The city council agreed this afternoon on a package that, if passed, would generate $145 million for affordable housing by raising property taxes in Seattle for the next seven years. If the council passes it on Monday, voters will consider the levy on the November ballot. But City Council Member Jan Drago stood out as the lone council voice seeking less money for low-income housing.
“I want a housing levy that can pass,” she said. “Polling suggests that as the total cost for the levy went down, support for the levy increased.” Drago made a motion to reduce the levy to $120 million. But Drago’s proposal—supposedly in the interest of cash strapped taxpayers in a poor economy—died immediately; not a single council member seconded it. Her proposal never had a chance of getting the council’s support, it seemed, and her concern that voters would reject a larger levy seems unfounded. Sixty-four percent of likely voters in the general election would support a $145 million housing levy, according to a poll conducted in March by pollster EMC Research. More likely, Drago was trying to distinguish herself from Mayor Greg Nickels, who proposed the $145 million in April. Drago is running against Nickels for mayor this year and has been trying to shed criticism that her policies are indistinguishable from the mayor's. In this proposal, Drago could be laying groundwork to argue the she supports lower property taxes than Nickels does.
A levy of $145 million would maintain the same level of affordable housing production and assistance as a levy voters passed in 2002 (while increasing the levy's tax rate by 69 percent for inflation and increased building costs).
A central issue for council, which was technically acting in the capacity of a committee today, was determining who would be eligible to live in the new apartments built with levy dollars. This gets sorta thick, but it’s also interesting. The levy proposal from Nickels didn’t exactly specify where 45 percent of the funds would go (he proposed that 55 percent would be spent on people making less than 30 percent of the area median income, and the rest could be spent on apartments for those making anywhere from 31 to 80 percent of the area median income). Some people were concerned that, under that plan, taxpayers potentially could end up subsiding hundreds of apartments for people making up to $44,800 a year. (More on that debate here.) Today, the council specifically designated all the future levy funds by income bracket. The levy as recommended would require at least 60 percent of the funds go to people making 30 percent or less of the area median income (under $17,700 for a one-person household), at least 30 percent of the funds for people making from 30 percent to 60 percent of the area media income (under $35,400), and less than 10 percent to people making up to 80 percent of the media income.
The council also favored including $14.4 million for maintaining exiting buildings and $9 million to help out low-income first-time home buyers.
In the end, Drago voted with the rest of the council committee to pass the levy eight to zero (Tom Rasmussen was absent). The full council will likely vote on the final package on Monday.