Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the U.S., and Seattle’s infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Skyrocketing housing prices are squeezing low-income Seattleites — often people of color, immigrants, and refugees — out of Seattle.
Efforts to improve the problem have been under way for some time. For example, subsidies help low-income renters pay for housing. A housing levy helps housing providers build, maintain, or manage affordable housing units. Tax incentives give developers a break, and incentive zoning allows them to build taller buildings in exchange for adding more affordable housing units to the city.
But we need more affordable housing at a faster rate than we are seeing. In fact, Seattle needs to produce 28,000 affordable units in the next 20 years. Right now, “affordable” means rent lower than $1,200 for a one-bedroom unit.
The lack of affordable housing is a complex problem tied to wages, transportation, health, and social justice. I just heard a story of a woman who grew up in Rainier Valley but could only find affordable housing in south King County. She works in downtown Seattle. Despite her employer’s generous free transit pass she still spends hours on her commute because she cannot find affordable housing near her work.
The issue isn’t piecemeal, so the solution can’t be piecemeal, either. All of the moving parts of affordable housing – parts like tenant protection, housing preservation and development, tenant stability – are linked, and one or two quick fixes are not enough to undertake an issue of such magnitude and complexity.
That’s why the Mayor brought together an advisory committee to develop an agenda for housing and livability. The committee comprises people from all sides of the table – developers, tenants, landlords, employers, philanthropy – and the committee has participated in a thorough process to tackle every piece of the housing puzzle.
The agenda will come to the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resilience next month. As Chair of the committee – and a long-time Seattle resident – I look forward to seeing a complete solution that is sustainable and legally sound. It is at that time that we can assess the impact and implications of their recommendations and any other proposals to address this daunting challenge.