Can you imagine a Seattle with dense, green, affordable housing in every neighborhood? Housing interwoven with public transit, where essential services such as child care are located within walking, biking, or rolling distance? This future is possible, and social housing can help us get there.

Like much of the US, Seattle is confronting the overlapping crises of climate change and housing affordability. These pressing issues are deeply interlinked. Decades of urban sprawl, displacement, and carbon-intensive building practices have contributed greatly to climate pollution, compounded by racist and exclusionary zoning policies that have disproportionately pushed communities of color into some of the most polluted areas in Seattle.

Seattle’s population is expected to reach one million by 2044. Yet the City at present does not have a credible plan to meet these needs. The mayor's Comprehensive Plan, mapping out the city's growth for the next two decades, is shockingly inadequate, and intentionally so, as article after article have pointed out. Meanwhile, two-thirds of young people in Seattle are rent-burdened, and one in three say owning a home feels impossible in their lifetime.

How we address the housing affordability crisis presents a huge opportunity to curb Seattle’s climate pollution, invest in healthy and resilient communities, and usher in a thriving green economy. With an ambitious and equitable approach, Seattle could serve as a model for the rest of the US. 

The Green New Deal offers a way forward: solutions that call for bold transformations to our economy and society that tackle both rampant inequality and climate change at the same time. We need more housing of all types in Seattle, but one particular model serves as an especially strong Green New Deal solution: social housing.

Social housing is permanently affordable, publicly owned, mixed-income housing governed by more resident leadership than traditional public housing. No resident would ever pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. Importantly, as noted in this report, social housing would help "decommodify human essentials by keeping units permanently out of the private rental market and insulating them from market fluctuations." 

Done equitably, social housing can bring down climate pollution and create hundreds of skilled union jobs, all while reducing inequality and drastically improving the quality of life for the vast majority of people. And, thanks to some really incredible organizing by House Our Neighbors, Seattle now has a social housing developer.

Last year, Seattle voters passed Initiative 135 (I-135) by an overwhelming majority. This decision created the Seattle Social Housing Developer (SSHD), a Public Development Authority tasked with building and acquiring social housing. In addition to being permanently affordable, all new social housing would be built to carbon-neutral energy efficiency standards known as Passive House, and could serve as a model for green buildings and techniques across the nation.

What's more, adding more affordable housing across the city will reduce displacement and climate-destroying commutes, and build climate resilience. As we face more and more summers with extreme heat and wildfire smoke, our communities deserve to stay housed and healthy with access to clean air and cooling. 

House Our Neighbors is now running a campaign to pass Initiative 137 (I-137), a progressive revenue source to fund the SSHD. The campaign has gained significant support from a wide coalition of organizations and labor unions, including climate justice group 350 Seattle and MLK Labor. 

The campaign has tremendous momentum, having already gathered over 15,000 signatures to put I-137 on the November ballot. That said, another 20,000 signatures are needed by the end of May to make the cut, and you can help. Join House Our Neighbors, 350 Seattle and other community groups for a signature-gathering event or two—there are lots of opportunities to do so, and you do not need to have any experience or expertise. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, critics of I-137 have already started questioning the legitimacy of the SSHD. One such article states that the SSHD is struggling to "take shape." This is incredibly misleading. I-135 required the city to provide 18 months of administrative funding, which was delayed until recently. No new entity can get started without sufficient funding, and if the City had respected the democratic mandate of I-135, then the SSHD would have had the required funds long ago. We wouldn't call a business a failure for fundraising to get started, so why is this any different? 

Importantly, social housing is a proven model. Just look at Singapore, France, Finland, Vienna, Montgomery County, Maryland, New Zealand, Egypt and more. Seattle could have this future, too, so long as we ensure a secure funding stream for the city's social housing developer. I-137 can help get social housing off the ground; let's not allow misleading critiques to stall Seattle achieving a beautiful, low-carbon future. 

Everyone deserves to have a safe place to call home, without fear of displacement. Social housing offers a future in which our fundamental human right to stay housed is met, all while building a city with thriving, climate-resilient communities. This is an opportunity to win climate, economic, and racial justice, and it is a huge step towards achieving a Green New Deal for our city.

Akiksha Chatterji is the campaigns director for 350 Seattle. Aki is responsible for building, managing, and sustaining 350 Seattle's local Green New Deal campaigns.