Harrell to sign $970M housing levy, moves to Seattle-wide ballot
Jun 13, 2023, 8:54 AM | Updated: 9:30 am
(Seattle City Council)
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is set to sign a renewal of the Housing Levy that is used to fund affordable housing in the city, and once it is signed, Seattle voters will get a chance to approve or reject the fund.
This new levy was drafted with the upcoming expiration of the 2016 Housing Levy, set to expire later this year. The levy would raise approximately $970 million.
The Housing Levy was initially created in 1986 as a way to fund affordable housing in the city, creating and preserving over 11,000 affordable rental homes and over 1,000 homeownership opportunities over its existence.
Mayor Harrell delivered remarks at the Housing Development Consortium’s 35th Annual Celebration in March, telling housing developers that the levy was an important step in combating rising homelessness in the city.
“The Housing Levy is a proven solution for delivering thousands of affordable housing options,” said Mayor Harrell. “Rooted in our One Seattle values that everyone should have a safe place to call home, this plan invests to meet the scale of the housing crisis, doing more than ever to prevent homelessness.”
The mayor also said the money would be spent on wage stabilization to help people who work in Seattle live in the city. The mayor said this proposal would do more than any previous levy to support and maintain affordable housing in Seattle.
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.
More than 16,000 people are estimated to live in Levy-supported homes at any given time, according to the City of Seattle.
“The 2023 Housing Levy, as proposed, will help us respond to Seattle’s needs today, while also planning for the next 50 years of housing affordability in our city,” said Maiko Winkler-Chin, Director of the Office of Housing, in a prepared statement. “As we move through the next steps to renew the Housing Levy this year, we look forward to continuing to work alongside the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and all of our housing partners to lay the groundwork for strong, resilient communities for future generations.”
The levy would cost the median Seattle homeowner, a home valued at $855,136 in city limits, around $383 a year. This money is expected to raise $970 million over the next seven years, which will be used to build 3,000 new rental units and homes into the market.
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.
The new levy is nearly three times higher than the levy passed by voters in 2016. The 2023 Housing Levy is expected to generate nearly 35% more units of affordable rental housing over the 2016 levy goals.
“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.”
Washington ranks second in the country for most unhoused people per capita, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. King County has among the highest per capita homeless populations, ranking second in the country.
By the end of 2022, the department counted 25,211 unhoused people in the state, around 13,000 of which are in King County. The population of unhoused people in the state has increased by more than 2,000 since 2020, indicating that the problem is only worsening.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the chair of the Select Committee on the 2023 Housing Levy, received Mayor Harrell’s proposal in March. The new levy, now approved by the city council, would last through 2030.
“This Housing Levy renewal legislation affirms the bold investment into the health and resilience of our city proposed by the Mayor, and reflects Councilmember priorities that will enhance our focus on serving communities most impacted by our housing, homelessness, and displacement crises,” Mosqueda said. “This package goes beyond creating just units — it invests in the stability and well-being of our neighbors, the workers, and the communities who make up the fabric of our city.”
Harrell is scheduled to sign the levy, officially putting it on the ballot at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 13.