I believe that a new affordable housing preservation funding strategy must be part of the 2016 Housing Levy.
A truly comprehensive affordable housing strategy with a focus on racial and social justice must include strategies to preserve existing affordable housing. This way, we can help existing communities prosper in place and be resilient in the face of the pressures of redevelopment on existing rental housing that is not subsidized but still affordable.
Every year, Seattle loses some amount of market-rate affordable housing due to increased rents of buildings under new ownership as well as buildings being demolished and redeveloped for rentals with higher rents. Low-income tenants can rarely afford the new significantly higher rents of this housing and are displaced from their communities.
Some point to our 2009 Housing Levy as evidence that we have an anti-displacement strategy. It is true that the 2,184 units built under the 2009 Housing Levy were built in areas with high risk of displacement, but this isn’t enough. The Comprehensive Plan states that to accommodate new growth, one in four new housing units built should be affordable to low-income residents. If we estimate that 120,000 people will move here over the next 20 years, needing 70,000 units of housing, this means that over 20 years we’ll need about 17,500 units of affordable housing to accommodate the need for new affordable housing associated with growth. This doesn’t take into account the unmet need that we already have today. According to the Office of Housing, approximately 30,000 low-income households are severely cost-burdened and thus vulnerable to being displaced from their housing, as well as displaced from Seattle.
Last fall, the Seattle City Council passed the Notice to Sell Multifamily Housing Ordinance, which requires owners of affordable rental housing to provide a notice to the city and the Seattle Housing Authority prior to listing a property for sale. However, the ability to purchase these buildings is limited by the lack of available funding. While the 2016 Housing Levy allocates resources that, in theory, could be used to preserve this market rate affordable housing, current housing levy programs are not oriented toward this need.
My proposal would fund the implementation of this ordinance and make it possible to purchase properties like the Panorama or Lockhaven Apartments, where tenants — many of them seniors — were displaced when the properties were sold and the rents increased drastically.
Instead of using the 2016 Levy, the funding approaches for this proposal could instead include two HALA recommendations: using our bonding authority for housing and re-establishing the 1985-2002 Growth Fund. Last week I proposed that we issue a small housing bond to maximize opportunities to save existing at-risk market-rate affordable housing. I also proposed that a new Growth Fund could be used to help pay off the 20-year debt associated with this small housing bond. The Growth Fund would be filled with an increment of property taxes associated with new construction. So in this way it would not impact programs and city services that we currently fund with our property tax revenue, but it would instead only earmark future revenue growth for this purpose. Some councilmembers expressed concerns that we’d be earmarking future revenue without a discussion of budget tradeoffs; for this reason, I’ve turned my sights toward the 2016 Housing Levy.
I believe that the city’s plan for growth must include dedicated funding for a new preservation strategy to reduce displacement and minimize the loss of affordable housing. My office will continue working with community partners to develop program policies, including a case study and to discuss with my council colleagues the pros and cons of different dedicated revenue sources like the 2016 Housing Levy, funds raised through the Mandatory Affordable Housing Program, in addition to the Housing Bond and Growth Fund.
Lisa Herbold is a member of the Seattle City Council, representing District 1, which covers West Seattle and South Park.