In 2020, the year a deadly pandemic began to ravage our state, an estimated 40,000 people in King County were left without homes – living instead in cars and tents, on friends’ couches, or in homeless shelters¹. If you gathered them all together in one place, you’d have a community the size of Issaquah.
This staggering injustice is the direct result of a catastrophically broken housing system that no longer works for the people of Seattle and King County². We simply do not have enough homes anymore, and with rents in the county skyrocketing out of control, the homes we do have are now too expensive for far too many people who work and live here. Whole communities have been uprooted and displaced by the astronomical cost of housing, leaving an increasingly white and wealthy city behind.
It’s become painfully clear that we do not have the tools we need to build enough housing fast enough to begin to address our housing crisis, let alone turn back the tides of homelessness that pull more of our neighbors into crisis every day.
Social housing gives us a new tool – unlike any that we already have – to build more housing, more quickly, so we can move one step closer to solving our homelessness crisis.
That’s why Solid Ground is proud to support I-135, an innovative initiative that would give Seattle a new and powerful tool to build more affordable homes through what’s known as “social housing.” The initiative would create a new public agency, called the Seattle Social Housing Developer, that would be charged with buying, building, and maintaining permanently affordable housing for people with a variety of incomes. Similar agencies have had great success making housing more affordable in cities around the world, including in Montgomery County, Maryland, a rapidly growing suburb of Washington, D.C.
But the Seattle Social Housing Developer would not replace the Seattle Housing Authority, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, or any of the nonprofits, like Solid Ground, that already develop and maintain affordable housing in Seattle. Instead, it would give us a new tool, unlike any that we already have, to build more housing, more quickly, so we can move one step closer to solving our homelessness crisis.
You can help make social housing a reality in Seattle TODAY by taking these actions:
- Go out and find a signature gather from House Our Neighbors! and add your name to the petition. HON! Needs to collect 10,000 more signatures by the end of the day on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. Check out these HON! Signature Gathering Events to find out where you can sign this weekend.
- We need zoning that will support social housing. The best way to make sure that happens is to helps shape Seattle’s comprehensive plan. You can do that right now by creating an account on the One Seattle dashboard and upvoting the Real Change Alternative 6: Social Communities for All.
NOT JUST ANOTHER AGENCY. A NEW KIND OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING.
Seattle’s social housing would be owned by the city, but it wouldn’t be anything like traditional public housing projects you might imagine when you think of government-owned homes.
For one, social housing in Seattle would be available to people with a wide variety of incomes, from nothing at all to 120 percent of the average income in our area, currently about $124,000 for a family of two and $155,000 for a family of four. This would include people who often fall through the cracks of our housing system and are increasingly struggling to pay rapidly rising rents, including Seattle teachers, social workers, and nurses. No one would pay more than 30% of their income in rent, and the rent paid by people with higher incomes would essentially subsidize the rent of people with lower incomes. Having a mix of incomes together in one building would also create diverse, healthy communities³, rather than concentrating and isolating people with low incomes away from their more resourced neighbors.
Seattle’s social housing would be permanently affordable and forever owned by the city, shielding its residents from the volatile rent hikes of the private housing market. And it would be governed by the renters themselves, giving everyone a say in what happens to their home.
But the biggest difference is how the Seattle Social Housing Developer would pay for the housing it builds and maintains.
A NEW TOOL FOR BUILDING HOUSING
I-135 would not create a new tax or other revenue source to pay for housing projects, and importantly, it would not take resources away from other affordable housing developers. The public developer created by the initiative would receive a small grant from the city each year, but the vast majority of its funding would come from its bonding authority, which would allow it to borrow money at much lower rates than private developers. After the public developer builds or acquires a building, it could issue additional bonds based on the future payment of rent and repeat the process to fund new projects.
How would that look? In Montgomery County, the Housing Opportunities Commission has used an annual net payment of about $500,000 to create a revolving $50 million housing production fund to pay for affordable housing projects⁴. Started just last year, the commission has already funded the construction of one 268-unit apartment building and is set to fund an even larger project this fall.
The Seattle Social Housing Developer would operate differently in important ways, but the rapid success of public development in Montgomery County shows the transformative potential of this new tool.
AND A NEW PATH FORWARD FOR SEATTLE
Seattle voters have shown their commitment to building more affordable housing before, approving the city’s $290 million housing levy by more than 70% in 2016⁵. By 2021, the levy had already exceeded its goal of producing more than 2,100 units of affordable housing in Seattle. It’s clear that the levy will continue to be a critical piece of the solution to homelessness in Seattle, and that we’ll need to commit to an even bigger levy in the future.
But it’s also clear that these efforts, by themselves, are not nearly enough to keep Seattle from becoming the exclusive grounds of the wealthy and privileged. We need more tools, like new public financing methods from I-135’s public developer, to take on the defining challenge of building an adequate affordable housing supply. This initiative could expand our toolbox of solutions, strengthening the ecosystem of government agencies and non-profit housing developers working to make housing more affordable in Seattle and King County.
Please join us in supporting I-135 and forging a new path toward the stronger and more inclusive Seattle we all deserve. You can help make social housing in Seattle a reality TODAY by signing a petition. Go to the House Our Neighbors! website to learn how.
- KCRHA: 2022 Point-In-Time Count
- Groundviews: Compassion Seattle was a distraction. Here’s a solution.
- New York Times: Vast New Study Shows a Key to Reducing Poverty: More Friendships Between Rich and Poor
- Montgomery for All: Social Housing in Montgomery County
- City of Seattle: Seattle Housing Levy