The Tacoma City Council voted Tuesday to require developers planning new apartment buildings near the Tacoma Mall to include affordable units in those complexes.
It is the first time so-called "inclusionary zoning" is being required in the city and comes at a time when people living in Tacoma and Pierce County are dealing with rapidly increasing housing costs.
Mayor Victoria Woodards said before the vote that Tacoma desperately needs more affordable housing and that current incentives, like tax breaks, aren't providing enough.
The rule was passed as part of an overall subarea plan for the mall area. That's a long-term planning document that will guide development around the mall, which has been designated the city's second biggest growth center behind the downtown core.
The council's vote Tuesday ratified an amendment passed last week that requires any new multifamily development with more than 15 units set aside at least 10 percent of those units as affordable housing. That means they must be affordable to people making half of Tacoma's area median income — or folks who are making roughly $26,000 a year. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics, the council considers Tacoma's AMI to be roughly $52,000.
So a developer who decides to build a 20-unit apartment building in the designated Tacoma Mall area would have to ensure that two of those units would be affordable for folks whose incomes are about $26,000 a year. "Affordable" also means people living in those units are only spending 30 percent of their income on rent.
Council member Chris Beale has said the idea of the inclusionary zoning is to balance the the need for more affordable housing with incentives for developers.
"We are going to see redevelopment. That redevelopment is not always pretty," Beale said. "This will allow for affordable units to be integrated in and not sort of segregated out."
Developers have had concerns about inclusionary zoning. Units that bring in lower rents mean developers recoup less money on their investment.
To offset that hardship, the subarea plan allows for more density and taller buildings. The newest version of the subarea plan also cuts back the off-street parking requirement for developers who build multifamily projects in the mall area. For residential uses, developers now only have to include 0.5 parking stalls per unit, instead of one parking stall per unit.
And they don't have to build any off-street parking stalls for each affordable housing unit in the project.
There eventually will be an option for developers to pay a fee instead of including affordable housing in their projects, but that won't be available until the city does a study to determine what that fee should be. Previously, the fee was suggested to be $10,000. That figure will likely increase.
There have been calls, including Tuesday, for the inclusionary zoning requirement to be mandated citywide, but there are no formal plans to do that at present.