Homeowner promises fight over huge housing ‘affordability’ costs

By Bob Unruh

Seattle (Courtesy Pixabay)
Seattle (Courtesy Pixabay)

A homeowner fighting a Seattle law that demands $75,000 for permission to build a home for one family is vowing to continue the battle.

The promise comes from Anita Adams, who sued over the city’s “Mandatory Housing Affordability” scheme that could set her back a huge sum just for a permit.

A lower court dismissed her case, but she says it’s not over.

The Institute for Justice is helping her.

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“Despite its name, Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability law does the opposite of what it intended—it makes it unaffordable for people like Anita to build housing on their own property,” explained Suranjan Sen, of the IJ.

“At a time when Seattle faces a housing crisis it boggles the mind that the city would impose fees on someone who is doing her best to build affordable housing for her family. While frustrating, today’s decision is not the last word on the constitutionality of the law. We firmly believe that Seattle’s MHA program violates the constitutional rights of homeowners and small developers and we are appealing this decision to ensure justice for Anita and others like her.”

The IJ reported, “Adams grew up and raised her family in the city’s Central District. With Seattle’s housing costs frustratingly high, Anita’s family members were forced out of their neighborhoods. That didn’t sit right with her, so she started to dream about building an addition to her property with room for her two kids and father-in-law. But when she started to research the process, she determined that although the city’s zoning code made her plans permissible, the MHA effectively made it too expensive to build her addition: the law could force her to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees just to get a building permit. That made Anita’s dream unattainable.”

William Maurer, of IJ’s Washington office, pointed out, “The court’s decision today is very limited, holding that there may be circumstances in which the city may apply the law constitutionally, and that Anita needed to seek a waiver of the MHA conditions and be rejected before she could sue.”

He said, “The court’s decision does not lift the specter of unconstitutionality from this law. It simply holds that any challenger to the law must first go through the city’s waiver process before she may file suit. That is incorrect, as the waiver process itself is often prohibitively expensive, as it was for Anita. We expect that the Ninth Circuit will recognize that forcing property owners to undergo—in the name of affordability—a long and expensive waiver process to avoid an unconstitutional condition just to build on their own property is a real harm.”

The lawsuit challenged the city based on the Fifth Amendment’s limitations on government takings.” That requires “just compensation” when a government takes property, or imposes regulations that deprive the owner of the effective use and value of a property.

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