Seattle is undergoing a period of unprecedented growth. In recent years we have consistently ranked as the fastest-growing major city in the nation. Unfortunately, housing development in Seattle has failed to keep pace with this growth. Over the last decade, our population has increased by over 125,000 people, yet we built only 35,000 additional units of housing. This disparity has driven up housing costs throughout the city and working-class Seattle families are definitely feeling the strain. We need more housing and more types of housing across Seattle, including in our single-family neighborhoods. We need more subsidized housing for those at risk of becoming homeless, permanent supportive housing for folks coming out of chronic homelessness, and more housing that is affordable for low- and middle-income residents.
This lack of affordable housing is a core cause of many of our challenges today. I was raised in Seattle, and I’m now raising my own family here. I know this city and I know how committed we are to our neighborhoods and our neighbors. We value equality and inclusion. We care that our city remains a healthy place where people can make a life for themselves and their families, where children thrive, and where nobody suffers for the lack of a home. We need to make some changes while embracing diversity, and preserving the history, and the unique culture of each of our many wonderful neighborhoods. I am confident we can put these priorities into practice while maintaining what we love about our neighborhoods. We can do the right thing in the right way.
Here’s my prescription for Seattle:
- Collaborate with the business community, philanthropies, and nonprofit developers to create new resources to fund the capital and operating costs of building the housing we need.
- Acquire public land for affordable housing and creatively fund local non-profit affordable housing developers— I support City efforts to make it easier to build affordable housing on surplus City property, but likely this will not provide the housing capacity we need. Another strategy is for the City to start purchasing additional land for development and long-term lease by non-profit affordable housing providers, and to further creatively help fund these providers. New funding options for this strategy have just become available since this past legislative session. Washington cities can withhold a portion of their sales tax revenue – money that would otherwise go to the state – for 20 years, and use the money for affordable housing development. We are authorized to bond against this revenue as well, which would potentially allow us to quickly generate $80 million for affordable housing at no net cost to Seattle residents.
- Reduce administrative burden in the permitting process for affordable and permanent supportive housing–these processes can take up to 18 months presently; there is no reason why this cannot be sped up, to help produce our region’s much needed additional housing faster.
- Encourage and incentivize local small landlords to preserve more affordable older rental units — I have met many District 6 voters who say, “I have a rental property, and want to do what I can to help keep Seattle housing affordable-so I keep my rent low.” These folks understand that over 50% of Seattleites are renters, and many want to be part of the solution around affordable housing for middle and working-class neighbors. However, as costs continue to rise in our city, including often property taxes, this ‘charitable’ practice is economically unsustainable. We should incentivize this by continuing to pursue legislative authority to provide property tax exemptions to landlords who enter into a covenant with the City to preserve their affordable rental units and offer them on a rent-restricted basis to those making under 60% AMI. This proposal is analogous to the Multi-Family Tax Exemption but applies to existing housing rather than new housing developments. This could be an important tool the City could use to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing and mitigate the risks of displacement for lower-income residents in gentrifying areas.
- Allow more flexibility through small-scale family housing options near public schools– Single-family neighborhoods occupy 85% of the residential land in District 6 and completely surround most of our public schools. Yet the cost of housing in Seattle, particularly in single-family neighborhoods, often prevents low- and middle-income students from living near public schools. I believe that kids do better when they can walk and bike to school safely, and can play in nearby parks and playgrounds. We need to explore creating new family housing residential overlay districts around public schools. These zones would allow the development of small-scale multi-family housing like duplexes, triplexes, and one-story courtyard cottages, subject to lot-size restrictions and provisions ensuring that new units have two or more bedrooms. Other cities have successfully introduced this model.
- Allow corner lot duplexes in single-family zones to increase density while preserving neighborhood character and style. Even with the Council’s latest zoning change, it is still actually illegal to build duplexes in single-family zones in Seattle. Duplexes can be a tool for homeownership for young and moderate-income families.
- Closely monitor and track the impacts of the Council’s recent decision to allow attached and detached accessory dwelling units in single-family zones to ensure these units are benefitting local families and landlords, preventing displacement, and actually creating affordable housing. If the law needs to be reformed in the future, that must be done.