In case you missed it during the arena chaos, the Seattle City Council took another big vote yesterday afternoon. Council members sent a $290 million housing levy to your August ballot. If passed, that $290 million—double the amount of the last housing levy—will fund new affordable housing projects and assistance for people on the verge of foreclosure or homelessness.
According to estimates from the mayor's office, levy funds collected over seven years would pay for about 2,150 units of affordable housing as well as rental and foreclosure assistance. For the owner of a $480,000 home, the new levy would mean paying about $120 instead of $60 a year toward affordable housing.
When Mayor Ed Murray unveiled the housing levy earlier this year he described it this way: "I don't believe there is anything more important the people of City of Seattle can do this year on the issue of affordable housing and on issue of homelessness."
City council members have been considering Murray's levy proposal for months, but made few significant changes. Council Member Mike O'Brien floated the idea of increasing the levy, but abandoned that idea when he couldn't find enough support among council members or housing advocates, he told The Stranger.
Instead, the council kept the levy at $290 million but changed some of the ways that money can be used. O'Brien and Council Member Lisa Herbold added a "short term loan program" of up to $30 million. If the levy passes, affordable housing developers will be able to borrow from that fund to save existing buildings. The council also added language to give some levy dollars to landlords for improvements to their buildings if, in exchange, they agree to cap rents. The details of that program will be finalized next year if the levy passes.
As the city faces a housing affordability and homelessness crisis, the levy will find widespread support in coming months. Still, it's likely to face opposition from the anti-tax crowd, particularly coming on the heels of last year's city transportation levy and so close to this November's massive light rail measure.
"It pains me when my friends say, very simply, ‘I can’t afford to live in this city any more' or when their children say, 'There's no way. I just can't afford to live in the city anymore,'" Council President Bruce Harrell said ahead of the council's unanimous vote yesterday. "This is an investment to ask the voters to recognize that we want to keep the diversity in this city as much as we can."