HDC Statement on Initiative 135

Housing is a human right and the foundation needed for a community to thrive. Yet, residents of Seattle are facing an unprecedented challenge in finding and keeping a home that they can afford. Rising rents continue to displace people further from their communities and push our most vulnerable neighbors into homelessness. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income families are disproportionately impacted, with a higher share being housing cost-burdened or experiencing homelessness. We are fast losing our economic and ethnic diversity.

Simply put, the need for affordable housing in Seattle is greater than ever and we need to do everything we can to increase the city’s supply of affordable homes. As daunting as the crisis is, we know what works. Seattle has a strong history of taking action to address the sustained affordable housing needs of our low-income neighbors paying too much for rent or experiencing homelessness.

Seattle Housing Authority’s Hoa Mai Gardens

The City has a robust system for efficiently developing and operating affordable homes, including through the Seattle Housing Authority, multiple public development authorities, and many non-profit and community-based organizations. Altogether, our HDC member organizations have created or preserved 20,000 affordable homes in Seattle, leveraging federal, state, and private resources to stretch public dollars for more homes, while lifting up community voice and fighting displacement.

The primary constraint on our ability to scale proven affordable housing models is the limited public resources available to fund affordable housing. As HDC, we are concerned that Initiative 135, filed by the House our Neighbors coalition, distracts funds and energy away from what our community should be focusing on – scaling up affordable housing for low-income people. We do not need another government entity to build housing when there are already insufficient resources to fund existing entities.

Backers of Initiative 135 have so far failed to outline how the social housing proposed under the initiative would be financed as described, or to identify a viable funding source. The proposed new public development authority (PDA) would not have the authority to impose taxes on its own, so the funds necessary to set up the additional citywide PDA would likely draw from existing affordable housing funding that could otherwise be dedicated to creating homes for our lowest-income neighbors.

In launching the campaign, the organizers have undermined the legitimacy of existing public and non-profit organizations that are already engaged in this vital affordable housing work.
We are concerned that the initiative distracts our community from investing in and supporting existing community-based nonprofits, based in cultural communities, that need continued energy and investment to thrive as housing developers, owners, and operators.

We welcome innovation and share many of the same values as the backers of the Initiative. These include the belief that every person deserves a safe, affordable home, and that we need a scale of public investment in affordable housing that lives up to this value. However, this Initiative would divert scarce public resources toward the creation of a new bureaucracy and is a distraction from what should be our priority as a City—greatly increasing funding for affordable housing to meet the scale of the need.

HDC is gearing up to advocate for renewal and expansion of the most important affordable housing tool the City of Seattle has: the Seattle Housing Levy. The levy has a proven record of contributing funds to affordable housing developments that bring people inside and keep them in their communities. It is imperative that we work together as a community to ensure these continued resources are available in the years to come.