HALA Happenings

Preservation Work Group

By HDC Executive Director, Marty Kooistra

Seattle-Skyline

Happy spring! Recently, Mayor Ed Murray called for 20,000 additional affordable housing units (at or below 80% AMI) over the next ten years. This is especially important to the HALA Work Group tasked with recommending Preservation strategies. The Mayor clearly pointed out that this number will need to be achieved not only through the construction of new units, but Mayor Murray called for ‘no net loss’ of affordable homes.  This means that any current units of affordable housing that are demolished, transformed into higher income housing, etc. will increase that target of 20,000.

In my first post, I discussed possible new resources to increase the supply of affordable housing in Seattle. In contrast, the Preservation Work Group’s goal is to maintain as much of the current pool of affordable housing as possible, and to make some existing housing more affordable to lower-income renters and buyers. This Work Group has been refining potential strategies, so I wanted to pass along our progress. The finer details are still a work in progress, but here is what we have so far:

  • Develop and market financing tools to preserve or deepen affordability of existing housing.

In order to help ensure that currently affordable housing stays affordable, this strategy recommends that existing resources, such as weatherization funds, should be used to increase housing affordability. With these funds, the City would establish a rehabilitation loan program to spur a wider base of private owners to maintain the quality of their properties and keep them affordable (at 30-80% AMI). This will require heavy outreach to attract owners, as well as clear inspection and compliance guidelines.

The Work Group is also considering creating a program to provide outreach and technical support to help owners “navigate” their access to and way through City programs.

  • Create a substantial financial resource and legislative authority to empower the City of Seattle to lead an expansive affordable housing preservation effort.

The Preservation Work Group is also considering creating a large-scale acquisition and rehabilitation loan fund and using public authority to purchase unsubsidized apartment buildings with below market rate rents. Purchases could be made with City bonds. Then, regulatory agreements would be added to the property to ensure rents remain affordable—not just for the next 5 years, but for the next 50.

As Seattle’s population continues to grow, so does its need to preserve housing options. In order for the Seattle Office of Housing (OH) to keep track of affordable housing units (30-80% AMI) and tools in the future, they may need additional staff capacity and even an official mandate to implement a proactive and robust preservation effort, working alongside community members to ensure success.

Finally, there is interest in exploring legislation to establish a right of first refusal for affordable housing owners and developers to purchase existing affordable multifamily housing buildings at risk of being sold. There may be other ways to acquire such properties without this tool. We also hope to explore targeted tenant assistance to low income households in buildings at risk of losing housing affordability due to Unreinforced Masonry (URM) or Rental Housing Registration and Inspection (RRIO) Program requirements. However, we are less certain of how to bring this idea into fruition. If you have guidance regarding this matter, please share it with me in the survey below.

  • Develop incentives to preserve or deepen affordability of existing housing.

There has been a lot of interest in encouraging market-rate housing owners to preserve or deepen the affordability of their building through the use of tax exemptions.  These would require state authorization, but they are worthy of exploration. This program could be structured in two ways: provide a tax exemption to current owners whose rents are likely to increase to ensure continued affordability, such as those near new transit locations, or, create a competitive application process for tax exemptions on acquisition and rehabilitation projects that preserve affordability. To qualify, all units would be affordable at 60% AMI or below.

  • Collaborate with communities and housing stakeholders to increase capacity and promote anti-displacement strategies.

The Preservation Work Group believes that community engagement is a very strong resource that should be used to preserve housing affordability. The group is considering how to identify vulnerable areas and appropriately target strategies to areas with high displacement risk. For instance, the city could use a geospatial displacement risk tool to guide planning and decision-making. They could also establish an expert advisory body or commission to lend specialized expertise and guidance to the City’s housing strategies, bringing together representatives of tenants, owners, developers, and public agencies. Maintaining and collecting data on the affordability of existing unsubsidized housing will be critical to strategically guide these efforts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate your vested interest in the future of housing affordability in Seattle. If you have a moment, please fill out a quick survey below regarding the Preservation Work Group’s proposed strategies. Or if you would rather, please feel free to email me directly with any comments you have: [email protected].

These strategies and others could be decided upon or transformed very soon. Stay tuned!

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