Coalition to Build 1,000 Homes – Frequently Asked Questions

On Tuesday, Oct 18, activists, human service providers, and community members will be gathering for the People’s Budget Town Hall at City Hall, to organize and fight for a budget that meets the needs of ordinary people in Seattle.

At the heart of this year’s demands is an amendment to reallocate the $160 million once tied to a new North Police Precinct to affordable housing. The City’s non-partisan Central Staff have confirmed that we can allocate these dollars to build 1,000 homes. I encourage you all to join me to discuss what we can do to win this and other major race, social and economic justice victories.

In the meantime, my staff have produced this FAQ (PDF) to explain why you should join fight to Build 1,000 new affordable homes for Seattle’s working families.

Read the FAQ, then sign the Petition to Build 1,000 Homes!

Let’s hold all Councilmembers accountable, and tell them they should vote yes on the Build 1,000 Homes budget amendment!

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What are these 1,000 homes and who would benefit from them?

Councilmember Sawant is introducing an amendment to the Mayor’s proposed budget that directs the City’s Office of Housing to build 1,000 new units of affordable rental housing. These units would be managed by not-for-profit institutions, and would ensure more housing for people working in low- and medium-wage jobs, low-income retirees, families with children, people with disabilities, and the formerly homeless, including both individuals and families.

When the Office of Housing invests in affordable housing, contracts include an explicit affordability covenant. Six out of every seven units must be rented out to households that make between 0-30% of the area median income for no more than 30% of the households’ income (flip page to see an Office of Housing chart with recent figures). The remaining one out of every seven units must be let at an affordable rate (30% of household income) to people making between 0-60% of the area median income.

Will these new homes help homeless individuals and families?

As stated above, the affordability covenants require that the lowest-income households amongst us are prioritized for City-funded rental units. While these 1,000 homes will not be sufficient to end homelessness, they will be a big part of the safety net for the families that and individuals are either currently homeless or the most vulnerable to becoming homeless.

Who has signed on?

As of October 13, the Seattle Human Services Coalition, the Seattle King County NAACP, Church Council of Greater Seattle, 32nd Legislative District Democrats, Latino Advocacy, El Comité, Tenants Union of Washington State, Seattle Indian Center, Transit Riders Union, Washington CAN!, Got Green, Socialist Alternative, Real Change, Nickelsville, SHARE, Steps Housing, Justice Works, Upgrade Seattle, Faith Action Network,  and Socialist Students, in addition to hundreds of ordinary working people in Seattle, have joined the Build 1,000 Homes Coalition.

Hmm…$160 million sounds like a lot of money. Where will the money come from?

Earlier this year, Mayor Murray proposed building a new North Precinct police station for $160 million, using a mixture of bonds and existing capital funds. Now that the police precinct plan has been shelved, Councilmember Sawant is advocating that these newly available funds be repurposed for the urgent housing need that our community faces.

Why do we need this? Didn’t we just pass a massive housing levy to build homes?

In August, voters overwhelmingly approved the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy, which will use property taxes to raise $270 million for affordable housing over the next 7 years. The levy will produce and preserve 2,150 affordable apartments, and reinvest in an additional 350 affordable apartments.

The passage of this levy was a big deal: Regular people voted to tax themselves, to sacrifice their hard-earned money, because they recognize that affordable housing is a crisis and needs to be supported.

But even this levy is not sufficient to meet the gargantuan challenge posed by our affordable housing crisis. In the last year, Seattle rents have gone up at more than three times the national rate! An average two-bedroom apartment in our city is now almost $2,400. The median home price is nearly $600,000. These outrageous prices are being driven ever-higher by corporate landlords and Wall Street speculators. Their profiteering is driving working people, students, people of color, and immigrants out of our city, compromising our hard-fought and historic $15 minimum wage victory, and forcing working people to endure longer commutes and spend less time with their loved ones. The dire situation demands that the City-elected officials use every means at their disposal to generate affordable housing.

Would building 1,000 homes require a new City program or office to administer?

No. The City’s Office of Housing can administer this $160 million in the same way that it manages both Seattle Housing Levy funding and other dollars that have been allocated for new housing construction.

What is the timeline for building these 1,000 homes?

The money is bonded, so it would become immediately available for use. Typically, construction would be complete, and the units would be rented out, within 3 years.

How do we make sure these homes are built in a socially responsible manner, creating living-wage jobs for the local population?

We can expect, given current Office of Housing figures, 1,200 jobs at the prevailing wage for this project. But our movement will need to be vigilant, and fight for the enforcement of policies that promote priority local hire, and contracts that favor decent-paying union jobs. The momentum we create to win the 1,000 homes needs to be harnessed to ensure that every aspect of the home construction benefits working people.

Building new apartments and homes will take time. Shouldn’t we use the $160 million for emergency services that people need right now?

Due to state legal restrictions, these $160 million cannot be allocated for services. This money must be used on construction projects—like housing.

We must, of course, use our movement to push for increased homeless services. Councilmember Sawant, through the grassroots People’s Budget movement, will be introducing a number of other amendments to boost urgently needed social programs. The People’s Budget movement is supported by human service groups, social justice organizations, labor, communities of color, and other advocacy groups.

How do we win this funding and why should I join the Build 1,000 Homes Coalition?

Between now and November 21, the Council will propose and then vote on a number of amendments to the City budget. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, along with the Build 1,000 Homes Coalition and the People’s Budget movement, will introduce the amendment to dedicate $160 million toward the construction of 1,000 new affordable homes. The amendment will need at least four more yes votes from Councilmembers to pass.

The only way we can win is by building a strong and unified movement that brings sufficient pressure to bear on City Hall’s elected officials. Throughout history, such grassroots movements have been critical in making any kind of social change. Join the Build 1,000 Homes Coalition and become part of Seattle’s housing justice history!

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