Federal Way city staff: Restricting apartment zoning could have ‘unintended consequences’

Federal Way city staff: Restricting apartment zoning could have ‘unintended consequences’

City staff warns about changes to multi-family housing zoning

Staff warned the Federal Way City Council on Tuesday there may be “unintended consequences” to adopting zoning code amendments on multi-family housing.

In a presentation at the Oct. 19 Council meeting, Principal Planner Margaret Clark and Community Services Manager Jeff Watson explained their research on zoning and development regulations since the Council enacted a six-month moratorium on the development of multi-family housing in June.

As part of the presentation, staff revealed 18 proposed zoning amendments they recommended to the Planning Commission on Oct. 5.

The proposed amendments would apply to apartment complexes with 100 or more units and range from requiring underground parking in certain zones to requiring impact fees to offset the need for calls to police and fire departments. Other amendments include requiring security cameras in lobbies, community rooms and playgrounds as well as requiring a security plan for common areas.

The commission agreed with every amendment except one: requiring multi-family complexes to provide supportive services, such as mental health and substance abuse counseling.

However, even without that amendment, the city could still face challenges if they make those changes. Watson told the Council that any zoning or land use decision that discriminates against “minorities” and deprives them of housing opportunities is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“It’s not necessary to prove that officials intended to discriminate against minorities in denying specific housing projects or otherwise making land-use decisions. It can be whatever the effect of those decisions are, again, whether intended or not,” Watson told the Council, noting that enacting new requirements that drive up the cost of construction could make it more difficult for people to afford housing in a particular community, thus pricing them out of that community.

And violating that law could be expensive.

Failing to comply with the federal law could mean less federal funding, such as the Community Development Block Grant.

Furthermore, Watson said, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development imposed a new rule in 2015 that requires communities to look at their policies and regulations to determine whether there are provisions that limit access to “certain individuals.”

The city’s comprehensive plan must also comply with the Growth Management Act, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040, and the King Countywide Planning Policies. According to Clark, the city must identify land for housing and “demonstrate zoned capacity to accommodate housing targets.” The plan should provide for existing and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community, meaning affordable housing, Clark continued.

“Compliance with the Growth Management Act is important for various funding sources and transportation improvement grants,” city documents state. “Compliance is defined as having completed the latest comprehensive plan update on time and no pending actions, remands, or challenges before the Growth Management Hearings Board.”

Because of the city’s past compliance, it has received large grants from the Puget Sound Regional Council for transportation projects, such as $16 million for the Pacific Highway Phase IV and V project phases.

“Approximately 50 percent of money to build our roads come from grants,” Clark said.

While the city of Federal Way is exceeding its rental targets for moderate-income (41.3 percent out of 16 percent required) and low-income (39 percent out of a 12 percent target) residents, it’s well below meeting rental housing accommodations for the very low-income population, which is targeted to be at 12 percent. The city currently has 3.5 percent of rentals available for those with very low income.

In order to qualify for moderate income housing, a person needs to make between 51 and 80 percent of the King County Area Median Income. Low-income housing requires 31 to 50 percent of the Area Median Income, and very low-income affordable housing is 30 percent or below the Area Median Income. As of 2016, the King County Area Median Income is $63,210 for one person and $90,300 for a four-person household.

According to Clark, in order to meet long-range plans for growth, the city will need to add 5,663 more single- or multi-family units by 2031, meaning 397 new units each year. Their current average is 227 new units per year.

Compared to other cities, Clark said Federal Way is “in the middle” on how much affordable housing is being offered. Auburn has 46.5 percent affordable housing, Federal Way has 48.6 percent, Burien has 48.9 percent, Kent has 49 percent and SeaTac has 54.7 percent.

The city enacted the six-month moratorium, which expires Dec. 7 if no action is taken, as a way to give the city time to “review the multi-family zoning and development regulations to determine whether such zoning and development regulations are appropriate for the type of multi-family development that the council envisions for the city.”

But the passing of the temporary ban on multi-family development (Council Bill No. 708) was expedited by the Council and arrived just after the city was hit with three murders in 48 hours. In a subsequent Council meeting to address public safety, many members of the community questioned multi-family and affordable housing in Federal Way and how its perceived increase was related to crime.

“I know everybody blames everything on the low-income, but they’re not guilty of everything and they do need a place to live and I certainly don’t want our city to just be full of low-income,” said Councilwoman Dini Duclos after Clark and Watson’s presentation. “I want it to have a range of incomes here from the very wealthy, which we have, to the poor who need some assistance in being able to live because they still can be productive citizens.”

Nearly all of the council members requested more information on the potential impacts to adopting amendments to zones that allow multi-family housing, as well as a comparison to what other cities are doing to balance housing.

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Federal Way city staff: Restricting apartment zoning could have ‘unintended consequences’

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