Social housing initiative makes February special election ballot

Aug 30, 2022, 1:58 PM | Updated: Feb 1, 2023, 1:39 pm

Photo from Flickr...

Photo from Flickr

The group advocating for public social housing with Initiative 135 announced they now have enough signatures to get on the special elections ballot in February.

On Friday, King County Elections confirmed it had completed its review, accepting 27,220 of the 39,148 signatures submitted by House Our Neighbors. Tiffani McCoy, the Advocacy Director at Real Change and the campaign co-chair for House our Neighbors, spoke to how important the initiative was to address the housing crisis in Seattle, from affordability to homelessness.

Initiative 135, which concerns developing and maintaining affordable housing, would establish a public developer to create, own, and maintain public housing in Seattle.

“Social housing is publicly owned, publicly financed, mixed-income housing, removed from market forces and speculation, and built with the express aim of housing people equitably and affordably. Under public control and oversight, social housing is sustainable and remains affordable in perpetuity,” the initiative text reads, in part.

The goal of social housing expands upon other public housing goals, like Multifamily Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) rental housing or the Seattle Housing Authority, which focuses on providing housing to low-income residents. In contrast, the social housing initiative would help provide housing to those making 0% to 120% of the city’s median income, which currently is $120,907 a year.

“Folks that live in the units that have traditionally been low-income housing wouldn’t have to worry about the same benefits cliff that currently happened in affordable housing models,” McCoy said. “Where if you make a couple of bucks more, or if you get like $1 more an hour, you are at risk of losing all of your benefits, and maybe needing to move out of subsidized housing, and into market-rate housing that you can’t afford.”

The initiative is broken up into three parts, the establishment of a public developer, using city resources to establish staff and office space for 18 months to get off the ground, and creating a feasibility study for sales of public land to ensure housing needs are met.

The public developer would be a public institution that would work to develop housing units for the people of the city and meet people in need where they are at, McCoy says.

The plan to fund it? McCoy says there are a few options, but there won’t be new taxes to fund the new organization. One option is for the city to fund itself out of its already existing budget, another is getting funding through grants at the state and federal levels.

“So we’re fighting for progressive revenue at the city and the state level, we’ll look to see if we can do anything during city budget in the fall, we’re already talking with different folks at the state level,” McCoy said.” If we’re not able to get a sustained revenue source from the city, we’ll just go back to the voters with the progressive revenue option and get them to pass that so that this developer has the funding, it needs to pull more housing off the private market and make sure that we are creating housing at the scale of what we need for affordability.”

Previously, House Our Neighbors submitted 30,000 signatures in June, but after the validity of those signatures was confirmed by the election board, only 26,520 were considered to be authentic signatures for the campaign, which meant that the initiative could not get on this November’s ballot.

Seattle social housing initiative falling short on signatures: How it could still get on the ballot

Now after gathering 9,468 more signatures, the group has officially confirmed that they had enough to qualify for the special elections ballot in February, but must first be approved for the special elections ballot through an ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council or through authorization through King County Elections, which must be done 60 days prior to the Feb. 24 election.

“We want to make sure that school teachers and childcare workers and bus drivers and dental hygienists and folks that are retired are able to keep living in this city and not be rent burdened or priced out, we need to implement a new model of affordable housing,” McCoy said.” Otherwise, we are just saying this is the trajectory of the city, and it’ll be available only for those who can afford it with six figure salaries or have generational wealth.”

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Social housing initiative makes February special election ballot