Housing costs on Capitol Hill and throughout Seattle are reaching new heights as the most recent study showed average rents on the Hill have reached $1,557 a month. That’s up $162 from this time last year when CHS reported on soaring rents in 2013.
Escalating housing costs have created what many officials say is an affordable housing crisis in Seattle. In February, Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien said there was a “sense of urgency” to develop an affordable housing plan as soon as possible. “Every day the challenge is growing, people are struggling to survive,” O’Brien said.
At that time, O’Brien said the council would have an affordable housing plan by the end of this summer following the results of three studies. At a special committee meeting last week to review one of those studies, O’Brien said the plan would likely not coalesce until September and legislation would not reach the full council until 2015.
The study (PDF and embedded below) from Portland-based firm Otak compared Seattle’s housing and demographic trends to 10 similarly sized cities, including Portland, Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. The researchers also took a look at “best practices” when it came to developing affordable housing in other cities.
Many of the recommendations echoed ideas floated at the City Council’s February affordable housing summit, including creating a corporate housing fund, where big employers pool money for affordable housing projects. Other recommendations included:
- Refine and maximize current affordable housing programs, including the Contingent Loan Agreements where the city underwrites rainy day funds on low income projects.
- Refine the city’s accessory dewlling unit ordinace to get more affordable housing
- Increase use of land banking for affordable housing, whereby the city purchases land in and around transit stations and within designated areas to preserve options for future development.
- Use the Community Development Block Grant Float Loan Program to provide bridge financing for workforce housing projects
- Increase efforts to promote home ownership. Seattle could follow the lead of other cities that offer expedited permit processing, fee reductions and bond financing
- Articulate a more specific work force housing policy, including setting a specific goal for how much middle income housing should be built in the next year.
- Refine regulatory requirements on developers to smooth processes, particularly the environmental review process.
- Lobby the state legislature to allow the city more options to raise levy money for affordable housing incentives
The researchers said Seattle stood out in several ways compared to other cities in the report. Not surprising is that the city’s housing levy is envied across the country by local officials who would love the legal authority to give their residents the opportunity to tax themselves more for more affordable housing.
One troubling finding was that Seattle is among the least affordable places for families, as the city had the smallest average house size among the 10 cities and a high percentage of parent-aged residents. Additionally, most of the new construction in Seattle has been apartment buildings with a focus on smaller units.
In an effort to create more affordable housing, much of what Seattle and other cities have done is create various incentive schemes for private developers, as opposed to cities and non-profits taking a more active role in developing. During Wednesday’s meeting, council member Kshama Sawant said the city could also build its own housing, or at least offer more incentives to non-profits.
“Giving incentives to private developers doesn’t not necessarily equate to better condtions for poeple who need affordable housing,” she said. Sawant is a strong advocate of rent control and has promised to fight to repeal the state law that prohibits it.