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Mayor Harrell Statement on Council Passage of Office-to-Residential Legislation

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell released the following statement after legislation to support the conversion of existing commercial buildings to residential uses passed unanimously in City Council:

“We must take advantage of every opportunity and tool available to create more housing options to address the issues at the root of Seattle’s affordability crisis, which impacts everyone in our city.

“Building off of the innovative ideas we saw in our office-to-residential conversion competition, this legislation is an important step forward to make conversions a reality in our city, removing regulatory barriers and encouraging adaptive reuse of underutilized office spaces into new housing opportunities. By giving us the flexibility to optimize our built environment, we can replace building vacancies with vibrant communities for families and residents, especially in downtown neighborhoods.

“My administration will continue to look for levers to support more affordable housing and greater housing production in the city. These efforts will build on the housing levy approved by voters last year, and include adoption of a new State law to exempt residential and mixed-use projects from SEPA review and legislation to permanently exempt affordable rental and homeownership projects from design review.

“I appreciate the Council’s action on this bill as we continue to advance efforts in our Downtown Activation Plan to transform our city’s core. We know that our downtown must continue to evolve to meet the challenges of the moment and remain committed to embracing bold, forward-thinking Space Needle Thinking to make it a safe, active, and thriving place for residents, workers, and visitors alike.”

About the legislation:

The legislation would establish clear guidelines for determining what qualifies as a residential conversion and provide broad exemptions from design development standards any time an existing structure is converted to housing from another use, or residential uses are added within an existing building. Additionally, these changes would reduce the cost of conversion to residential use by exempting conversions to housing from the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements. The changes would apply to all areas of the city where non-residential structures such as office or retail spaces commonly exist, and multifamily residential uses are allowed. These include: 

  • All Downtown zones,
  • All of the City’s Commercial (C) and Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zones,
  • All Seattle Mixed (SM) zone

The proposed legislation capitalizes on both statewide and local efforts aimed at fostering innovative solutions to meet Seattle’s pressing need for more housing options and repurposing underutilized spaces for residential and other uses.