Last week, Crosscut published an article misleadingly stating that on affordable housing in Seattle, we have a choice of helping our most vulnerable residents or low wage earners, or helping moderate wage workers such as teachers and nurses. This is a completely wrong choice.
The affordability issue is one of the greatest challenges Seattle, our region, and most major American cities face today. My administration is committed to ensuring that our city is affordable for everyone. Because of this, I have set myself the ambitious goal of commercializing 50,000 units over the next decade: 30,000 will be marketable and 20,000 will be affordable for those earning less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). In contrast to the presentation in the recently published article, it was clear to me from the start that affordable housing would have to serve the entire income spectrum from 0 to 80 percent of AMI.
This is an ambitious goal and it will not be easy to achieve, but I believe we can do it. Seattle is already a national leader in creating affordable housing. Since 1986, the Seattle Housing Levy has created or maintained more than 12,000 housing units for our most vulnerable minimum wage individuals, veterans and working families. Through the donation, we’ve shown the importance of helping the neediest in Seattle – the vast majority of the rental assistance program and more than half of the production and maintenance funding went to lowest-income households earning less than 30 percent from AMI . In total, the City Programs currently support an average of around 750 newly affordable units per year.
To reach our goal of 20,000 affordable units, we will need to almost triple our current pace. This means that we need new tools to reach a wider range of households, including low and middle wage workers. So that we can be successful, everyone has to do their part: the city, non-profit organizations, developers and employers. It will require innovative strategies, incentives and significant new funding from both the private and public sectors.
That’s why my Housing Affordability and Quality of Life Committee has representatives from nonprofits, developers, landlords and tenants. I believe that together they can develop and agree on a set of guidelines to achieve our goal.
We must create housing for all people at all income levels. I am disappointed that the Crosscut article indicated that we are essentially choosing between the low-income earner and the homeless. This is wrong. We will do both.
The Housing Affordability and Viability Agenda will contain substantial policies that will lead us to housing that is affordable across the income spectrum. That means we need to have buildings like the Anthem housing estate, where 30 percent of the units are for workers who make $ 40,000 to $ 60,000, depending on household size – workers who are increasingly being priced out of our city. At the same time, the city remains committed to funding projects such as Plymouths 7th and Cherry for the homeless or Mercy Housing’s Othello Plaza for low-wage workers and families. Almost alongside the anthem, Kebero Court has 83 units for households with less than 30 percent AMI initially being offered to current and returning residents of Yesler Terrace, as well as 19 new units for households with less than 60 percent AMI.
This is not an either-or problem and we are not an either-or city.