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Will Seattle’s quest for affordable housing take same path as $15 minimum wage?

Monday's release of the Community Housing Caucus report. These folks will have to speak up -- even more -- to shape Seattle's affordability plan (Image: Alex Garland)

Monday’s release of the Community Housing Caucus report. These folks will have to speak up — even more — to shape Seattle’s affordability plan (Image: Alex Garland)

Mayor Ed Murray says don’t give up on being able to afford a place to live in Seattle and on Capitol Hill. You don’t have to move to Tacoma.

“I don’t think we’ve lost this moment, yet,” Murray said Monday before the process to create an affordable housing plan for Seattle took another step forward that afternoon with the release of a set of recommendations from the Community Housing Caucus, a group of low income housing advocates and legislative wonks. Monday’s report followed a 14-point set of recommendations (posted by the Seattle Times) sent by the developer-focused Coalition for Housing Solutions to Murray’s office earlier this month.

Get ready for some to call it another mess of “Seattle process.” But Murray says his directive to forge an affordable housing plan for Seattle by May 2015 is taking the same route that he charted to change the city’s minimum wage law last year.

If so, it will be interesting to see which of the more radical planks presented by the Caucus Monday will ultimately make it into the recommendations due to Murray in May from his Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee.

Here is a look at 10 of the multitude of ideas presented at the conference sponsored by City Council members Nick Licata and $15/hour champion councilor and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant. The full report is embedded at the end of this post:

  1. Housing Bond Program: The City of Seattle should issue at least $500 million in long term bonds; staying within the current bond cap for low income housing and housing for homeless families and individuals, at 0-30% and 30%-50% of the area median income. The bonds can be issued in increments over multiple years and take advantage of low interest rates. The housing will be built on city-owned land and private property acquired by nonprofits.
  2. Growth Related Housing Fund: Reestablish Seattle’s Growth Related Housing Fund. Dedicate a portion of the incremental increase in property tax revenue from new construction annually for the development of low income housing. This creates a nexus between development and the pressures on housing affordability. The original Growth Fund captured new tax revenue related to growth in downtown Seattle. Given the unprecedented level of development in many neighborhoods, expand the Growth Fund citywide.
  3. 1-for-1 replacement: Expand the city’s authority to require developers who demolish low income housing to replace 1 for 1 the housing they remove and at comparable price. Apply this in every case involving a discretionary land use decision, and where a developer (including SHA) seeks an up-zone, master plan permit, alley vacation, air rights, acquisition of public land, etc. Amend the city’s SEPA housing policy to require this for all developments demolishing four or more units of low income housing priced at/or below 80% of median. Add this requirement into the proposed housing linkage fee.
  4. Up-zone hold: The city should place a hold on considering further up-zones at this time in areas where existing low income housing is threatened. Such changes in land use that cause demolition, speculation, and rent increases should be placed on hold until specific ‘no net loss’ measures are first put in place that either prevent these losses or guarantee 1 for 1 replacement at comparable price of all units lost.
  5. Distribute housing for all income levels: Proactively plan to house families of all income levels in all parts of the city. The current market is producing few-to-zero units with three bedrooms or more.
  6. Rent stabilization: Pass a resolution affirming the City’s interest to enact a Rent Stabilization ordinance. Actively pursue a repeal of the state’s ban on regulating rent hikes. Explore and develop interim rent stabilization options available to the city. Until that is done, establish a policy requiring rent stabilization as a condition for granting discretionary land use decisions or other concessions from the City to private developers.
  7. Restore Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: Require 90-days termination notice for no-fault terminations. The ordinance will cover term leases, contract expirations, and a tenant’s defense against an eviction from unregistered landlords. Currently, real estate transactions fall under a just cause for evictions, remove this language in order to curb displacement from speculation in the housing market.
  8. Right of First Notice: Require all owners of existing low and low-moderate income apartment buildings (affordable up to those earning up to 80% of area median income) to first offer them for sale to non-profits representing the affected low income tenants who occupy the building prior to putting the property up for sale to speculators and developers. Funds from sources identified in section 1, would be dedicated to assist the nonprofits making offers for these buildings. The first priority would be to acquire and place these buildings under some form of land trust, limited equity cooperatives, or other tenant ownership arrangements.
  9. Housing Preservation: Create a special Housing Preservation Commission (HPC) to inventory and preserve Seattle’s remaining stock of privately-owned, unsubsidized low and moderate income buildings at-risk of being lost. The HPC would recommend strategies for quick acquisition of these buildings. This dovetails with passage of a right of first notice law to facilitate acquisition of these at-risk buildings. Consider selective use of the city’s condemnation authority to acquire at-risk buildings the HPC has prioritized as ripe for sale.
  10. Special Review Districts: Consider the creation of area-or-neighborhood specific “Special Review Districts” to preserve existing low-income housing in that area, guaranteeing no net loss of units, as an overlay to the existing zoning code. In these areas, a board of citizens and advocates assisted by city staff would monitor the low income stock and make policy recommendations to maintaining the affordability. New developments would be evaluated based on standards set by the board. The board would be given the power to deny or condition permits, and can request the city to exercise its condemnation authority in order to meet no net loss goals.

There are loads more recommendations in the full report, below. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports that the Caucus and the developer-focused Coalition for Housing Solutions have some common ground:

Seattle should build affordable housing on vacant or underdeveloped public land and dedicate general-fund revenue each year to pay for affordable housing.

As the Times points out, “neither idea involves developers directly doing or paying more.”

One telling difference in the various camps might be the focus on who, exactly, needs to be able to afford Seattle.

“Our goal is to ensure Seattle is a place where people of all income levels can live and work. In order to achieve this, the City’s emphasis must continue to be focused on serving those in greatest need: households with incomes are between 0-30% of area median income ($26,900 annually) and secondarily for households between 30%-50% of AMI ($44,800 annually),” the introduction to the Caucus report states. “The emphasis must not shift to higher income groups as some within HALA and in city government suggest.”

In November as his plan for an affordability committee was launched, Mayor Murray emphasized the need to support longtime residents and workers who may choose to move to Seattle in the plan — not just the poor or homeless. He reiterated some of those themes Monday morning.

“This is a good problem,” the mayor said of Pike/Pine’s massive wave of development and huge growth of the area’s bar and restaurant scene. Saying that it doesn’t have to be an “either or” situation, Murray said he hopes Capitol Hill can find a balance to match its growth with affordable places to live and an increased diversity in the economy to include more daytime businesses and organizations. But the explosive growth doesn’t have to be mean the end of the neighborhood’s culture. “These things can be good for cities,” the mayor said.

If, as Mayor Murray suggests, Seattle’s quest for $15/hour will be a model for the city’s affordability plan, will some of the more ambitious recommendations on affordability make the final cut in May? Monday morning, the mayor promised specific numbers soon saying a “far more aggressive” goal for affordable housing units in Seattle would come from the HALA committee “in coming weeks.”

Former head of the WA Tenants Union Jon Grant was part of the City Hall committee that fought to shape the final $15 minimum wage in Seattle. And he is part of the HALA committee charged with figuring out how to make Seattle an affordable place to live. The City Council candidate struck a populist tone Monday after the release of the report that would have made Socialist Alternative Sawant proud. Like the push for $15, if you want it, Grant said, you’re going to have to speak up. Now. “We need a community response for the city to succeed in achieving our housing goals,” Grant said.

CHC Reccommendations (Final)

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David Holmes
David Holmes
6 years ago

The crisis is with homelessness, and how to stop that problem from growing. This is probably a bigger issue than just being able to pay rent – it’s about all sectors of the social service universe (from mental health care to skills training) developing a holistic approach to getting people off the streets and into stable environments. It’s shameful that a society as wealthy as ours has incubated so many degrading and life-shortening existences for its citizens.

However, the general problem with affordability is not an emergency. Well, I suppose if you can’t live in the specific neighborhood of your choosing, you might think it’s a personal one. However, there is cheaper housing in the less “cool” areas (Federal Way, Burien, Renton, Kent, Tukwila, White Center). I’m from Federal Way (where my parents still reside), and my grandparents live in White Center…and these are good, affordable blue collar communities with one seat bus rides to Seattle.

A couple of the suggestions on that report (rent control and public housing) are proven to be failed strategies as they helped destroy many CBDs and close-in neighborhoods decades ago. Housing subsidies, private partnerships, and an even higher minimum wage ($18/hr seems fair to me!) should be thoroughly investigated, but anything that disincentivizes people (and businesses) from investing in their neighborhoods should be immediately rejected.

6 years ago
Reply to  David Holmes

It’s just funny that people advocating for that ‘holistic approach’ don’t want it happening in their neighborhoods.

6 years ago

This plan is a major scam! I urge all citizens to voice strong oppostion to this re-distribution of wealth scam that will destory your neighborhoods and raise your taxes. This plan has been made up by far left wing socialist nuts who want to raid the equity in your homes and use it to put the poorest urban poor into your neighborhood and make you pay for it, they also make millions that they put in their pockets building the cheap apartments that will be run down hell holes within a decade. If they pass this thing your property values will plumment and you will have gang thugs selling drugs on your corner as soon as they throw up these projects. I strongly urge anyone reading this to watch the documentary “Spanish Lake” you can rent it on Amazon, it shows how this type of socialist government interference destroyed the north county communites in St. Louis. Once robust middle class towns were turned into crime ridden ghettos in less than a decade. This same will happen here.


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