HALA Happenings

Sustainable Homeownership Work Group

By HDC Executive Director, Marty Kooistra


The HALA Advisory Committee is still hard at work, coming up with new strategies for affordable housing and livability in Seattle. As the calendar moves closer to our June deadline (see my prior blog post if you need to brush up on the HALA Advisory Committee’s task) the committee’s seven work groups have been working to determine their best and most feasible ideas.

This week, I want to update you on the main strategies the Sustainable Homeownership Work Group has developed so far. This work group is focused on promoting the most promising practices and best incentives to address the needs of current and potential homeowners.

As always, HDC is working to support housing across the entire continuum of incomes, including renters and homeowners. That said, we also believe that the City of Seattle should have flexibility in addressing the needs of both groups in customized ways, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. In this particular work group, the various strategies aim to tackle the future needs of homeowners, while renters’ needs are being addressed in other HALA work groups. In this way, we should be able to create a set of different tools the City can use to help sustain housing affordability across the entire housing continuum. The Sustainable Homeownership Work Group wants Seattle’s future to be full of intelligent development, rich culture, and unified growth for all its residents, both new and native, and it believes part of that vision requires helping residents remain in their homes.

Right now, we are working on three primary strategies, with a fourth that needs further exploration:

1. Support and stabilize current low-income homeowners, earning 80% AMI and below, so that they can remain in their homes.

Many Seattle homeowners are living one life event away from foreclosure. Major home repair needs or a temporary financial crisis place serious stress on the household budget of low-income homeowners. That’s why we are considering expanding resources and programs that would help low-income homeowners maintain and repair their property.

2. Create a coordinated system for helping first-time homebuyers through the buying process.

We are exploring ways to increase the number of low-income homebuyers at 80% AMI or below. In particular, we are working to craft a coordinated, start-to-finish support system that is culturally appropriate and accessible in multiple languages. This would include working closely with borrowers in-person before the buying process to prepare them for homeownership, even if that takes several years. Borrowers would receive guidance in tackling debt, repairing their credit, and preparing for mortgage obligations. This strategy should also work with community groups to explore new financing options that would make homeownership possible for a wider range of people. By setting up this holistic support structure, many more low-income residents could set the stage for successful home buying and home-owning.

3. Increase the number of affordable homeownership units in Seattle.

Without conscious efforts to support new affordable homes, Seattle’s increasing population will lead to a dearth of affordable homeownership units in the private market. In order to tackle this problem, we are exploring density increases, different design for homes and multi-unit structures, and other options. This creative thinking is particularly needed near high-capacity transit where land values are high and land is scarce.

4. Provide assistance to homebuyers up to 120% AMI, and ensure that resources are equitably distributed along that income continuum.

There is a large category of people who are not eligible for most government benefits and assistance, yet they often still need help in the home buying process in an increasingly expensive city. We believe that tax exemptions and other non-subsidy tools could be effective in helping moderate-income workers (80%-120% AMI) buy homes in Seattle. This is not meant to reduce assistance given to homebuyers below 80% AMI, but it would increase the support given to those closely above that line. We are not proposing cash assistance for this income segment.

We are still hammering out details for each of these options, but I am confident that we will create viable options that make homeownership a positive outcome for more of Seattle’s residents. We are at an interesting stage of this process, and your input will be incredibly valuable. Please take a short survey below to express your level of interest in each of the options I’ve discussed. I also would like to find out if there are any options not listed that you think would be innovative and beneficial for the Work Group to explore. I thank you for your time and will take your input into heavy consideration.
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