Seattle plan would swap reduced North Precinct for affordable housing funds

The proposed North Precinct. Nice. But you wouldn't want to live there.

The proposed North Precinct. Nice. But you wouldn’t want to live there.

The Seattle City Council could add another $29 million to build hundreds of units of affordable housing through a bond and shuffling of funds from the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Seattle Police Department’s controversial North Precinct project.

The Council’s budget committee discussed District 1 representative Lisa Herbold’s proposal, Wednesday, which would add $29 million to the housing levy’s estimated $54 million for the biennium.

“I wanted to (use a bond) in a way that allowed the North Precinct project to move forward,” Herbold said.

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant has signed onto Herbold’s proposal which would reduce the scope of the precinct project.

Sawant credited the Block the Bunker movement for the progress on the proposed reallocation of funding but said she wants to see all of the North Precinct funds put toward housing, which she has said would build an estimated 1,000 homes. Two different scenarios show the $29 million could build 198 or 270 units.

“I do definitely support this budget amendment because I think given the scale of the housing crisis, affordability crisis, that we have in this city, elected officials very much have a duty to make sure every possible dollar goes into affordable housing that we can raise,” Sawant said.

Sawant said having visited the North Precinct, the need to replace it is not as great as the need for people trying to afford life in Seattle.

“We do see a crying need for affordable housing,” she said.

Council members Lorena Gonzalez, Sally Bagshaw, Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson have also said they will support Herbold’s proposal.

O’Brien said he supports Sawant’s work agains the North Precinct project but that Herbold’s proposal is a “good start.”

Exactly how the funds would be used to create the housing hasn’t been finalized. Potential uses include putting the fund toward predevelopment to move big projects forward, doing seismic retrofits, and encouraging homeownership through subsidy, among others.

Herbold said she is particularly interested in the seismic retrofits.

“If we can find ways to get public money into existing, privately owned, naturally affordable housing, that’s a way that we can buy long-term affordability in those buildings,” Herbold said.

CHS reported earlier this month on seismic work planned for classic Capitol Hill apartment building The Whitworth that will keep the 17th/John building and its 56 units safe for residents. In April, the City of Seattle added some 300 buildings to its list of old brick structures most at risk of damage or collapse in the event of a major earthquake. Among the 1,160 unreinforced masonry structures counted in a recent report, Capitol Hill continues to have the most of any neighborhood in the city — roughly 13%.

Bagshaw also suggested researching modular homes as an option.

Herbold was doing some different math Tuesday on Election Night at Pramila Jayapal's victory party (Image: CHS)

Herbold was doing some different math Tuesday on Election Night at Pramila Jayapal’s victory party (Image: CHS)

Herbold said there’s “a lot of unanswered questions” about how to use the money.

Where payments for debt service on the $29 million bond would come from is a little confusing. Here’s the breakdown. The city would issue a 30-year, $29 million Limited Term General Obligation bond in 2017. In 2017, the city would have to pay $1.4 million to its debt. In 2018 and every year after it would pay $1.9 million.

In a roundabout way, the money would come from some of the funds proposed for the North Precinct, which was originally budgeted at $160 million. The precinct was going to be funded using Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) dollars. The budget currently estimates the project will get $15 million in REET money over the next two years. But the city cannot directly take the REET money and put it into an account to develop affordable housing, according to state law, council members say.

Because of the city’s homelessness emergency, the council would direct funds allocated to the Seattle Department of Transportation to the bond debt for 2017 and 2018. The city would then move REET money from the north precinct fund to SDOT — $1.4 million in 2017 and $1.9 million in 2018, bringing SDOT’s budget back to where it is planned to be.

For payments starting in 2019, the city would create a growth fund with some of the property taxes from new construction.

It’s a lot of math and budget sleights of hand. But given the state of affordability in the city, Seattle might need to roll out every trick in the book.

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7 thoughts on “Seattle plan would swap reduced North Precinct for affordable housing funds

  1. This seems like a reasonable compromise on the issue….the North Precinct will still get a new home, but with cost savings over the original proposal. Of course, Sawant….in her usual, arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway manner…..wants the project cancelled and allocate all the money to housing. Too bad, Sawant, you’re not getting your way this time.

  2. I’m generally no fan of Sawant but her efforts in this case deserve much praise. The $140 million plus police station is a great example of why our liberal city and state have such a regressive tax structure, terrible public education for our kids, and crumbling infrastructure. Log rolling at it’s finest: public works are for adding everyone’s pet project, and cost, who cares? (Likewise for our $53 billion train system that won’t even reduce the number of cars on the road temporarily — other cities have done comparable systems recently for less than 10% of our costs.) Meanwhile, a handful of connected contractors get fat and happy at the public trough. So, hats off to Sawant for throwing a monkey wrench into this absurd project, which would be the most expensive police station in the world.

    So, if we don’t build the station, what should we do with the money? Here’s a proposal to take $29 million and build up to 270 units. (Very small units, for sure). Most of the working people in our city are being priced out of housing, and our leaders are proposing 270 units? The same $29 million could subsidize about 4000 renters at a rate of $600 a month for 10 years. In other words, about and make about 1500% more housing affordable to people who need it. Model for this — the federal section 8 program which has been very effective but cut back by our right-wing congress. But the city wouldn’t be building apartments. We’d need to have controls in place to make sure that the subsidies didn’t just drive prices even higher.

    Oh, and if we diverted $120 million from the police station (more like what I thought Sawant was pushing for), this plan would actually subsidize some 16,000 renters. But hey, who’s counting? Better to have a very, very expensive police station, maybe 290 more public housing units if we’re lucky, and business as usual in our liberal home of regressive taxes, underfunded public education and crumbling infrastructure.

    • Working too quickly this morning — actually the $29 million would only subsidize 400 units at $600 a unit for 10 years. — or $120 million would only subsidize 1600 units for 10 years at $600 a month. Of course, $600 a month is an arbitrary figure, and probably a bit higher than needed to make an effective program to bring rent within reach of many working people. If it were $400 a month, the numbers goe up to 600 units. And, Herbold says, it might be as few as 198 units. (290 units for $29 million is $100,000 per unit which seems very low cost for construction in Seattle)

      But anyway, to correct my about posting,, a section 8 type program would only be something like 200% to 500% times more effective than building public housing, sorry for the error.

  3. The original plan for the new precinct was a product of city leaders trying to use it to partially address reform by making it more of a community center with a police station and Sawant and her Occupy entourage deemed that a “bunker.”? Anyway, sounds like the City is more on the right track with this revised plan.

    • Bunker is just an easy term for them to generate negative reactions to, and thus, more easily garner support to get rid of it. Same people that’d be crying for police if they got mugged, and then bitch when it took too long for them to get there because they didn’t have a close enough station.

  4. How about we give the money back to those it was taken from originally and use our democratic process to determine what our many millions in tax dollars should go to?

    • That’s not how taxes work. If so, I’d like my cut of school taxes, bike path taxes and other taxes that I don’t like because I don’t/won’t use those services.

      And further – democratic processes usually don’t end well for the greater good – most people wouldn’t vote for a new PD building…until the lack of a PD building resulted in increased crime rates or something else undesirable.