Seattle Homeowner Vows to Appeal Federal Judge’s Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Mandatory Housing Affordability Law

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 1, 2024

This morning, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington dismissed a Seattle homeowner’s lawsuit challenging the city’s so-called “Mandatory Housing Affordability” law (MHA). The decision comes after Anita Adams, a Central District homeowner, sued the city over MHA’s restrictions, which would charge her upwards of $75,000 in order to obtain a permit to build a four-bedroom house for her extended family. Following the decision, Anita—along with the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit public interest law firm—announced that she’ll continue to fight for her rights to utilize her property to help her family.

“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,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Suranjan Sen. “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 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,” said William Maurer, the Managing Attorney of IJ’s Washington office. “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.”

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.

With help from the Institute for Justice, Anita sued in 2022 arguing that Seattle’s law violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on government takings. A “taking” occurs when the government seizes private property for public use or imposes regulations that deprive the property owner of its economically viable use. Under the Fifth Amendment, such actions require the government to provide just compensation to the property owner.

“I’m fighting this law because it stands in the way of creating generational wealth for families like mine,” said Anita. “Too many residents, including my own children and extended family, have been displaced by these burdensome regulations, and it’s time we take a stand. This isn’t about just my property; it’s about ensuring that future generations can thrive in the city they call home.”

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