A group of low-income and affordable housing advocates have asked Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council to declare the city’s housing situation an emergency.
On March 16, the Community Housing Caucus (CHC), assembled by House Speaker Frank Chopp, put forth a robust list of recommendations to address diminishing affordable housing, skyrocketing rents and displacement.
The CHC is one of a handful of groups that aim to influence the 28-member Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA), set to offer its proposals to the mayor by the end of May.
“It was important for there to be a community response to set a high bar,” said tenant advocate Jonathan Grant, current city council candidate and member of both HALA and CHC. “That was the purpose of the report. It’s important for HALA members to look at that report and know this is what the community is saying we need to address the housing crisis.”
Seattle leads the nation in both growth and surging rent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, rent in Seattle rose 11 percent from 2010 to 2013.
While there are nearly 60 proposals in the report, John Fox, of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, said the priorities are those that could be implemented immediately if the council declared an emergency.
That includes the issuance of $500 million in long-term bonds and $128 million from the city’s emergency reserve; a “Right of First Notice” ordinance, which would require owners of low-income apartments to offer them for sale to nonprofits before private developers; a commission to inventory all existing low-income housing and unused public land; and the bolstering of tenants’ rights.
Sharon Lee, of the Low Income Housing Institute, highlighted that the city does not currently designate any of its general fund money for low-income housing.
“It’s not that we don’t have enough money,” Lee said. “It’s an issue of priorities.”
Strategies for preserving affordable housing included calls to require developers to replace, one-for-one, demolished low-income units at a comparable price; and delay rezoning in areas where low-income housing would be threatened until a strategy is in place to prevent its loss.
The goal, Fox said, is to intervene in a process where owners double or triple rents after buying older, affordable buildings, refinancing and making repairs.
“We can build housing until we’re blue in the face, but we’re still going to fall further and further behind,” he said. “It’s inevitable unless we stop and address the continued loss of our low income units to sales and rent increases.”
The report also points to rent control, which is currently banned statewide, and linkage fees, where developers would pay a per-square-foot charge on new construction to help fund affordable housing. Both proposals have garnered controversy and been discussed among housing interest groups and city councilmembers.
Fox said the CHC will likely meet within the next week to follow up and discuss how to ensure proposals are implemented.