Seattle unveils new plan to curb affordable housing crisis
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled two new proposals on Wednesday as part of her new “Housing Seattle Now” campaign, a plan to create more affordable housing options for low and middle-income families.
One piece of legislation would invest at least $50 million to build housing for people experiencing homeless. The money would come from bonding local sales taxes, taking advantage of a new state law.
“It gives cities like ours the chance to keep more of the money paid in sales tax and put it to work to build affordable housing,” said Durkan during a speech today in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “Instead of sending that money to Olympia, we can keep it right here and put it to work.”
According to the mayor’s office, Seattle would “become the first city to implement the new state law.” If passed by city council, the new funds would be available at the beginning of 2020.
The second measure would renew and extend Seattle’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program (MFTE), first introduced in 1998. The MFTE provides a tax break to developers who set aside 20 to 25 percent of their units as income and rent-restricted.
“That means we have more affordable apartments and that more Seattleites of different income can live in the same neighborhood and building all across this city,” said Durkan.
The program, set to expire in 2019, has created nearly 4,400 homes. Durkan said extending the MFTE would support at least 1,300 new affordable home over the next three years. It would also limit rent increases to no more than 4.5 percent.
But a similar program in Tacoma shows units created by the city’s tax exemption led to only a fraction of affordable housing options. The Tacoma News Tribune reported about 4 percent – 234 out of 5,934 – were designated to be affordable between 2008 and 2018. Of those units, only 51 have been built.
Durkan also gave indication Wednesday about future opportunities to build affordable housing, including at the so-called “Mercer Mega Block” in the South Lake Union area.
The three city-owned properties span three blocks, cover 2.86 acres, and could accommodate hundreds of apartment units and commercial space. Durkan said she will propose selling the property, using revenue from that sale to create low-interest loans to build backyard cottages or in-law apartments. The mayor signed legislation earlier this month, easing restrictions on building the units.