The proposed public developer would build housing for people earning up to 120% of Seattle’s Area Median Income.
The proposed public developer would build housing for people earning up to 120% of Seattle’s Area Median Income. ah_fotobox / GETTY

On Monday afternoon, House Our Neighbors! (HON) filed a ballot initiative to establish a public developer that would one day build, acquire, own, and manage social housing in Seattle.

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“If we truly want to stop the pipeline into homelessness and meet people's housing needs at scale, we need to adopt the strategy of a public developer to build housing that's tailored as a human right and not as a profit motive,” said Tiffany McCoy, advocacy director at Real Change and co-chair of House Our Neighbors!

The proposed public developer would build housing for people earning up to 120% of Seattle’s Area Median Income. The housing would be “truly affordable,” which by HON’s standards means tenants would not have to spend 30% of their income on rent. (For a household of one, the city calculates 120% of Seattle's AMI at just over $97,000.)

HON is a spin-off organization of Real Change that emerged to oppose Compassion Seattle, a charter amendment campaign that proposed an unfunded shelter initiative. Though the courts ultimately threw out the initiative, Compassion Seattle’s message lived on after its financial backers installed a slate of conservatives in city government.

Still, McCoy said she believes that Seattleites are hungry for social housing, especially given what McCoy called “no forward movement” in the State Legislature to meet the affordability crisis. Also, HON expects even moderates to sign its petition because of the current narrative around homelessness.

Even if Seattleites love HON’s idea, McCoy said she anticipates one particular snag to draw concern: The campaign did not include a mechanism for new funding to actually build the housing. While the initiative requires the city to get the PDA up and running for the first 18 months, public developers don’t have taxing authority. That means if the voters pass HON’s measure, the city or the state would have to set aside money if they want to keep it going. To assuage financial concerns, HON points to support from Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), one of many leaders McCoy said could help make the initiative's funding needs a reality.

On top of that, HON will have to surmount whatever the private developers cook up to convince voters to decline to sign. But after a summer of fighting off Compassion Seattle, McCoy said HON is ready for anything.

For now, HON will wait for the City Clerk to clear their paperwork. If approved, the campaign will have 180 days to collect 26,500 valid signatures to put social housing on the November ballot.