Strong Support For Housing Levy at Select Committee Meeting

by Alex Garland

A public hearing on a $290-million-dollar housing levy aimed at Seattle homeowners brought almost unopposed support to the fifth meeting of the Select Committee debating the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy.

More than 100 people attended the public comments portion of the meeting with all Seattle City Councilmembers in attendance at some point during the deliberations. Nearly 40 Seattle residents shared their experiences, opinions, and data sets, while asking City Council to send the levy to the 2016 ballot for the consideration of Seattle voters in either August or November.

In the past, city voters have approved one bond and four housing levies to fund more than 12,500 affordable housing units for low wage workers, homeless families. The most recent levy, enacted in 2009, is set to expire at the end of 2016.

Mayor Ed Murray has proposed to not only renew the levy, but to expand it over a period of seven years.

The meeting began with a brief summary of the proposal by City Council president Tim Burgess, soon after representatives from organizations including Solid Ground, Downtown Emergency Services Center, Puget Sound Sage, Plymouth Housing, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), and the Housing Development Consortium joined with an assortment of residents, Real Change vendors, local parishioners, renters, house owners and the homeless to express support for the Mayor’s housing levy.

Several residents who gave public comment spoke about the difficulty of finding housing that was 30 percent of Seattle’s Area Median Income (AMI), with many of them paying upwards of 50 percent of their incomes to rent in the city.

While the vast majority of those speaking supported the housing levy, a common thread emerged that the measure was far from the silver bullet to solve Seattle’s housing affordability crisis. Some voiced the opinion that only a combination of state and federal resources, such as those from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), could assist with the lack of affordable housing stock. Others expressed that $290 million was an insufficient amount and that the levy should be increased to closer to a billion dollars. The city issuing additional municipal bonds to supplement the levy, also came up as a suggestion on more than one occasion.

Sharon Lee, director of LIHI told the council, “We know how to end homelessness” and suggested an occupancy tax on rooms rented out through Airbnb, similar to Portland, Or, as a possible income source to help prop up the 2016 housing levy.

Nicole Macri, the director of DESC, who is currently running to replace Brady Walkinshaw as a representative of the 43rd District, urged the city council to invest heavily by using metrics like apartments that filled the category of “less than 30% of area income” were “29 units for every 100 renters.”

Housing assistance for seniors was at the top of the priority list for many as cost of living outpaces the finances of those living on a fixed income.

The next meeting of the Select Committee will take place 9:30am at City Hall on Friday, April 15, where time will again be set aside for public comment.

Featured image by Alex Garland

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