, tear it down, and replace it with multiple housing units. And that would drive up home values and reduce the number of affordable homes for the first-time home buyer.

Why does this matter? Because as The Stranger’s Heidi Groover points out, the city has to make a choice as Seattle grows: Will it protect “traditionally sacred single-family neighborhoods”? Or will it allow more development in those areas to enable more density in our city? For the record: Seattle already has thousands of multi-family structures in single-family zones. You can see them all, in fact, on this map from the Sightline Institute.

By Mónica Guzmán
Mónica is the cofounder and editor of The Evergrey. She's been a Seattle journalist for a decade and adores this city.