City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda says a 25% set-aside requirement for affordable housing is unrealistic.
City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda says a 25% set-aside requirement for affordable housing is unrealistic. Courtesy of Teresa Mosqueda

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On New Year’s Eve, our neighbor emailed to say she and her husband—a 91-year-old World War II veteran recently diagnosed with cancer—had to be out of their apartment by February. She worried about finding an affordable place in the neighborhood where they had lived for decades.

Last month at a women’s shelter in downtown, I spoke with a case manager who helps find affordable homes for unsheltered women. She said this is the first time in a decade of work she’s struggling to find affordable places along transit lines in the city for her clients, even with a federal Section 8 voucher.

This month, I got notice that my rent is increasing, again. Our neighbors said their rents increased $100 to $200 a month, plus utilities. We received a $250 spike—$3,000 a year. But my fiancé and I have union jobs, and for the time, we’ll make it work. We’re lucky.

For far too many residents of Seattle, the dramatically rising housing costs are crippling.

More than 1,000 people are moving to Seattle every week. The influx is putting unprecedented stress on Seattle’s insufficient housing supply—driving up costs, pushing out communities of color, seniors, renters, and middle- and low-income families alike.

You don’t need me to tell you this. We’re living it. That’s why I am determined to make sure we don’t miss the chance to get affordable housing solutions now. I’m running for Seattle City Council because I recognize the urgency of getting development done right. Elders in Seattle have told me – “Don’t let Seattle turn into the next San Francisco,” by which they mean a place where only the wealthy can afford to live.

I'd be the only renter on city council. And I’d fight alongside affordable housing champions to address displacement and reverse the impacts of redlining, making sure those most at risk for gentrification are at the table to create affordable housing solutions. I have spent my life working to promote the wellbeing of families and seniors; fighting for good living wage jobs and retirement security; drafting and leading the state’s minimum wage and sick leave initiative; and implementing Medicaid expansion and healthcare for all kids. We need affordable housing in order for us to be healthy, and right now rents and home prices are outpacing incomes in Seattle.

Some have called for San Francisco's 25% threshold for affordable housing - which sounds good, but isn’t responding to today’s crisis. In fact, following the city’s own controller’s office conclusion that the 25% was infeasible, San Francisco was forced back to the drawing board. That delay has meant a slowdown in the creation of affordable housing needed now.

We can’t afford to make the same mistakes as San Francisco. There is no time to waste. In New York City, the 25% requirement comes with doubling building heights, doesn’t apply in Manhattan, and applies up to 150% area median income. We need to take substantial and effective action in Seattle now, rather than making promises to voters that we cannot keep.

Our affordable housing shortage requires a multifaceted, community-oriented approach that can’t be solved by repeating a number over and over for political gain. Seattleites are unique among cities populations for overwhelmingly passing a levy for affordable housing - which has brought over 13,000 units of affordable homes to this city. We are a city that understands the value of supporting the common good. But solving this problem requires shared responsibility, and those prospering the most should also contribute the most.

Seattle has taken some encouraging first steps, and we can strengthen our approach even further. The expanded Multi-Family Tax Exemption program and Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements are beginning to create affordable homes across the city, and critically, in areas experiencing gentrification. When fully implemented, those programs will be creating more than 25% of new affordable housing. Meanwhile, voluntary opt-in development has already yielded an additional $25 million in fees that will go towards building affordable homes. But we can and must do more.

My housing plan builds on that progress. I will champion efforts to:

• Expand community land trusts, co-ops, and create diverse housing options around transportation hubs.

• Increase access for low-income homeowner and senior property tax exemptions to prevent displacement.

• Bond against our voter-approved housing levy dollars to fund building more affordable homes.

• Support a tenants’ bill of rights and rent stabilization efforts.

• Assess wealthy investors sitting on developable empty lots not contributing to the housing needs.

• Turn city-owned, developable land parcels into affordable housing rather than letting them sit vacant.

We have examples of development done right, like Plaza Roberto Maestas, where affordable apartments are built above a child care program, next to a community center, across the street from a union grocery store, near women and minority owned businesses, and all within steps of the light rail. This helps create healthy thriving communities—affordable housing near transit hubs, within walking distance to good jobs, schools, and small businesses.

Let’s move forward, expand upon the existing housing blueprint with concrete affordable housing proposals that allow our elders like my neighbors to afford to stay in the neighborhood they love, opportunities for those in shelters to have affordable housing within the city along transit lines, and so that families - like the one I hope to start one day - have access to affordable housing in the city we work.

That’s the Seattle I know we can build, with community voices front-and-center, driving real solutions for Seattle’s affordability crisis.

Teresa Mosqueda is the political and strategic campaign director of the Washington State Labor Council and is running for Seattle City Council Position 8.