17 things CHS heard at the Seattle Housing Gap meeting

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The Progressive Revenue Task Force charged with finding new source of funding to help address Seattle’s homelessness crisis is weeks away from releasing its recommendations and an important bottom line element: how much money can the task force dig up? Will it be enough? Earlier this week, Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda gathered housing and homelessness experts and the Housing For All Coalition to move ahead on next steps to putting the money to work creating affordable housing in Seattle as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“It’s worth reminding ourselves that this is not a crisis because we don’t know what do do, it’s a manmade crisis of our own because we never invested the resources from the very start,” Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said Tuesday night during the “Seattle Housing Gap” panel at City Hall.

Headed by City Council member Lorena González, the revenue task force is on a legislated deadline: if it doesn’t deliver recommendations in March, the council will begin the process of imposing an employee head tax opposed by many of Seattle’s business communities.

Tuesday’s discussion was less about alternative sources of funding and more about the environment we’ve created for developing housing in Seattle. Here are some of the things CHS saw and heard during the panel:

  • How about some scary math to start? To build the apartment units required, the city and county would need an estimated $5.1 billion to permanently shelter the more than 30,000 individuals in the region in need, many of whom have extra needs in addiction recovery and mental health in addition to homelessness.
  • 6,300 homeless unsheltered individuals were counted within Seattle City limits during a one-night count last year.
  • Adding to her statements at a town hall last weekend that “we should not be selling city-owned land into the speculative real-estate market,” Rep. Nicole Macri talked about rezoning public land for development and progressive tax reform. Macri also has legislation in the House aimed at prohibiting income discrimination and protecting vulnerable groups who are not yet homeless.
  • “If you look at Seattle metro, more than 46.8% of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent,” Macri said.
  • Macri’s House Bill 2578 would allow counties to bond against state sales tax revenue to finance their own infrastructure.
  • Katie Wilson of the Housing for all Coalition talked demographics: “Population is growing in high and low-income brackets, while affordable housing for those with incomes in the middle are being hollowed out — sorry this is so depressing,” Wilson said only ten minutes into the meeting.More Wilson: “200,000 people in King County live below the poverty line, that’s $16,242 for a two-person household.”
  • The average median income in Seattle is $66,000 per year.
  • While most of the panel was focused on the cost of housing, Johnny Schilling from the REACH program suggested that the group “should also focus on all the intersections that homeless people might be experiencing, like drugs addiction, illness, accessibility and long term chronic illness. If we don’t provide services we will recreate the wheel, only adding evictions. If we are really putting forth the effort to make housing affordable than we should look at how we are helping them maintain it.” REACH is a street-based outreach and case management program for adults living outside in Seattle.
  • Gerald Donaldson, family support worker at Leschi Elementary School looks after the needs of 60 homeless children in school, whom he refers to as “his babies.” Donaldson maintains a food and clothing bank in his office, often meeting with his students multiple times a day. He chronicled exhaustion of children getting to school late, spending hours on the bus to get home and missing out on school events as “a form of trauma.”
  • “Let’s tie this to the Trump tax windfall. A lot of these businesses are getting double digit cuts. It’s only fair we try to address that gap by taxing them in the city that helped to build them a sizable income.” — Council member Mike O’Brien
  • “The lowering corporate tax rates mean less money to do this. The corporate tax rate has gone from 35 to 21%, so without making any other changes, that will mean a 14% reduction in the number of affordable homes we can build. In Seattle alone that’s 125 units.” — Wilson
  • “If the increase of homelessness is due to rents increasing then we’re never going to catch-up by just building alone.” — Council member Lisa Herbold
  • “Seattle had and continues to have a housing crisis, the 1962 World’s Fair is the reason,” a speaker identified as a community organizer said.
  • “Considering the disproportionate impact homelessness has on people of color, the city should do more to design and finance and manage assets in those communities, who know how to serve their own community. We need to increase community owned capital and assets.” — Miguel Maestas of El Centro de la Raza.
  • The population in Seattle is projected to keep growing to 6 million by 2050.
  • “We need rent-control because with each $100 increase in rent there is a 15% increase in homelessness.” – Council member Kshama Sawant.
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10 thoughts on “17 things CHS heard at the Seattle Housing Gap meeting

    • Not a unreasonable price when you factor in land purchases. If built on City property, transferred for free, the cost would be a little lower. One of the hidden costs of construction are the fees to hook up to utilities.

    • it’s probably 2x more expensive than is being quoted, per your math. it costs ~300k-400k to build a unit of housing. A bit more if it includes services.

  1. 17 bullet points. Not one even remotely related to helping people homeless due to joblessness learn any marketable job skills. Can we try more coalitions with businesses, so people have a shot at puling themselves up, instead of just making an ever-increasing number dependent? No mention here. We need more stuff along the lines of FareStart. It seems to work. You can’t tax the geese that lay golden eggs to fix this problem, at some point the geese can and will just fly away.

  2. I’m sure the 1000th public meeting will be the one that fixes it. Is it really rocket science? Mentally ill homeless people need homes. Drug addicts/alcoholics need treatment and homes. People who are homeless because of financials need homes and job training.

  3. “If you look at Seattle metro, more than 46.8% of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent.” I’m one of those folks, and I currently live in an apt building whose rents are below market value. I’m terrified that the most recent property tax increase is going to cause my rent to sky-rocket. As a senior, my choices are pretty limited, with most low-income housing having waiting lists of 2 years or more. I’m still working but if I have to move out of my apt, I’m leaving the state. We’ve got to look at reforming our tax system and stop depending on property taxes and sales tax to pay for everything. This is unsustainable. We don’t all make Amazon wages.

    • Totally agreed, but the best way to do that is with an income tax. And we’ve seen the hysterical opposition that causes. So we just tax homeowners out of town, force them into selling their houses, which all get torn down and turned into expensive apartments or (literally) million dollar condos. It just keeps making it worse.

    • Yup – rental prices are not going down any time soon. I see a few trends

      – landlords selling units to avoid the city legislation on first in line etc. The sale price is typically high which will force up rents – the typical 5% return on rental property is pathetic for the risk involved.

      – rising interest rates are going to further drive up costs. We could expect rates to go up 1-2pts and increase loan costs

      – ever increasing property tax, and revalued property tax after sales

      – if one was crazy enough to build, construction costs are double what they were 5 years back

    • I own several rental properties on Cap Hill, including those with long term tenants enjoying sub-market rents. My rental property tax increases this year ranged from $40-$90 monthly per unit. So, in order to maintain my current position on these properties i need to raise rents by that amount just to cover the property tax increase. Of course such a rent increase would not address the rapidly rising costs of utilities, insurance, maintenance and construction, the latter having skyrocketed over the past few years. And let’s not forget interest rates, which are rising rapidly now that our numbskull president has introduced economic stimulus into an economy nearing full employment. Finally, the detrimental effect of laws passed by the Council in the past eighteen months, which have raised costs and risks of rental property owners dramatically. All these factors make the decline of affordable housing inevitable.