By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
With about 74,000 more “yes” votes, Seattle’s Proposition Number 1 replaces an expiring levy to pay for more affordable housing and provides $290 million over the next seven years.
The funding comes at a time when over 45,000 lower-income families in the city pay more than half their income for housing and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment increased 29 percent in the last five years, a situation Mayor Ed Murray described as “our worst housing affordability crisis in decades” in July 2015.
The Seattle Housing Levy becomes a key response, and City Councilmember Tim Burgess said, “I can’t thank our voters enough for their commitment to making Seattle a city for everyone.”
“We’re excited about what the housing levy is going to be able to accomplish,” said Kelly Rider, director of government relations and policy at the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County, one of many lead supporters.
“But we’re also excited about many of the other strategies that the city and the region are pursuing to make sure that we’re supporting low-income individuals across the region.”
On a $480,000 house, a Seattle homeowner will pay $122 a year more in property taxes.
Starting in 2017, the Seattle Housing Levy will, among other things, produce and preserve 2,150 affordable homes, reinvest in 350 affordable homes, and support operations for 510 affordable homes.
Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) Executive Director Maiko Winkler-Chin said, “I can say for the levy-funded units in this neighborhood, we have a very high percentage of APIs living in the units, higher probably than the percentage of APIs from the last census for our neighborhoods.”
In 2014, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders made up about 12 percent of the residents living in city-funded buildings, and Seattle served 13,457 households.
“Our members, including InterIm CDA and SCIDpda, are all trying to better meet the needs of our low-income residents and build housing for them,” Rider said.
“We are a nonprofit, membership organization of people doing work to build affordable housing and to serve low-income residents’ housing needs across King County.”
The levy provides short-term loans to preserve existing affordable housing. She said, “This would provide an opportunity for nonprofit developers or others to buy the building quickly before it gets turned over to a market-rate developer that’s going to jack up the rents and displace those tenants so that we can make sure that those residents are able to stay in their community.”
The passage of the Seattle Housing Levy also makes loans available for 280 low-income, first-time buyers, as well as short-term rent assistance and services to 4,500 individuals, including victims of domestic violence, and families who are at risk of becoming homeless or evicted. Rider said, “And a lot of our families need three and four bedrooms in order to be able to serve their households, particularly if you think of multi-generational families.”
“As residents are paying off their mortgages or they’re paying back their down payment assistance, they’re able to put that money back into the levy to be able to use for another family,” she said. “That’s another smaller portion but still incredibly important particularly for some of our communities of color that have been unable to access home ownership opportunities in the past.”
In addition to working with East King County affordable housing providers, the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County is currently working on 64 other recommendations, all from a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Advisory Committee created by Murray and the City Council in 2014.
“We’re hoping that residents across the region will step up to voice the importance of those other strategies and their interests in addressing affordable housing with other strategies with their city elected reps, their county elected reps, their state elected reps, so that everybody hears the strong voice that we heard on election night,” Rider said.
For more information about the City of Seattle’s Proposition No. 1, go to yesforhomes.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.