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Mayor comes to Capitol Hill to launch $50M affordable ‘Housing Seattle Now’ plan

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Wednesday two early-stage steps for more affordable housing in Seattle. One would allow the city to take advantage of a new state law allowing municipalities to use sales tax revenue to fund affordable housing. Another would renew and improve the city’s current multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) program to limit rent increases.

Durkan made these announcements in a speech in Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts, which includes 88 affordable apartments developed by Capitol Hill Housing (CHH).

“We need more affordable housing in every part of this city and we need it as quickly as we can get it,” she said.

CHH’s CEO Chris Persons, introducing Durkan, stressed the urgent need for cheaper housing in Seattle and money for it, saying the organization has about 1,500 units in the pipeline but it doesn’t have the funding necessary to build them.

Included in those is a plan to create an LGBTQ-focused affordable senior housing project on Broadway.

According to the mayor’s office, the MFTE program, which provides affordable rent currently to more than 4,400 low- and middle-income households in Seattle, is expected to aid 1,300 new such homes by 2022, but without renewal, it would expire at the end of this year.

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The program gives multi family housing owners in certain parts of the city a local property tax exemption if they rent out some units at affordable rates.

To qualify for these reduced rents, tenants have to fall under certain income levels. The maximum monthly rent for a one-person studio apartment would be $1,235, including utilities, for someone with an income under $49,400 and the rent for a one-bedroom for two people would be $1,628 as long as their household income is less than $65,150.

Area median income (AMI) for one person is $72,400 and $82,700 for two people, according to data from the forthcoming Housing Choices Background Report. Maximum affordable monthly rent for the former would be $1,810 and $2,068 for the latter.

Some 35% of all households are cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing, and 42 percent of renter households face the same dilemma.

To qualify for a studio under the MFTE program, a person would need to earn between 60 and 80% AMI.

The improvement the mayor is proposing would limit rent increases to 4.5% per year and provides that rents will not decrease if income levels decline. The legislation enumerating this was transmitted by the mayor to the City Council Wednesday as part of her new “Housing Seattle Now” plan, according to Durkan’s office.

“The program is working and it’s time to renew and improve it,” Durkan said Wednesday. “We must take these steps, every step we can, and we’ll take that step today.”

The sales tax legislation was made possible by a new state law, co-sponsored by 43rd Legislative District Rep. Nicole Macri, that Seattle officials advocated for that allows individual cities to retain more funds from sales tax revenue to develop affordable housing.

The mayor says that this would bring in at least $50 million in new resources to build and support housing for people experiencing homelessness in a city that currently has 1,900 permanent supportive units. It would not require raising the sales tax.

“Seattle is losing lives and we’re losing neighbors as a result of this crisis,” Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who is working with the mayor on this legislation, said in a press release. “We know what works to solve homelessness: permanent supportive housing. Thanks to our state partners, Seattle now has the option to retain a portion of sales tax dollars already being collected to provide us with much-needed local funds that we can leverage with state and federal dollars to create more homes for our neighborhoods experiencing homelessness.”

If the council passes the legislation in the fall, new funds could be available by the beginning of 2020, according to the press release. Seattle could be the first city in the state to take advantage of this law.

Durkan applauded the state Legislature’s move to increase the housing trust fund, as well.

Durkan also outlined a plan for selling the Mercer Mega Block, an “underused and underutilized” city-owned property, in the words of the mayor, which could house 1,300 apartments or 1 million square feet of commercial space. First, she wants to use it to create affordable and mixed-income housing in South Lake Union.

Second, Durkan proposed creating a new program where the city can purchase property and “create more opportunities.”

“We know that transit is coming soon to places or exist; we need to use the land around those areas to build housing for the people who otherwise couldn’t afford it,” she added.

Third, Durkan said the city could use some of the revenue for a new fund for low-interest loans for people building backyard cottages. The City Council passed legislation recently to make it easier to build these backyard apartment units on single family home properties across the city.

“It’s a generational opportunity that can help build today and into the future,” she said. “We have a chance to make truly transformational investments.”

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18 thoughts on “Mayor comes to Capitol Hill to launch $50M affordable ‘Housing Seattle Now’ plan” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I wish CHH uped their game before taking on new challenges. I live in one of their buildings and our manager for the last 2 years is obviously incompetent and incapable of doing normal manager duties. They are aware of this but do nothing.

    • Their margins are so excruciatingly thin, so that they can provide people like you with affordable housing. I doubt they have the budget to hire anyone more competent, or the supervisory staff required to oversee employees like the one you mention. You might need to appreciate what you do get (cheap rent) and overlook the shortcomings.

      • Wow, showing some privilege bias Steve? So those of us who are low income should not have well maintained buildings and units? Seems you’re assuming we are not good, responsible, valuable people? This ongoing bias dehumanizes all of us in the end. Hope you never unintentionally find yourself in need and relegated to such disdain and being stuck in poor living situations. Thankfully, I’m in a Bellwether unit and it is respectfully managed; as everyone deserves.

    • Accusing someone of being “privileged” has become as common as accusing someone of “racism.”

      There are frequent comments on this blog criticizing CHH for various things. I wonder what the truth is…..inquiring minds want to know!

      • CHH deserves the critique. When gunfire erupts outside your building, dealers are in and out all day and night and one of the people shot in the gunfire bleeds all over your hallways and CHH does nothing about it, the people that live there have something to complain about.

    • I worked for several years for another low income housing non-profit in Seattle. We cared about our residents and our buildings. We hired good people and maintained our buildings very well. It is possible to do this and people who live in subsidized housing deserve clean, safe housing with responsive management. People who are low income deserve to be treated with dignity and to suggest otherwise shows one to be a very callous and ignorant person. Stop demonizing poor people. And yes, privilege is real just like racism. Sorry that is so hard for some of you white men to own.

  2. How is it legal for CHH to “target” African Americans (at LBB) or LGBTQ people with their new project on Broadway? I’m not criticizing them. I support both efforts. But I work in real estate and know for a fact that discrimination is highly illegal. If I “targeted” any group over another group, I’d risk losing my job, livelihood, risk legal action, fines or even jail time! I’m just curious about the mechanics of how this is allowed for CHH but not for the rest of us.

    • I think when it’s target toward a underrepresented group it isn’t considered discrimination. Plus, it’s a nice symbolic move for the people who gentrified but they are really sorry about it. A few murals and some public housing and guilt is gone! And Garrett makes money. Win-win!

    • The targeting is done through affirmative marketing practices – outreach in particular communities to ensure potential applicants from the targeted community are aware of the opportunity. I believe the actual selection of applicants have to be strictly neutral, as you mentioned.

      Here is the City’s guideline as part of the MFTE and MHA rules:

      • “I think when it’s target toward a underrepresented group it isn’t considered discrimination”

        But the demographic they are targeting is massively overrepresented when it comes to receiving CHH services in general, and social services in the City of Seattle in general. OTOH Asians are severely underrepresented but are ignored. Yeah, it’s racism.

    • People could do better to recognize structural solutions to structural problems but also living in a single-family neighborhood so close to downtown definitely includes you as part of the “haves” and the “have-nots” are under tremendously more pressure to meet their basic life needs than you are in the form of vehicle and transit dependency from living farther out, or having less living stability due to lack of rent control and laws that favor property ownership.

      That means the onus rests on you to step up more to provide actionable solutions to these structural problems we’re facing.

      I know it’s difficult to face criticism, but also if you’re aspiring to live in and maintain a single-family livelihood in the CHUCV, then you’ll need to maintain the carrying capacity and emotional intelligence to address the structural loads that places on the communities surrounding you. We’re all in this together.

      • Most of the friends we have that live “out” choose to do so. We couldn’t pay them to live on Capitol Hill. Seattle is full of hostile, envious angry people. We do our share, it’s called taxes. What do you pay? Capitol Hill, even the north end hasn’t been single family for years. We have had an ADU for 35 years. But keep hating on people that don’t want a 48 unit micro housing building next door.

  3. “Privileged” Meaning I got up everyday and worked my ass off, went to school got good grades – an education (no one “gave it to me” because I’m white, I EARNED it) and worked, worked, worked and didn’t complain how people had more than I did. Someone will always have more than you

    If you don’t like how poor you are or you living conditions get an education and find a real job. Starbucks or McDonald’s are entry level jobs, not a career

    If you dont like your crappy living situation you have no one to blame other than yourself. You can go on and on about “the man” and “privilege” but if you choose to believe that it will hold you back. Your making an excuse. Take control. Look at most successful people , white / black / whatever… and most came from modest backgrounds They worked there asses off and didn’t let anyone get in their way.

    I think a lot of younger people today think they are owed something. You are not.