By: Alesha Washington
I recently renewed the lease for my townhouse. On the surface, it was a rather insignificant moment beyond signaling to my friends and family in Cleveland that Seattle is becoming my new home. As I look back over my life and consider the distance traveled, not in miles but in lived experience, to know that this is where I’ll live for the foreseeable future is a privilege, but it shouldn’t be. Housing should never be a privilege but instead a basic human right.
With the November election approaching, Seattle residents will have a chance to stand up for this right as the Seattle Housing Levy is up for renewal.
The Seattle Housing Levy—a seven-year property tax—has been the primary source of funding for affordable housing construction, operations, and services in the region since 1986. Levy funds catalyze other local, state, and federal resources that are essential to scale and accelerate affordable housing production. The current housing levy is set to expire at the end of 2023.
To date, the levy has resulted in the creation and preservation of over 11,000 affordable rental homes and homeownership opportunities and over 16,000 people live in homes made possible by the Housing Levy’s investments. Over half of all residents of levy-funded homes are people of color.
But the work is far from complete.
In Seattle and its surrounding areas, housing supply is not keeping pace with demand and costs are increasing faster than incomes. According to the Office of Housing, Seattle needs 112,000 new units of housing by 2044. That includes more than 70,726 new units needed for people who make less than 80% of the area median income.
This shortage of housing supply increases competition for each available unit, driving up rents and housing prices across the market. The cost of housing – both homeownership and rental – is getting further out of reach for many Seattle residents, particularly low-income and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Between 2010 and 2019, median home values in Seattle increased by 80% compared to an only 55% increase in the county’s median family income.
This reality can feel daunting. Our affordable housing crisis is threatening the vibrancy of our region, pushing working families further away from economic and educational opportunities. But I believe there’s hope because none of us are alone in this work.
Seattle Foundation is committed to doing its part in creating solutions to the housing crisis and is working alongside business, philanthropy, nonprofits, and government to maximize the impact of public funding, notably through the Black Home Initiative and Evergreen Impact Housing Fund. The Black Home Initiative aims to celebrate 1,500 new Black homeowners by the year 2027. With initial funding from JPMorgan Chase and support from other local funders, the initiative builds a network of cross-sector community partners to transform the systems that have impeded access to homeownership for Black households in our area.
Similarly, the Evergreen Impact Housing Fund is boosting the production of affordable housing in King County and beyond through innovative financing. By collaborating with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and other private investors like Microsoft and local credit unions, the Fund will help thousands of people gain access to affordable housing in our state.
If fully funded at $970M, the Housing Levy would continue to add to this collective work as a vital public resource to create stable housing, including affordable rental housing for seniors, people exiting homelessness, working families with children, people with disabilities, and other low-income households; affordable for-sale homes; and housing stabilization services such as rent assistance to help avoid eviction or homelessness.
But more importantly, the levy will not only help to address these short-term needs, but it is also an investment in our future. It’s a crucial resource that would provide a dependable source of public funding and be an important avenue to build the housing landscape our city needs. We’ve seen what continued support of the housing levy can do. Our community has consistently rallied behind this critical resource, recognizing its role in building a more equitable and compassionate region. In 2016, the most recent housing levy received an impressive voter approval rate of over 70%, demonstrating that the people of Seattle understand the significance of investing in affordable housing for our fellow citizens.
Now is the time to come together again to support this indispensable initiative and continue its legacy of providing shelter and hope to our community.
Seattle Foundation stands with the Housing Development Consortium, African Community Housing & Development, Chief Seattle Club, Downtown Seattle Association, Downtown Emergency Service Center, and King County Coalition on Homelessness, and many other community and business partners in support of the Housing Levy. We know that housing is a foundation upon which people can provide stability for their families to thrive, pursue their aspirations, and make meaningful contributions to our society.
Support the Yes for Homes campaign and vote to renew the Housing Levy. Let’s work together to affirm this human right and move more of our neighbors into safe and stable homes.