A new $290 million housing levy was unanimously voted for yesterday afternoon by the City of Seattle, in what Council member Tim Burgess calls “the largest investment in affordable housing that Seattle has ever made.” Now that it has passed city council, the seven-year housing levy will appear on the August 2, 2016 Primary Election ballot for a public vote where the citizens of Seattle will cast their votes for the massive investment.
What this means for homeowners is that over the next seven years, beginning at the end of the year, the property tax measure will double. For those who own a home valued at $480,000 or higher, the new levy will cost $122 per year, an increase of $61, says Burgess.
According to Council member Rob Johnson, affordable housing in Seattle includes a multitude of resources that the city needs in order to accomplish the council’s goals. He believes the increase of the housing levy is a very critical resource so that those in need can continue to live in the city. “One of the strategies that we need to pursue, on the market rate side as well, is what we can do about workforce housing. These are big issues that are going to be coming up over the next year or two,” he said.
While doubling the amount of the levy is certainly not enough to relieve the crisis, it is certainly the right step in the right direction
Housing preservation is also important to the city council because it is important to the community of Seattle, says Council member Lisa Herbold. “Prior to the HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability) Recommendations focus groups, the south side identified the displacement impacts associated with development as one of their highest priorities. This displacement strategy will help homeowners stay in their homes, and it will help organizations identify new potential homeownership opportunities,” Herbold said.
Amendments to Mayor Ed Murray’s March housing levy proposal include authorizing $30 million in short-term loans in order to help nonprofit developers buy apartment buildings with reasonable rents and keep them affordable. Another provides a grant or low interest loan to an owner of existing multifamily housing for building improvements, in exchange for putting rent restrictions on a certain percentage of units in the building. A third amendment dedicates an additional $1.75 million toward homelessness prevention and housing stability services using interest earnings generated from levy proceeds.
“I think the housing levy reflects on Seattle’s generosity,” said Council member Mike O’Brien. “In no time has it been more evident that we face a housing crisis than we are facing today. While doubling the amount of the levy is certainly not enough to relieve the crisis, it is certainly the right step in the right direction.”
The housing levy started in 1986, when Seattle citizens voted to be taxed in order to build and maintain affordable housing. The levy has continued to be renewed every seven years since. “Seattle leads the nation as the first city in the United States to adopt this form of tax to help our most vulnerable residents,” said Burgess.
Over the years, Seattle has funded over 12,500 affordable apartments for seniors, low to moderate income workers and the formerly homeless. It has provided homeownership assistance to more than 800 first-time low-income home buyers and emergency rental assistance for over 6,500 households.