New Seattle ballot initiative would look to tackle homelessness with ‘social housing’ model

Mar 29, 2022, 12:05 PM | Updated: 12:58 pm

Image: A row of houses in Seattle as household income in Seattle rises. (Flickr Creative Commons)...

A row of houses in Seattle as household income in Seattle rises. (Flickr Creative Commons)

(Flickr Creative Commons)

A newly-filed ballot initiative would look to address Seattle’s housing crisis with a publicly-funded “social housing” program to expand affordable options for lower-income renters.

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Social housing is common in European countries, most prominently in Vienna, Austria, where it comprises roughly 40% of the city’s housing. In practice, a Seattle iteration would establish a new standalone authority known as the Seattle Social Housing Developer, functioning outside the city’s government to build and maintain affordable, high-quality living spaces for people across a wide range of backgrounds, spanning 0% to 120% of median area income.

Social housing bears some similarities to public housing programs the U.S. has implemented in the past, but differs in a few key ways. First and foremost, access would not be limited to those in the lowest income brackets. That means that participants would come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, ideally resulting in diverse, desirable neighborhoods where the city isn’t simply separating its most at-need residents into one single area. Rental prices would also be specifically tailored to fit the needs of each individual resident, designed around keeping rates “permanently affordable.”

This comes amid Seattle’s ongoing struggles with its homeless crisis. Some experts have posited that a lack of dense, affordable housing has been the driving force behind the city’s difficulties in recent years, detailing how Seattle has failed to recognize its status as “a global city.”

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The effort is being led by a group registered as House Our Neighbors, which was first created to counteract Compassion Seattle’s 2021 ballot initiative. On the group’s website, it details how a social housing program would be funded from several different sources, divided among a small yearly grant from the government, bond issuance, and subsidized rent from higher-income tenants. With those pieces in place, House Our Neighbors argues that the program would eventually provide sustainable affordable housing “in perpetuity.”

Once the initiative is approved by the city clerk, the group will need an estimated 27,000 signatures in order to make it onto the November ballot.

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New Seattle ballot initiative would look to tackle homelessness with ‘social housing’ model