Democratic State House Speaker Frank Chopp, from Seattles 43rd District
  • Chopp Campaign
  • Democratic State House Speaker Frank Chopp, of Seattle's 43rd District
I have served as an activist for affordable and low-income housing my entire adult life. As a student at the University of Washington, I built and lived in a geodesic dome in a downtown Seattle parking space to protest the demolition of low-cost housing and to raise awareness of the need for more affordable housing. A lot has changed since then, but my passion for affordable housing has not.

As a community activist and as a legislative leader, I have championed housing for years. I was one of four founders of the Low Income Housing Institute here in Seattle. I secured funding to build affordable housing all over the state, including over 70 apartment buildings right here in the 43rd District and many more throughout Seattle. Go to 12th & Jefferson or Broadway & Pine and you will see housing that was built using state dollars because of legislation we passed to help thousands of people throughout Seattle.

With the help of many advocates, including the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, we are working on a comprehensive, multipronged agenda that looks out for those who pay rent—as well as others in need, like our homeless youth, individuals with disabilities, homeowners, and those who have found themselves underwater in tough times.

There are three major fights we need to focus on so that we can continue to make progress.

Expand Tenants’ Rights

As rents go up in Seattle, especially in high-demand neighborhoods like those in the 43rd District, the call for rent control has also increased. I support removing the state preemption so that the City of Seattle and its citizens can decide if that option is right for Seattle.

As a cofounder of the Seattle Tenants Union, I have a long track record of tenant advocacy. We need to do more to help renters. For example, one of the bills I passed out of the state house was the Fair Tenant Screening Act. This would save money for applicants looking for an apartment by allowing them to provide landlords with their own current screening report, instead of being required to pay a fee to each potential landlord. This would save applicants about $40 to $50 per report and potentially hundreds of dollars over the course of searching for a new apartment. Because of Republican opposition, this common-sense bill failed in the state senate.

We also need to pass stronger tenant protections. I support efforts to require more advance notice of rental increases and stronger protections against wrongful evictions.

Increase Community Ownership

The best way to control the cost of rental housing is for our community to own a significant part of the rental market, through nonprofit community organizations. This guarantees that the rents will stay affordable permanently. A key part of this strategy is to increase funding through the state Housing Trust Fund. As a cofounder of the Housing Trust Fund, I have shepherded close to a billion dollars in state investments to build affordable housing, including thousands of apartments in Seattle. Our next step for garnering more funding is to build on public support to provide homes for homeless families with children (young people can do better in school when they have stable housing) and for those in our community suffering with mental illness (lives are saved when they have a stable home).

Another strategy is leveraging Seattle’s thriving tourism industry to support workforce housing. I led the way in passing state legislation that dedicates 37 percent of the hotel-motel tax in King County to build or purchase affordable workforce housing (a revenue stream that will help us leverage about a billion dollars for affordable housing over the next several years). Hospitality workers, waiters, janitors, and other low-wage workers should have homes that are affordable and close to their place of work.

With my leadership, the state house also passed legislation to provide the “air rights” above transit stations and parking lots at no cost to nonprofit organizations to build affordable housing with easy access to transit throughout the region.

The City of Seattle should also start buying foreclosed properties to refinance the mortgages to allow people to stay in their homes, or convert them to affordable housing for local nonprofits to manage or cooperatively own. With my leadership, the legislature enacted the Mortgage Foreclosure Fairness Act, helping homeowners with assistance like free counseling, legal aid, mortgage renegotiation, and financial literacy education.

Help Those in Need

We need to make housing more affordable for working people and ensure that our most vulnerable have a safe place to live.

In the legislature, new revenue was secured through the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid. I am working with many others to provide funding to help homeless individuals with severe health conditions to stay in safe, healthy homes.

I am also advocating for the implementation of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to enhance services for homeless youth, including the expansion of 24-hour youth shelters. In addition, I created the Home Security Fund and enacted a document recording fee on real-estate transactions that is now providing $60 million per year to pay for housing and support services for the homeless.

A Continuing Fight

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Seattle is a very desirable place to live. We have a growing economy, and affordability is an issue we are going to have to continue to manage. While it will take a multifaceted approach to ensure more affordable rent, the most effective and proven tool is more nonprofit community ownership of rental housing.

Though I may not look quite the same as when I lived in a parking lot as a young affordable-housing protester, I will always have that same fire to fight for the people of this great city.

And by the way, years later, that parking lot was redeveloped by a nonprofit organization, which built low-income housing for homeless women, funded in part by the state Housing Trust Fund.