Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata has asked the federal government to intercede on the Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) plan to raise rents on 4,600 people.
Licata sent a letter Sept. 18 to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro asking the agency to set emergency rules for public housing authorities that increase rent, requiring them to perform a study of housing needs and capacity. In communities with little affordable housing stock, housing authorities should not be permitted to set flat rents, Licata said.
“SHA’s” policy fails to consider Seattle’s housing market where rents are among the nation’s highest and available affordable housing is scarce,” Licata wrote. Licata asked that HUD require SHA to conduct a fair housing assessment t determine if the rent increase disproportionately hurts certain groups, such as immigrants.
SHA’s proposed rent program, called Stepping Forward, gradually increases rent over six years to a rate that is below market but much higher than many people pay today. It would apply to tenants who are considered “work able,” meaning they are younger than 61 and do not have a disability that prevents them from working.
Currently, SHA tenants pay 30 percent of their income, no matter how much they make, if their wages drop, so do their rents. According to the draft proposal, a new tenant will pay $160 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in the first year and $850 a month in the sixth year.
Stepping Forward also requires tenants to go through a workforce assessment to determine what skills and education they need to get the jobs that pay enough to afford the growing rent prices. SHA is working with the Workforce Development Council of King County, Seattle colleges and WorkSource to assist residents who want training and education.
SHA can change its rent structure because it is a Moving to Work housing authority, a federal designation. Moving to Work housing authorities are able to change their programs, including rent, to find ways to reduce costs and encourage families to find work and become economically self-sufficient.
SHA Deputy Director Anne Fiske Zuniga declined to comment on Licata’s letter, but noted HUD will review Stepping Forward before it is implemented. HUD requires all Moving to Work housing authorities to submit annual plans.