In true #OneSeattle fashion, the Seattle City Council is set to more or less rubber stamp the Mayor’s $970 million proposal for the upcoming Housing Levy, which will see a vote in November.
The proposal will fund almost 3,000 new units of affordable housing, preserve an additional 600, help almost 300 households buy their first homes, and prevent eviction for thousands. The levy triples the previous levy and it will cost about $380 per year if you live in a median-priced home, which is worth $866,000.
Over the past weeks, the council compiled a package of just 14 minor tweaks to the original proposal that ask the Office of Housing (OH) to prioritize marginalized communities and include a few additional points in the department’s reports to the council.
But Housing Levy Committee Chair Council Member Teresa Mosqueda did not like every amendment her council colleagues proposed. She left two amendments from Council Member Sara Nelson out of the council’s Wednesday proposal. The most controversial of Nelson’s amendments would slightly broaden the scope of the levy, allowing the OH to fund affordable housing not only for the lowest of the low earners but for slightly less poor renters, too.
Nelson’s amendment would allow OH to use up to $9 million of the levy’s $630 million pot for rental production and preservation (RPP) to fund units at 61-80% Average Median Income. The previous two Housing Levies funded those projects, but this one exclusively pays for units for renters who make below 60% AMI, or around $57,000 for a family of one.
In the Select Committee on the 2023 Housing Levy committee meeting Wednesday morning, Nelson argued that the amendment would help developers make more money or reach an average of 60% AMI to qualify for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Plus, people who make between 61-80% AMI need housing, too!
Mosqueda reminded Nelson and the rest of her council colleagues that the City needs housing units at 0-30% the most. According to a central staff presentation, Seattle needs 112,000 units of housing by 2044. Almost 40% of those homes need to be affordable for those making below 30% AMI. Seattle needs about 7% of the new units to be affordable for renters at 50-80% AMI.
A presentation by central staff projects 60% of the almost 3,000 levy units will be built for renters who make under 30% AMI, 20% for renters who make between 31% to 50%, and 14% for renters who make between 51% and 60%.
Council Member Lisa Herbold also noted that the City only funds homes for renters who make under 30% AMI through the levy and JumpStart, so it’s crucial that the limited levy money focus on those units. The Mandatory Housing Affordability program and other incentive programs already pay for the units above 60% that Nelson’s worried about.
Otherwise, central staff explained amendments without controversy. Mosqueda proposed an amendment requiring OH to report surplus levy funds so that the council could use that money as part of its budgeting process. The chair also proposed an amendment encouraging OH to prioritize family-sized low-income units and work with developers to make construction cheap enough to still meet the levy’s production goals. Herbold, with a friendly amendment from Council Member Tammy Morales, specified what kinds of mixed-use development the OH can pay for, such as child care centers, grocery stores, and community spaces.
Nelson could potentially get her amendment added to the levy proposal if she proposes it at the next meeting on June 7, when the committee will vote it through to full council, which is composed of the same people in the levy committee.