As Seattle loses its collective shit over a proposal to tax the city's largest businesses to raise $75 million a year for affordable housing and homelessness services, a new analysis finds the region needs more than five times that amount to actually address the problem.
The Seattle Times first reported on the analysis, which the consulting firm McKinsey & Company completed for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber also confirmed the numbers to Crosscut. A Chamber spokesperson told The Stranger McKinsey contacted the group about being its pro bono client for the report. The consulting firm has not yet responded to a request for full report. UPDATE: You can read a summary of the report's findings here.
According to the Times, the McKinsey report used a Times' analysis of current countywide spending on homelessness at $195.6 million and estimated between $164 and $214 million more is needed, most of it for affordable housing.
City staff estimate the business tax could produce 1,780 new units over five years (It would also fund other services and shelter.) According to the Times, the McKinsey report estimates King County needs 14,000 more units of housing that people experiencing homelessness can afford.
That is a huge gulf, and one that should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
Seattle's comprehensive plan says the city should accommodate another 70,000 housing units over the next 20 years to keep up with population growth. But let's narrow that to just housing for low income people, since that's what the bulk of revenues from the tax in question would fund.
According to the Housing Development Consortium, no city in King County has enough homes for the lowest income residents. Seattle alone needs more than 10,000 more units for people with very low incomes by 2030, according to the group. According to Seattle's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the gap is 23,500.
For perspective, Seattle's multiple housing levies have created just 13,000 affordable apartments since 1981. The latest renewal of that levy—approved in 2016 despite consternation over yet another property tax increase—will total $290 million and build or preserve 2,150 affordable apartments over seven years.
Compare metro areas based on the percent of rental housing stock that is subsidized, as the Times' Gene Balk did, and you'll find that Seattle ranks 19 out of 25.
A recent audit that criticized the region's response to its homelessness crisis also brought up the supply issue. Even if no new person was added to the wait list in King County, the audit found, it would take more than seven years for everyone already on the list to get housing.
In analyzing the city's plan for rapid rehousing—which offers homeless people temporary assistance renting in the private market—the auditors raised concerns that the program could fail because of "competition for limited affordable housing." At any one moment across King County, there are 470 studio and one-bedroom apartments affordable to the lowest income people, according to the audit. At that same moment, renters in the private market are eyeing open apartments and service providers are attempting to find apartments for anywhere from 235 to 386 households. That all translates to steep competition and trouble getting homeless people into housing, the audit explained.
Planning and funding coordination—issues also identified in the audit—are conversations regional leaders will have to tackle. But, as Real Change's Ashley Archibald put it yesterday, "you're not going to find enough quarters in couch cushions to fix this." Yet another report—this time, one associated with the Chamber of Commerce—has come to the same conclusion.