2016 Seattle Housing Levy: Advocacy Preparations

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Image thanks to the Seattle Office of Housing and a sneak preview of the upcoming outreach tool “Under One Roof.”

Written by Kelly Rider, HDC Policy Director

In 2009, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a seven year, $145 million levy to help meet the affordable housing needs of their neighbors. The Levy funds construction and preservation of affordable apartments, short-term rental assistance to prevent homelessness, and loans for first-time homebuyers. Between 2009 and 2014, the Levy funded construction or preservation of 31 projects, totaling 1,971 affordable apartments and exceeding the seven-year levy goal. This is truly incredible progress in addressing the housing needs of Seattle residents, and yet, we know that the need only continues to grow. As 2016 (the last year of the current Levy) approaches, HDC’s work has begun to support the renewal of the Seattle Housing Levy.

In the wake of a booming economic recovery, Seattle residents are struggling more than ever to find safe, healthy, affordable homes near work, school, and other opportunities for success. Particularly in communities of color, the economic recovery has resulted in greater gaps in wealth, income, and access to opportunity for low income and underserved communities. The Seattle School District reported 2,224 homeless students in the 2012-2013 school year, and more than 2,800 people in Seattle are sleeping outside on any given night. Over 45,000 households are spending more than half their income on housing, placing them at very real risk for homelessness. Many other households are being pushed beyond our borders in their search for affordable housing, forced to endure long, expensive and polluting commutes.

As many of you know, in response to the intense pressures of growth and the deep need for affordability, Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council convened the Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee and established the goal of constructing and preserving 20,000 income-restricted affordable homes over the next decade. Success will require diligent and speedy adoption of the many HALA recommendations. And it requires a renewed commitment to the Seattle Housing Levy as a cornerstone of the city’s effort to address this current housing and homelessness crisis.

For the last few months, HDC Members have been meeting to discuss the Levy’s role in our work, the community’s needs, our gaps in progress, our vision for the future. These discussions have created a common understanding of the challenges and opportunities in working to renew the Seattle Housing Levy in 2016.

As we begin planning for the 2016 Levy Renewal, it is important to recognize the many changes and uncertainties, at all legislative levels, that affect the Levy’s role. Many funding sources for affordable housing are uncertain, to varying degrees. We don’t yet know what gaps will exist in serving the housing continuum and how the Levy can best leverage and complement other resources.

  • Federal funding for housing across the spectrum has declined dramatically over the past decade. This affects both capital and operating funding, and creates a significant obstacle for securing operating dollars for extremely low-income housing. Significant uncertainty continues to exist regarding the Seattle Housing Authority’s Moving to Work status and future Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers.
  • Despite strong efforts from our legislative champions, partners, and members, the State Housing Trust Fund has declined significantly and the allocation process has changed substantially since the 2009 Seattle Housing Levy renewal. However, new state laws have the potential to dedicate significant new funding for a range of housing and housing-related service. We are excited for the opportunities related to Sound Transit 3 authorization, a state Medicaid Waiver, King County implementation of HB 2263, and the potential for a new local-option Real Estate Excise Tax.
  • At the local level, the “Grand Bargain” for a mandatory commercial linkage fee and residential inclusionary housing program is set to create 6,000 homes over 10 years, but many program specifics remain unknown.

What can you do?


Within this context, HDC Members recently approved a set of principles to guide our work to renew the Levy and to help begin a conversation with other community partners to ensure we continue to have a very effective dedicated funding source for affordable housing. HDC members and staff look forward to talking with you about these principles and hearing your priorities for the next Levy renewal.

HDC BELIEVES WE MUST…

  1. DOUBLE THE LEVY: As our community grows, too many of our city’s workers and current residents are being left behind. In order to address our community’s growing needs, we support Mayor Murray’s recommendation to double the funding size of the housing levy.
  1. INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOMES: We believe Seattle should significantly increase the number of permanently affordable homes being produced in Seattle. The Levy is one critical tool to help us accomplish that, alongside the many other HALA recommendations.
  1. Promote Racial Equity: All of us need to work together to overcome institutional racism and eliminate racial disparities in our neighborhoods and among our communities. We believe levy investments, including Levy-funded homes, should promote racial equity and align with Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.
  1. ADDRESS THE FULL CONTINUUM OF NEEDS:We believe the Housing Levy should address the entire housing continuum, from supporting people experiencing homelessness to promoting homeownership. This includes serving older adults, low-income workers, people with disabilities, veterans, and large families.
  2. SERVE VULNERABLE RESIDENTS:The Housing Levy is a key tool to address the needs of people in Seattle who are experiencing homelessness or struggling to remain housed. We believe Levy investments should align with regional goals and strategies to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time. Over the life of the levy, we believe more than half of Levy funds should support households earning 30% AMI and below.
  1. HOUSE A GROWING WORKFORCE: People who work in Seattle should be able to afford to live in Seattle. Unfortunately, a growing portion of Seattle’s workforce struggles to find affordable housing within the City. We believe Levy funds should continue to serve housing for households up to 60% AMI (for renters) and 80% AMI (for homeowners).
  1. PREVENT DISPLACEMENT & BUILD EQUITABLE COMMUNITIES: While some in Seattle are benefiting from a surging economic recovery, too many low-income people are being displaced from their communities due to rising rents. We believe levy funding should help catalyze critical investments in underserved communities and preserve opportunities for low-income residents to stay in gentrifying neighborhoods. All residents should have healthy, safe, and affordable homes with access to quality schools, good jobs, and services and be able to remain in their neighborhood or community.
  1. MAINTAIN FLEXIBILITY: Seattle’s Housing Levy is most productive when it leverages and integrates with other public and private investment tools, including LIHTC equity investments, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, the King County Vets and Human Services Levy and other potential local sources. In order to ensure the entire spectrum of housing needs is served, we support a flexible levy that is nimble enough to leverage new and existing resources and to fill gaps of capital and operating resources when other resources are not available.
  1. ENSURE VOTER SUPPORT: The Housing Levy is critical for ensuring all people have a safe, healthy, affordable home. We believe the Levy must be designed to be politically supportable by Seattle voters.