Good news for people who want to afford an apartment at some point in the next 50 years!
After tallying up about 109,000 votes according to King County Elections, Initiative 135 is leading with 53% of the vote share. A county spokeswoman estimates 21,000 ballots left in the building plus whatever they gather from the drop boxes tonight. All told, they estimate a 33% turnout, which would be about 165,000 ballots. In any event, since later ballots normally lean progressive, social housing is in good shape. Update, Feb 15 at 4 pm: As suspected, after counting more than 10,000 votes on Wednesday, the initiative is now winning by eight points.
Phoning in from a raucous Washington Hall, Rebecca Lavigne of House Our Neighbors! (HON), the political arm of Real Change that drove the campaign, said "voters responded with a resounding 'yes' to our bold vision of a Seattle that’s affordable for all."
She added that the celebratory feeling in the room was about the victory at the ballot box, of course, but also about the fighting movement they've created. "We built a coalition of tenant organizers, people with lived experience of homelessness, mutual aid groups, unions, urbanists, students, and so many others. This shows that social housing is a growing national movement. We’re excited to see California and Hawaii be next," she said.
Seattle's initiative sets up a public developer to build and/or acquire housing for people making between 0 and 120% of the area median income. The renters themselves and experts would govern the buildings, which would stay in public hands until the end of time.
The measure puts local government on the hook for funding the new public authority's start-up staff and supply costs, which are estimated at $750,000. After that, City leaders will need to decide whether they want to follow the lead of Vienna, Singapore, and Montgomery County, Maryland by investing in the social housing developer. The authority can also try to scoop up grants, charity money, and issue bonds to get loan money. Right now, most city leaders are mum on the issue. The campaign boasts strong support from State Reps. Frank Chopp and Nicole Macri, who may be able to help out at that level.
It's been a long and bumpy road to the ballot box. HON started life as a campaign against Compassion Seattle, an unfunded charter amendment proposal that would have required the City to create 2,000 units of shelter and to (probably) sweep parks and sidewalks of encampments. A judge snatched the measure off the 2021 November ballot because it violated the law.
HON went on offense in March of the following year and filed its social housing proposal, citing the State Legislature's lack of "forward movement" in addressing the affordability crisis in Seattle or anywhere else, for that matter. The campaign initially came up short on signatures and missed the November ballot, but they ultimately gathered enough names in time to put the question before voters this year.
In its final weeks, HON went into overdrive knocking doors, trying to turn out cash-strapped renters and those who would like to buy a home at some point in their life. Judging by tonight's results, it looks like that hard work paid off.
But there's likely more of that to come. If Seattle and the State Legislature shy away from funding this model of affordable housing, then HON co-chair Tiffani McCoy and her cohort will likely launch a campaign to fund the authority with a progressive tax.