Inclusionary Housing

Incentive Zoning

HDC believes that King County’s many moderate and low wage workers should be able to live affordably in the cities they work in rather than endure long, expensive, and polluting commutes that place them far from family and community for too much of the working day.

Incentive zoning policies ensure that a portion of new development in select areas of a city is affordable to families earning moderate incomes.

Incentive zoning requires developers to make a percentage of housing units in new residential developments available to low- and moderate-income households. In return, developers receive non-monetary compensation-in the form of density bonuses, zoning variances, and/or expedited permits-that reduce construction costs. By linking the production of affordable housing to private market development, incentive zoning expands the supply of affordable housing while dispersing affordable homes throughout a city or county to broaden opportunity and foster mixed-income communities.

Incentive zoning is a flexible strategy with a proven track record of meeting a community’s affordable housing needs.

Some jurisdictions require developers to construct affordable homes within the new development, while others allow affordable homes to be constructed in another location.  Some jurisdictions require developers to build the units, while other communities allow developers to contribute to an affordable housing fund. Check out some program models from East King County here.

Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Shoreline, and Issaquah have all implemented some type of incentive zoning policy. 

HDC was one of the primary advocates for the revised incentive zoning policies that Seattle’s City Council adopted in 2008 and that the City of Bellevue has adopted for the Bel-Red Corridor. The intent of the policies is clear: to ensure equitable housing opportunities for current and future residents while implementing Comprehensive Plan goals and guidelines.

  • On March 16th, the Shoreline City Council adopted a strong incentive zoning policy as part of its 185th Street Light Rail Station Development Regulations.
  • View HDC’s comments regarding Bellevue’s Downtown Livability Initiative here.
  • HDC recently supported other development incentives in Bellevue. Read our comment here.

For HDC’s other work on Inclusionary Housing, please visit:

Mandatory Housing Affordability

Our City is Growing Out of Reach
Seattle’s economy is booming. Even though the city is growing and jobs are being created, the cost of living in Seattle is rapidly outpacing wages. Data from the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee indicates that a person needs to earn $56,480 annually in order to afford rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in our city. People should be able to live, work, and build a life in a community of opportunity – yet this vision is becoming unattainable for so many hard-working people and families. We need to create more permanently affordable housing if we are going to make Seattle an affordable community for all. This will require innovative local tools.

Like the Seattle for Everyone Facebook page to connect with committed advocates and organizations working towards inclusive communities. 

What Tools Do We Need?
In October 2014, the Seattle City Council passed Resolution 31551 indicating its intent to implement an affordable housing linkage fee program in Seattle. Since then, city and community leaders came together and developed a broad set of tools to help build a more affordable city. Chief among the recommendations are two inclusionary housing policies: a Commercial Linkage Fee and a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing ProgramA linkage fee is a per-square-foot charge on new commercial development that mitigates the increased demand for affordable housing created by that development.  For more details about affordable housing linkage fees, click hereThis is a critical first step in creating a city of opportunity for everyone. 

A Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program requires multi-family housing developers to include affordable homes alongside market-rate units. If developers choose not to include affordable housing, they have the option to pay a fee to a citywide fund for affordable housing. Taken together, the commercial linkage fee and mandatory inclusionary housing program will create an estimated 6,000 new affordable homes in Seattle. This will allow thousands of people and their families to fully thrive in local communities.

We’ve Found a Fair Solution

Those who profit most from growth and public investment can afford to give a little back to support a diverse, equitable city. Taking this approach provides a balanced and broad set of measures to ensure that Seattle remains a vibrant, inclusive city. Economic growth and widespread opportunity can coexist. Inclusionary housing policies ask everyone to do their fair share, allowing the workers we rely on every day to afford to live near their jobs in the city.


Seattle MHA program One-Pager: A high-level overview that is useful for understanding MHA and incentive zoning generally.

Seattle MHA Program Upzone Two-Pager: Explains upzoning and the benefits it can provide to the community.