Last week, Crosscut ran an article that misleadingly suggested that to address housing affordability in Seattle, we face a choice between helping our most vulnerable residents or lowest wage earners versus helping moderate wage workers such as teachers and nurse’s aides. This represents an utterly false choice.
The issue of affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing Seattle, our region and most major American cities today. My administration is committed to ensuring that our city is affordable for everyone. This is why I set the ambitious goal of 50,000 units of housing over the next decade: 30,000 will be market rate and 20,000 will be affordable for those making below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). Unlike the portrayal in the recent article, I have been absolutely clear from the beginning, the affordable homes must serve the entire spectrum of incomes from 0 to 80 percent of AMI.
This is an ambitious goal that 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 preserved more than 12,000 units of housing for our most vulnerable, those earning minimum wage, veterans and working families. Through the levy, we have shown the priority Seattle places on helping those most in need — the vast majority of the rental assistance program and more than half of the production and preservation funding have gone to the lowest-income households, those earning under 30 percent of AMI. All told, the City programs currently support an average of about 750 newly affordable units a year.
To meet our goal of 20,000 affordable units, we will have to nearly triple our current pace. This means we will need new tools to meet a wider spectrum of households, including low- and moderate-wage workers. For us to succeed, everyone must step up to do their part: the City, nonprofits, developers and employers. It will require innovative policies, incentives and significant new funding from both the private and public sector.
This is why my Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee has representation from nonprofits, developers, landlords and tenant advocates. I believe that, together, they will be able to develop and agree on a number of policies to hit our goal.
We must create housing for everyone, at all income levels. I’m disappointed that the Crosscut article suggested that we are essentially choosing between moderate-wage earners and housing the homeless. This is false. We will do both.
The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda will come up with substantive policies that will move us toward housing that is affordable across the entire income spectrum. This means that we must have buildings such as the Anthem apartment development, which will set aside 30 percent of the units for workers making $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 fund projects such as Plymouth’s 7th and Cherry for homeless individuals or Mercy Housing’s Othello Plaza for low-wage workers and families. Additionally, almost next door to the Anthem, Kebero Court has 83 units for households earning less than 30 percent of AMI, which will be first offered to current and returning Yesler Terrace residents, and 19 new units for households earning less than 60 percent of AMI.
This is not an either-or issue, and we are not an either-or city.