With Seattle’s housing levy set to expire, city council proposes to triple it

Apr 20, 2023, 1:08 PM | Updated: 6:50 pm

Northgate housing levy...

An apartment building in Seattle was called “Northgate” from 1918 when it was built until the mid 1940s; it was later renamed “Queen Anne Arms.” (Feliks Banel for KIRO Radio)

(Feliks Banel for KIRO Radio)

In 2016, Seattle passed a $290 million housing levy to fund affordable rental housing for low-income Seattle residents — primarily people with disabilities, seniors, families with children, formerly homeless individuals and families, and people working in low-wage jobs.

The levy, which had a median cost of $122 a year for Seattle homeowners ($10.17 a month), is set to expire this year, leaving the Seattle City Council to develop a proposal to renew it over the next couple of months.

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“Through the housing levy in Seattle, we in Seattle have been able to invest in first-time homeownership opportunities. In addition to creating more rental units, we’ve created housing stability for 1000’s of families,” Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said ahead of public comment. “And as we know, this provides a solid foundation for maintaining health and well-being so that people can participate in their local community and local economy, create pathways out of generational poverty, and work towards greater economic stability and self-resiliency and sustainability for communities and families.”

The 2016 levy produced nearly 2,750 (600 more than originally estimated) affordable apartments while it also reinvested in 350 affordable apartments, assisting approximately 4,500 individuals and families over the last seven years.

Now, the next proposed housing levy is expected to cost $970 million through 2030, which is more than 330% of the cost of the last levy.

“The $970 million investment over seven years specifically will finally allow those who need a home to have a safe and affordable place to live,” said Cliff Coughlin, an advocacy and policy manager for Habitat for Humanity of Seattle, during the meeting’s public comment. “Right now, we have a shortage of 30,000 affordable homes at 50% AMI [midpoint income for the Seattle area] or less. So when it comes to affordable homeownership, this tripling of funding compared to the last levy is helping us realize Seattle’s equity goals. These equity goals are even more pressing given a racial homeownership gap in Seattle, and particularly with BIPOC families being systematically displaced from the city.”

The nearly $1 billion price tag breaks down to $707 million for rental production and preservation, $122 million for operations, maintenance, and services, $60 million for administration, $51 million for a homeownership program, $30 million for a prevention and stabilization program, and the last $30 million for acquisition and preservation.

After exceeding expectations with the creation of units in the last housing levy, the 2023 renewal plan is setting a goal to produce 2,881 homes in addition to preserving 635 homes.

“The proposed levy is a continuation of a smart investment in the full continuum of affordable housing, including home ownership,” David Baker, a real estate development project manager with Homestead Community Land Trust, said during public comment. “It significantly boosts investment in homeownership, including more resources for permanently affordable homes, nonpayment assistance, and support for low-income homeowners to remain safely housed.”

Jesse Friedman, a policy director at youth care, claimed the current levy provides funding for housing programs that primarily serve LGBTQ+ young people who are experiencing homelessness, something Friedman wholly supports.

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The Select Committee on the 2023 Housing Levy cited that while nearly 5,000 units will be needed by 2025 for low-income housing, that number could exponentially grow to 15,000 homes by 2030.

At least 60% of rental housing funds will help families or low-income individuals earn up to 30% of median income, according to the plan, with the remaining money going towards the production of “permanently affordable” housing projects around the city.

“I was able to raise my own kids for a decade in an affordable apartment in our city funded by the offset housing. We saved our money, and now we’re able to get a down payment and buy a home,” said Michael Seiwerath, an executive director at SouthEast Effective Development. “This levy is the single best tool we have to help people with affordability and address the homelessness crisis in Seattle and the region.”

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