Creating Affordable Housing

Jenny’s Affordable Seattle Agenda

A bold, progressive “More Housing Now” agenda to provide thousands more families with access to affordable housing

Housing in Seattle has become too expensive. Too many people just cannot afford to live here. Houses cost too much and rents are sky high. Some of those who are lucky enough to own homes have seen their property taxes increasing to amounts that are not affordable. People are getting locked out and pushed out of Seattle.

We need to create more housing options in this city and also must stop the huge displacement of people that growth and increased prices are causing. I strongly believe that means both low income and middle class options. This problem will only grow as our population grows and scarce housing makes things much worse. While we need to do more as a City, we cannot come close to solving this problem without the private market and developers stepping up.

The good news is we can use growth to help get more affordable housing. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and we have more new construction happening here than almost anywhere in the U.S. New requirements on developers will result in more affordable units and millions of dollars targeted for affordable housing options thanks to the diverse stakeholders (for-profit developers, non-profit affordable housing developers, social justice, labor, and businesses) who together forged the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). HALA provides our city with a blueprint for adding 20,000 new units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. Strong partnerships at the local, regional and state level will be critical to our success as will the participation of private housing developers.

I support implementation of all the “highest impact recommendations” in the HALA report. As Mayor, I will aggressively pursue an affordable housing agenda that builds on HALA, but which makes sure we get the promised benefits and that we lessen impacts to neighborhoods:

1. Ensure effective implementation of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirement

The MHA is the cornerstone of HALA that will create 6,000 new units of affordable housing by requiring developers to either build affordable units into their designs or pay into a special fund that supports construction of lower-income units by city or non-profit agencies. As Mayor, I will make sure we use that money wisely. And while we may need to adjust impacts, I will fight any attempt to go backward.

2. Rent Vouchers: Keeping Families in Their Homes

Prevention is a critical component. We must expand what the City is doing to keep families in their homes and prevent homelessness. Average rent prices continue to climb. Rents in Seattle have skyrocketed 57 percent in just the last six years alone.

People with income less than 30% of Area Median Income (AMI) are currently eligible for preferential wait lists for city and county housing authority assistance. People above 30% AMI with incomes less than half of AMI have no preferential wait list status for public housing, and as a consequence have to wait several years to receive assistance. Many are people trapped in rent payments taking more than half of what they earn every month, leaving little left-over to pay for other necessities.

Affordable housing below these rates is increasingly rare. That’s why if I am elected mayor, I will implement a City-run rent voucher program to assist severely rent-burdened lower income families pay for their housing. This program will be carefully designed to help those vulnerable families between 30-50 percent of AMI live securely, with enough money for rent, food and medicines without the constant fear of eviction when something minor — a car problem, a child’s illness — goes wrong. Rental assistance through a rent voucher program can help vulnerable households make up the difference between keeping a roof over their heads and being pushed out onto the streets. Our families deserve the security of knowing that they can put food on the table without facing eviction.

My rent voucher program will be phased in over the next several years. Initially the program will start by providing people who are already on the SHA waiting list, but without preferential status (and therefore unlikely to ever receive subsidized housing under the existing system), a voucher to help with their rent, a cost of about $2.2 million. Then we will expand the voucher program to serve about 8,500 families whose rent is such a large part of their income they often don’t have enough left over for food and other basics. This will cost about $13 million a year. Then, as we develop stronger funding, we will expand the program, to provide relief to all income-eligible tenants moderately cost-burdened, subsidizing the difference between 45% of a tenant’s income and the cost of their rent. This will serve approximately 23,230 individuals and cost about $60 million.

Timeline How to define population served Approximate households served Total estimated program cost, including administrative costs
Week 2 of the new administration Everyone currently on the SHA waiting list without preferential status (30-50% AMI up to 50% housing cost-burden) 350 $2.2 million
Pilot phase 30-50% AMI up to 50% housing cost-burden 8,400 $13 million
Full program 30-50% AMI up to 45% housing cost-burden 23,000 $60 million

As in existing housing assistance programs, landlords and tenants will be held to reasonableness standards for rent, security deposits, and health and safety codes. A formula limiting rent increases will be designed to both protect tenants and offer landlords security that they can afford their expenses and earn a reasonable return on their investments. High-performing landlords that consistently participate in the program and deliver quality service to voucher-recipients may receive tax abatements.

Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) already has a well-developed system to evaluate tenant applications, inspect rental units for health and safety, and distribute voucher money. To reduce overhead costs, we’ll collaborate with SHA to administer the program. Under the City’s program all income qualified households, regardless of immigration status, criminal records, or family relationship, will be eligible for the city-supported voucher program. There will also be a residency requirement. To qualify, families must have been in Seattle for some period of time, and they can prove that through a variety of means — housing, employment, a social services letter, a driver’s license application.

As the program is rolled out, an outreach campaign should support low-income tenants with enrollment, and an information campaign should inform landlords about how and why they should participate.

This City voucher system is not meant to replace or even replicate current federal housing programs. This is a program focused on two urgent problems — Seattle’s growing rent affordability problem coupled with a lack of leadership coming from the current administration in Washington D.C. We will also prioritize moving the people receiving this assistance to new affordable housing as it becomes available.

3. Advocate for key property tax reforms 

I will explore ways to go to Olympia and reduce the property tax burden for older homeowners, lower income owners and landlords providing affordable housing.

4. Support transit-oriented development

We need to make sure that a mix of all housing, including affordable housing continues to be close to transit hubs and services. I support the HALA recommendations to ensure affordable housing is built downtown and in urban villages—especially in areas within walking distance to transit. I also want to explore the promise in ST 3 of planning for density around stations and transit corridors. This must include vibrant new neighborhoods, with small businesses and restaurants.

5. Diversify and expand housing options

We should always be looking at innovative ways to expand our housing options in the city. We need to explore more permitted mother-in-laws and accessory dwelling units. Housing options such as duplexes, townhouses, or courtyard communities can help grow a vibrant and robust community. I am interested in exploring ways to make these additional types of housing more feasible in our city.

We need to understand the impacts of these proposals, by listening to communities and neighborhoods. We need robust input and engagement. We also can get information from owners of current backyard cottages in the Seattle area as well as peer cities with similar programs, such as Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Los Angeles, California.

 — Jenny Durkan