Bellevue Leaders Prioritize Workforce Housing Amidst Job Growth
Jul 6, 2021
By Joe Fain, Bellevue Chamber President & CEO
Bellevue is a city as unique as they come. Anybody who lives in the region knows just how much we’ve grown in the past 20 years. What was once primarily a residential community with a downtown commercial core has transformed into a high-tech and retail hub where people come to work and play. Beautiful, gleaming high-rises now adorn our downtown skyline.
This “city in a park” is just as attractive to live in, but, like many other cities across the Puget Sound region, job growth in Bellevue has significantly outpaced housing creation. Across King County, there was only one new unit of housing created for every three new jobs. We need over 34,000 additional low- and middle-income housing units in Bellevue to meet the demand, according to data analyzed by Microsoft.
The Bellevue City Council has long prioritized housing creation and housing access. Most recently, the Council led a collaborative process with employers, housing creators, and advocacy groups to spur the creation of more workforce housing. The result is a new framework that leverages property tax incentives to create more affordable housing as Bellevue continues to grow.
Known as Multifamily Tax Exemption, or MFTE, Bellevue’s program helps embed affordable, workforce housing units in new and existing market-rate construction. Since the inception of this program in 2015, only two buildings have used the program, yielding only 60 affordable units. To bolster this effort, the City Council recently strengthened its MFTE program to help set aside up to 20% of units in a building as affordable housing. Additionally, the Council increased access to these affordable units by raising the eligibility threshold to 80% of King County Area Medium Income (AMI), adjusted for household size. Under the program, any qualifying unit 300 square feet or less will be affordable to 45% of King County AMI.
Workforce housing incentives like these have a proven-track record of success. Since 2007, Washington state’s MFTE program created an estimated 7,325 below market-rate units and 27,560 market-rate units across the state.
The Bellevue Chamber, its allies at the Partnership for Affordable Housing, and other advocates supported similar improvements to the state’s MFTE program during the 2021 legislative session. The new state program is flexible and allows cities like Bellevue to create workforce housing programs unique to their needs. We encourage cities across the state to look to Bellevue’s example and, under the new state framework, explore how MFTE can help stimulate workforce housing creation in their own communities.
Back here in Bellevue, there is still more work to be done. The Chamber, the City Council, and stakeholders across the city are looking ahead to additional innovative solutions for housing creation. We are exploring ways to increase transit-oriented development, reduce barriers to density and multifamily housing creation, streamline the permitting process, and maximize the potential of three newly rezoned areas.
Together, we can solve one of the greatest challenges facing our communities and state by aligning on the goal of creating livable, affordable cities where everyone can have a place to call home.
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