Seattle voters deciding on social housing initiative

Feb 8, 2023, 6:38 AM | Updated: 7:03 am
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
(Photo from KIRO 7)
(Photo from KIRO 7)

Voters in Seattle are deciding whether to create a social housing program that would build homes for people with a range of incomes.

Supporters say Initiative 135 would help fill a critical gap in the city’s housing supply, but opponents say it would be redundant.

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Finding solutions to Seattle’s housing crisis matters to residents like musician Shaina Shepherd, who lives in Capitol Hill.

When asked what it’s like to find housing, she laughed.

“Finding housing is a challenge for most people in Seattle,” Shepherd said.

Over the years, she has worried about the cost of housing, especially when she lived in Columbia City.

“Can I pay my rent on time? Can I buy my groceries in my neighborhood?”

Shepherd supports I-135, which would create a social housing public development authority in Seattle.

“We know we have a massive affordability crisis, and even though we’re chipping away at that, we have to be honest that we’re never going to meet the scale of the need,” said Tiffani McCoy, advocacy director for Real Change and a co-chair of I-135.

Social housing would create homes for people with zero income, all the way to those who make 120% of the area’s median income.

Higher-income residents would subsidize their lower-income neighbors.

Following a model in Vienna, Austria, the housing units would be publicly owned forever and provide homes for workers like teachers.

“They are desperately needing relief, and they are being priced out,” McCoy said.

“It’s a good idea. It already exists,” said Roger Valdez of Seattle for Growth.

Valdez said I-135 would only add a new layer of bureaucracy.

“What they’re proposing is pretty redundant. There are already three other public development authorities that are able to do what they want to do,” Valdez said.

Valdez said the focus should be on expanding a tax exemption program to build low-income units and seeking accountability from city officials on the money already spent on housing.

“I’m sympathetic with their frustration, but what they’re doing won’t solve any problems. It will make it worse,” Valdez said of the I-135 campaign.

Because of state law, the initiative is not allowed to include funding details.

They must be addressed later if it passes.

Advocates say a social housing authority should be able to tap into federal money right away and then rely on a progressive revenue source that they haven’t yet publicly suggested.

Ballots are due back on Feb. 14.

Follow this link to read additional stories from KIRO

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Seattle voters deciding on social housing initiative