MHA is a Win-Win for Seattle Housing Affordability

Seattle is finally moving forward to pass Citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), which would require all new development, no matter where it is built in Seattle, to contribute to affordable housing. This is long overdue. Non-profit developers stand ready to expand access to affordable housing with an infusion of MHA resources.

There is a broad sentiment in our community for changing the status quo on housing. In its recent

announcement, Microsoft boldly supported policy changes including increased density and reduced parking and other land use changes consistent with the MHA approach.  They put up $500 million of corporate dollars to demonstrate that all parts of our community need to advance solutions.


The Mandatory Housing Affordability program requires private developers to contribute to affordable housing by either including affordable units on site or making a payment to support the creation of affordable housing. Unfortunately the Seattle Times Editorial titled “Engage to save Seattle neighborhoods” misrepresents and undervalues the beneficial impact of the financial resources and production of housing that will result from MHA.


Both of MHA’s housing production methods have positives.  When for profit developers include HALA

affordable apartments on-site, they provide mixed-income buildings in the areas of greatest growth.  When they make a payment in lieu of on-site performance, the City uses those contributions to address priorities not being met by the market, such as producing 2 or 3-bedroom, family-size apartments, and supporting projects serving seniors, homeless or special needs.


The City has a strong track record of deploying resources from the Seattle Housing Levy, Incentive Zoning payments – and now – MHA payments, into affordable housing. Mayor Durkan recently announced funding awards of $75 million dedicated to build and preserve 1400 affordable rental homes. Although this was the City’s biggest annual commitment ever, it necessitated a great triage of resources as the total applications received by the City were over $240 million dollars. Many proposals, with land and plans in hand, are on hold until more MHA payments flow.

Mercy Housing Northwest alone has a pipeline of housing that will serve nearly 500 households, including at transit sites in Mt. Baker and Roosevelt and at Magnuson Park. These would simply not be possible without City financial support.


The Seattle Times has had excellent reporting on the numbers and the human impact of our area

AIA Seattle

housing crisis in their Project Homeless series, in the FYI Guy columns and in their real estate reporting.  It is puzzling that the editorial board can read their own reporting and rather than feel a sense of urgency, simply suggest more delay on what has been 3-years of process, study and fair time for appeals.

Delaying MHA won’t stop growth or contribute to affordable housing. During this long boom, developers have built with lesser affordability requirements. The delays in adopting MHA due to a protracted appeal are conservatively estimated to have cost $87 million in developer contributions or over 700 affordable homes that would have been built if the program were in place.


MHA is the product of years of analysis and community engagement.  It is time to move beyond a static view of neighborhoods and embrace this requirement to harness the capacity and resources of the private sector, as well as to provide leverage to nonprofit developers, to improve housing options for everyone.

Take Action:

Author-Bill Rumpf is President of Mercy Housing Northwest. Mercy Housing is one of the nation’s largest affordable housing organizations and is a member of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County.

A True Solution to a Real Problem: A Pro-MHA Response to Seattle Times

Seattle’s crippling housing crisis has made it harder for people of all income levels to live in our city. One major factor behind our skyrocketing cost of living is that our housing policies are stuck in the past. It is illegal to build even a duplex on 75 percent of the land zoned for housing in Seattle. If we’re serious about affordability, then it’s time for a change.


Seattle is considering a suite of innovative strategies to unlock ways to create more housing options across the income spectrum, developed after nearly four years of community engagement with tens of thousands of residents. Unfortunately, the Seattle Times editorial titled “Engage to save Seattle neighborhoods” is an alarming misrepresentation of two key legislative proposals in this effort – Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) and the modest legislation to encourage single family homeowners to build more granny flats and backyard cottages (generally called accessory dwelling units or ADUs).


MHA is simple in concept: to gain more development capacity, developers must provide affordable housing units within new buildings or contribute to a city fund to build affordable housing. The result in either case is more affordable housing. MHA is already in place in Downtown, South Lake Union and four other neighborhoods throughout the city and raised more than $13 million last year to create affordable housing. Putting it in place citywide will provide even more desperately needed affordable units in our city. Consider that had MHA been in place last year, we could have raised another $87 million worth of affordable housing – $100 million total, without needing to raise taxes.


The Times Editorial Board’s alarmist contention that “Upzones are happening not just in urban villages, where high-density growth should occur, but also in single-family neighborhoods,” is misleading. An important distinction is that “citywide” does not mean that every block of every neighborhood would be expected to have a high-rise on it. In fact, only 6% of all single-family neighborhoods, which already comprise three-quarters of land for housing, would be affected by MHA.


We also take issue with the Times characterizing legislation for granny flats and backyard cottages as another “punch” to homeowners. Instead of hurting homeowners, it offers them greater flexibility by allowing them to build two granny flats or a granny flat and a backyard cottage – currently only one or the other is allowed—in addition to making modest changes to off-street parking requirements, adjusting size guidelines for backyard cottages, and reducing the requirement that the homeowner live in one of the units. Both Portland and Vancouver, BC passed virtually identical legislation– and the result is more units were built with no adverse impact to parking or neighborhood character.  In fact, a study in both cities demonstrated that the majority of ADUs are rented at below market rates, making granny flats and backyard cottages yet another form of affordable housing provided at no expense to the public.


It’s time to move past divisive rhetoric that paints proponents of these changes as developers and “special interest groups” pitted against “dozens of neighborhood and community groups.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, both policies have broad support from neighborhood groups, grassroots coalitions and concerned homeowners and renters alike who recognize that to address the severity of our housing crisis, we need changes to the status quo. After more than two years of Seattle process, it’s time to move forward.

Take Action:


Marilyn Strickland is the President and CEO of Seattle Chamber and former Mayor of Tacoma

Nicole Grant is Executive Secretary-Treasurer of MLK Labor, the central body of labor organizations in King County.

Faith Li Pettis served as co-chair of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee.

Making Housing Affordable

*Watch 00.00-4.00

HDC Executive Director Marty Kooistra speaking to

  • Contributors to our rising homeless population such as WA poor mental health system and the Opioid crisis
  • Housing and homelessness are intrinsically linked issues with a 96% correlation and must be addressed together
  • We need to be bold and brave in our approach to changing and reforming systems that work upstream to create the policy changes needed to meet our region’s tremendous need.

Thanks RainMakers.TV for the video.

HDC Named Ivory Prize Finalist

HDC is excited and honored that we are a Top 25 finalist for the 2019 Ivory Innovations Prize. We are nominated in the Public Policy and Regulatory Reform category. This recognition confirms the important work of our systems change approach of thinking up stream for avenues of collaboration as a means towards comprehensive progress. We are thrilled that after ten years of working in South King County on the formation of the South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHHP) that the work of creating a sub-regional entity to build capacity to develop stronger policies, programs, and systems for the area is being recognized as a vital endeavor. The prize winner will be announced in March.

For more information on the Ivory Prize, visit

Commemorating Martin Luther King Day

This year for some reason I’m drawn to the lunar eclipse, the so called “super blood wolf moon”.  This is occurring on the eve of our country’s 2019 annual commemoration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Junior holiday. Not surprisingly, it’s cloudy here in the Pacific Northwest and the ability to see the spectacle is periodically obscured. I guess there’s something intriguing about bearing witness to these uncommon moments.

Growing up in the 60’s I was aware of uncommon times. The country was amidst an awakening that brought hope that it might become all that our founding documents stated it was. These were the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his team of leaders who decided it was long past time for racial injustice to be faced head on.

Today, we are amidst more uncertain and disturbing times. These days give us pause as it seems that while much has changed so rapidly, the most important things have not changed at all.

In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King shares this perspective:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”

As HDC begins this 31st year of work to collectively ensure access to quality and affordable housing accessible for everyone in Martin Luther King, Jr. County, we must evolve, not just in how we approach scaling our work, but how we confront the institutional and structural racism the perpetuates the inequities of our time.

Marty Kooistra, Executive Director

“Bringing us into visceral proximity with the lives and plights of others”

The wise and magnificently talented Tracy K. Smith is the current U.S. Poet Laureate. HDC has the immense good fortune to have her as keynote speaker for our annual celebration on April 23, 2019. I recently read Ms. Smith’s poem “Ash” to a group of HDC members—partly to evoke personal reflection about the poem’s content and partly to evoke excitement about the upcoming celebration.

One of the participants asked, “But what does this poet have to do with affordable housing?”  Without giving the question much thought, I replied, “There’s no connection.” I could have responded differently, perhaps highlighting the 22 times the word “house” was used. But that particularly uninspired answer would have backfilled right over the chance for delight and discovery.

I was attempting to make the point that when we gather annually to celebrate our work, we give ourselves a gift when we do so in fresh ways. A program focused in a very literal, direct, and well-trod way on housing does not always accomplish that. A completely different take has the capacity to surprise us, challenge us, and captivate us. If it can immerse hundreds of us, at the same time and in the same room, in the poetry that pervades our work, it can help us fall in love all over again with our mission and our movement.

In a recent Washington Post feature , Tracy discussed the challenges of retaining our humanity in an age of technology. This passage grabbed my attention:

“In case I haven’t said it clearly, the language circulating upon the surface of the 21st century is in the business of pulling us away from the interior, the reflective, the singular, the impractical and the un-summarizable. In such a current, the language of poetry is a radically re-humanizing force, because it is one of the only generally accessible languages that rewards us for naming things in their realness and their complexity. And despite what social media would have us believe, it is not the language of sharing and following, or buying and wearing, but rather that of bearing deep and unabashed witness to the urgencies and upheavals of lived experience, that comes closest to bringing us into visceral proximity with the lives and plights of others. That’s not just distraction, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a means of self-preservation, a way of affirming commitment to the belief that our lives can and should matter to one another and to ourselves.”

I cannot think of a better thing to do on April 23 than to come together as a sector and affirm our commitment that every life matters. That in this movement, every role is important. Every accomplishment is valuable. And that each of us is here because we believe—and are driven every single day by— the need to bear “deep and unabashed witness to the urgencies and upheavals of lived experience” through our work in affordable housing.

Anyone who has been to even one of the open mic nights held by some of our member organizations  knows our movement is rich with residents and staff capable of vibrantly “naming things in their realness and their complexity.” Maybe in the four months leading up to the celebration, you can find a little time, create a little space, to bring a few colleagues together and wrestle with one of Ms. Smith’s poems (or one of your own?).

Let’s use this time before the celebration to reflect on the diverse journeys that brought each of us to serve, with tireless compassion, on behalf of those who are housing insecure.

-Marty Kooistra

Member Highlight: Seattle Housing Authority

HDC appreciates all the passion, hard work, and dedication our members devote to the affordable housing movement. No single organization could make this impact and secure this progress alone. The collaboration and connection among members is the human energy that works to ensure all people have a safe, healthy, and affordable home. We want to show our appreciation and learn more about our affordable housing community through these member highlights as each member is crucial to achieving the larger vision of this movement. This week our featured member is Seattle Housing Authority. Thank you for all the work that you do!

  1. What excites your team about the work you are doing? 


Staff at the Seattle Housing Authority are the most energized around bringing our mission, values and strategic priorities to life in real ways that help real people. Staff who work with our 34,000-plus residents and Housing Choice Voucher participants every day see firsthand what it means to people to have safe, quality, affordable housing. Seeing what having a stable home does for someone – and services such as access to proper health care, job training, academic support for a child – is inspiring. We are working to do a better job of sharing the stories of our tenants with our staff, board, partners, stakeholders and members of the community who don’t have the opportunity to meet our clients in the course of their daily work. Hearing people we serve describe in their own words the difference our housing and programs make in their lives is what makes the work exciting.



  1. What is a favorite office anecdote?


This past year we consolidated a number of employment related services into one comprehensive program called JobLink.  Career Coaches work individually with tenants to help them find a job right away, enroll in training and education and then find a job; get a better job; or start a small business. As part of promoting the new program, the JobLink team created magnets. The magnets began to appear in the apartments of tenants who might benefit from the JobLink program. They showed up on refrigerators, oven doors and other places. What caring person put them there? How? Turned out to be maintenance staff, who have a unique opportunity to spend time with and get to know residents and their needs while they are in the home to work on a leaky pipe or broken light fixture. The magnets are now a regular tool in the kit, right there with the wrenches and screwdrivers. And some grateful residents have turned up in a JobLink Orientation.



  1. What upcoming projects, partnerships, and news are you looking forward to? 


In early 2019, SHA will open our fourth new residential building to be constructed as part of the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace near downtown Seattle. The opening of Red Cedar will put us past the halfway mark in the transformation of Yesler from 561 units of aging housing to a vibrant model, mixed-income community with up to 5,000 homes, attractive open spaces, increased community space, improved transportation and enhanced economic opportunity. We are also excited to be able to expand our inventory through an Acquisition Plan recently approved by our board, which will ensure that 500 units in Seattle will either remain affordable or become affordable to low-income households. We have a nationally recognized partnership with Seattle Public Schools, to improve educational achievement of SHA students. We are working in partnership with the University of Washington to build more than 150 units of affordable housing on UW-owned land near the campus, and are investing in a “buy-up” program to add badly needed apartments sized for larger families to new construction by other housing provider partners. We will complete the promise of rebuilding NewHolly through a partnership with HomeSight at Othello that will bring healthcare resources, education and affordable housing to the community. We are advancing a Digital Communications and Digital Equity Initiative to provide news and information to our tenants in a more convenient and timely way, make it easy for them to translate information and link them to a host of community resources and services. We are also expanding our Race and Social Justice Initiative to include more opportunities to learn, and to ensure our own practices are equitable, inclusive and contribute to breaking down institutional racism.


  1. What have you been most proud of during your time as an HDC member?


All of us at SHA are proud to serve our community. We are proud of the quality of our housing and of our commitment to continually improve our programs and services. We have a great staff of skilled, dedicated people and we have strong partners, who make it possible to help people beyond the basic need for housing. These partners are a critical part of the SHA network. We are most proud, however, of our tenants. They prove day in and day out the resilience of people living on low incomes. Abdikani, and his mother who worked two jobs so he could graduate from the University of Washington. Jill, who studied hard to get her nursing degree so she could provide a better life for her daughter and give back by working in community health. Marvin who pulled himself out of more than a decade of substance abuse and homelessness and now volunteers helping others find a new path. Ruben, a lifelong professional musician on a quest to perform for fellow residents in all 23 Seattle Senior Housing Program locations. We are proud, and at the same time humbled, to serve them.

Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day

Join HDC, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and other partners in the affordable housing community for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day on February 28th.

By participating in advocacy day you will

  • Learn more about Housing Policy
  • Build your Advocacy Skills
  • Meet your lawmakers alongside experienced advocates in pre-scheduled meetings;
  • Be a part of the affordable housing movement

HHAD is an all day advocacy down in Olympia where you will join with people across the State to work towards a future where everyone in Washington has access a safe, healthy, and affordable home. HDC will work to help anyone who needs transportation to Olympia, so reach out to Leah if you plan on attending and want to carpool with a fellow HDC member. To learn more about accessibility accommodations, training materials, and more, click here!

Register for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day


Enter 2019-Building the Future

HDC ED Article: Enter 2019—Building the Future

Another year is behind us. It was, as you know, not just any other year. Certainly not for your affordable housing association. Last year, HDC members gathered many times to “embrace the past” and celebrate 30 remarkable, and remarkably impactful, years.

The shared respect for those decades of commitment was evident in the work of a small group of long-time HDC leaders and staff who toiled through many meetings, memories, and archives to compile a set of banners—powerful visual statements honoring years of work by so many people and making 30 years of artifacts accessible to each of us, today’s leaders who are tasked with the responsibility of “building the future.”

I’m frequently surprised when I learn new details about world and U.S. history that add depth, clarity, and challenging truths to what we’re typically taught or hear as lore. It’s true that we often ignore all that we could learn simply by understanding history. I guess some of that just reflects our yearning to look and move forward and our tendency to assume the past is less relevant and instructive than it really is.

There are some things about the HDC past, however, that we should not only dwell on, but use as the foundation on which to build our next decade of work. For example, as the first association of its kind in the nation, HDC is uniquely enriched by a long history of engagement from a contingent of exceptional nonprofits. And HDC members from all areas have been stellar advocates who work persistently to renew critical levies that support housing. Member involvement in HDC programming and leadership development opportunities continually fuel the workforce needed to anticipate and respond to complex emerging issues.

So how do we think about the future? According to the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force (RAHTF), we need 156,000 affordable homes today…or 244,000 homes by 2040. Those numbers are daunting. As a “right now” number, 156,000 operates outside the realm of our practical comprehension. So it was decided that it would be better to set a goal of 44,000 additional affordable homes every five years until 2040.

All of us are preoccupied with how many households and how many individuals are struggling with housing security. We all wonder if it’s possible to address the full need when we’re already performing at peak day after day during an ongoing crisis.

But aren’t we the ones expected to confront and absorb the magnitude of the gap that still exists between our best performance and the need? We’re definitely the ones handed the responsibility to build the shared direction for the next decades of work in this area. So again, I ask: how do we think about the future?

I think the first critical step is finding the space—making the space—to have meaningful and impactful conversations and to constructively challenge each other. In that spirit, here are some of my top conversation starters:

1) HDC is unique in its structure and now has nearly 180 diverse members making up what our predecessors referred to as a “big tent.” We have to master the leverage of that influence and join forces across sectors to change the regressive revenue model in our state. We cannot
continue to ask local elected officials and voters to add more regressive sales and property taxes that in the end still leave us far short of the resources we need and actually exacerbate the challenges of those struggling on the periphery.

2) We need to bring regional decision making and regional action to the challenge of achieving scale. The RAHTF took up this question and discovered how challenging it will be for us to work through the cultural barriers of this kind of change. But bottom line? It’s jugular to any level of success. So is efficiency, especially in the face of limited time and resources; we have to look for ways to reduce fragmentation and overlap in the work of like minded organizations.

3) Throughout all of our efforts to improve effectiveness and efficiency, we must never sacrifice the excellence this membership has become known for in both the services we provide and the products we produce. No one who struggles with housing insecurity should ever be identified by word, by action, or by the quality of their home as “lesser than.” We can continue to build quality housing, deepen its sustainability, and ensure healthy living environments while also reaping life cycle cost savings.

4) The bright line we have drawn between the role of the nonprofit and for-profit development sectors must be evaluated. To achieve scale we need every shovel, trowel, and saw focused on one thing: production (and where feasible, preservation). I encourage us to find ways to leverage our individual strengths into collective action and impact.

5) Most importantly, we must overcome the blatant inequities that exist in our county. This has to be the bellwether of all of our efforts going forward. There can be no compromise.

There are many more topics we could start with. I’m sure you have some you are ready to toss out there as well—please share those with me or any HDC staff member. I hope that 2019 is the year of rich discourse and challenge. I hope it’s also the one where we together develop strategies that have all of us working to house over 8,000 additional households a year and enable all of our King County neighbors to live with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes within communities of opportunity.

Here’s to the start of an incredible year,

Marty Kooistra

Member Highlight: Congregation for the Homeless

HDC appreciates all the passion, hard work, and dedication our members devote to the affordable housing movement. No single organization could make this impact and secure this progress alone. The collaboration and connection among members is the human energy that works to ensure all people have a safe, healthy, and affordable home. We want to show our appreciation and learn more about our affordable housing community through these member highlights as each member is crucial to achieving the larger vision of this movement. This week our featured member is Congregation for the Homeless. Thank you for all the work that you do!

1.      What excites your team about the work you are doing?  

Our team loves to build authentic relationships with the men we serve.  It is a privilege to get to know them; their story, fears, hopes, and dreams.  It is so inspiring and life-giving to see the joy on a man’s face as he achieves life goals and feels cared for by the community and the community feels cared for by him.  There is much celebration when men we know and love hold a key in their hands and walking into their new homes.


2.      What upcoming projects, partnerships, and news are you looking forward to?  

CFH is moving forward with building a permanent shelter, day center, and supportive services in Bellevue.  We are excited to move forward with a specific site in the coming weeks.  We are also excited about the efforts that are happening between CFH, community members, businesses, and the city who are working to do the work needed so we can have year round emergency shelter for men on the Eastside.  

3.      What have you been most proud of during your time as an HDC member?  

We are proud of bringing on a licensed mental health therapist who is providing support to men in housing.  Men are able to work through trauma, share their lives, etc. with someone who is deeply skilled to be present and guide them to a place of personal stability.