In this Seattle, where the cost of land is so high developers double the asking price on ramshackle houses for the dirt underneath, the quest for space to build affordable housing could seem, at best, quixotic.
City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw teamed up with King County Assessor John Wilson to do what seemed impossible — find 300 city-owned parcels of land close to public transit on which Seattle City Hall could build affordable housing.
The assessor’s office controls a searchable database with information on each parcel of land in the confines of King County. According to that database, there are 5,000 government-owned properties in Seattle proper.
When the search criteria were narrowed down to include plot size — 4,000 feet minimum — and convenient proximity to a bus stop, 300 came out that were “quite solid,” said Baily Stober, spokesperson for the assessor’s office.
Now that the properties have been identified, officials are looking for the right partners to develop them. That could include nonprofit developers, state funding and local government.
“We’re looking for developers, local government leaders who think this is a good idea… basically anyone we can get to come to the table,” Stober said.
So far, the concept has been rolled out only in Seattle, a city at a “crisis point,” Stober said. Eventually, the query will be rolled out to other cities in the area.
Seattle has become the poster child for rising rents and gentrification that comes with it. The Seattle Times reported in July that rents in the Emerald City were rising faster than any other place in the country.
Many blame this trend for the rising homelessness as longtime Seattle residents get pushed from their homes or apartments by rapidly increasing prices. A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Affairs stated that a $100 increase in median rent leads to a 15 percent increase in homelessness.
Given that King County has seen two years of nearly 20 percent increases in the number of homeless found during the annual One Night Count, efforts to produce more affordable housing have been front of mind, particularly in the lead up to the August vote on the new housing levy.
The measure would raise $290 million, $201 million of which would go toward preservation and production of affordable housing.