The Question: Seattle has a myriad of programs for people that are low income that must be opted into through a complex set of lotteries and qualifying paperwork. People in low income brackets are deterred from rising across income cut off lines for fear of losing their benefits, while others who qualify but are not able or willing to advocate for themselves are not receiving benefits.
This has led to a push for simplified systems like rent control and a rising minimum wage that benefit everyone who qualifies. Another idea has been to assess developer impact fees and use those funds to subsidize rents. Another option is to have utilities be free up to half the median per capita use rate, then be charged at double the rate above that line, putting in place a revenue neutral, progressive carbon tax.
Do you support rent controls? How about development fees for rent subsidization? How about making utilities free up to half the median per capita use rate? What other systemic changes to address low income needs do you support?
Rob Johnson’s Answer: I’d like to see us significantly increase the funds in 2016’s housing levy. I’d like to see us explore more housing on public lands. I’d like to see us work more closely with Sound Transit on surplus properties to build more transit oriented development that could be targeted for affordable housing. I’d like to see us increase our height limits around Sound Transit light rail stations, particularly in the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate. I’d like to see us go to Olympia and get the authority (if we don’t believe we have it already) to implement a form of land value taxation to (ideally) flatten out some of our construction booms and busts to fund affordable housing. I’m a supporter of increased tent city encampments provided that they are placed near frequent transit service and that we have the social service workers available to get residents access to the services they need. And most importantly, I don’t want us to build a multi-billion dollar light rail system that is extremely frequent, reliable, and affordable (especially now thanks to ORCA LIFT) that subsequently prices the working families who need that frequency, reliability, and affordability out of the city.
Tony Provine’s Answer: Our current affordable housing crisis disproportionately impacts older adults, immigrants, people of color and other underserved communities. People are being displaced, rents are out of control, and incentives given to developers are not working. We can take steps now to address this crisis and produce thousands of low-income and affordable housing units. We should require inclusionary zoning in new developments rather than just incentivizing it. Affordable housing linkage fees should be required of developers to set aside a percentage of units within a building or pay a set fee. The city should also issue $500 million in long-term bonds for a Housing Bond Program; reestablish Seattle’s Growth Related Housing Fund; establish a loan and bond guarantee program for non-profit housing projects; expand the use of housing vouchers; and build more high-quality public housing with job training and social services. Tenants deserve fair treatment and we should strengthen tenant rights and consider rent stabilization tools.
Seattle is experiencing unprecedented growth and development. Through enactment of Developer Impact Fees, we can cover some of the costs associated with new development. These fees directly fund schools, roads, parks, and fire services and lessen the burden on the city and taxpayers.
Jean Godden’s Answer: To address affordability concerns, we have to look at simplified solutions that we can implement now. We are building more affordable housing units, and we must ensure that current tenant/landlord policies are being enforced. Other solutions include easing zoning requirements for detached accessory dwelling units and requiring longer advanced notice of rent increases. These possibilities will help ease the housing affordability crunch Seattle faces, but we need more. I will advocate for local municipality jurisdiction over implementing rent stabilization. Seattle, not the State Legislature, should make the choice about rent control. I signed onto Resolution 31551 which states the City’s intent to implement an affordable housing linkage fee program and establishes policy parameters for such a program. I believe that incentive zoning bonuses and/or linkage fees should be one part of a wider network of solutions to create more affordable housing.
Abel Pacheco’s Answer: As a renter who lives in a mother-in-law apartment I’m well aware of the housing crunch in Seattle. Homeownership and renting an affordable place to live are becoming out of reach of many of the people who protect our communities, teach our kids, and make our economy function- myself included as a UW employee trying to save, pay off student loans, and make ends meet. As an adjunct professor at North and Central Seattle Community Colleges, I too hear of the struggle many of my students undergo to progress out of many of these low-income programs.
Our rapid growth is coming with a cost on the community through its impacts on infrastructure, transportation, elimination of housing in old neighborhoods, etc. Reasonable and appropriate fees which consider the costs to the public are ideas I am open to exploring. Under a comprehensive plan to address growth and our housing crisis, developers should pay its share in dealing with the consequences of growth. Having said this, our city leaders must also do a better job at preparing for our growth to minimize the number of levies we ask voters to approve year after year as these levies add to the cost of housing. These costs can add another burden to already struggling middle-class families and individuals like myself. We, Seattleites, are a generous community but we want results. I do not like the common practice of coming year after year to voters, asking for approval of another levy when city leaders have not been good stewards of public funds- it erodes public confidence in our ability to address the problem. It is important that those fees, and levies, be used to effectively address problems caused by the growth and support our low-income neighbors, and not become another revenue source for the city.
Current state law does not allow us to implement rent control, but I am willing to study the issue further if state law changes. In general, I have reservations regarding rent controls as they can easily benefit those who don’t need the help and they ignore the need to create more housing. Specific, targeted, and limited rent controls might be feasible. In the short run, we can lessen impacts of people being forced out of their homes. Given the housing crunch and the difficulty in finding a place to live, notice requirements for rent increases and termination of tendencies should be expanded. People need not only living space but breathing room in having to deal with the pressures of growth.
Michael Maddux’s Answer: Focusing on the questions posed – I do believe that the city can and should demand local control over housing, including repealing or amending RCW 35.21.830. I believe this would give the people of our city more leverage in housing affordability discussions. Whether I would support actual price controls on rent would depend on a lot of factors, including what efforts were in place to build new units where appropriate, how would the city ensure that landlords have the means to invest in building and unit improvements, and what the equitable application would look like. There are other measures that could be implemented more immediately that I support without hesitation, including regulations to make all leases automatically transition to month-to-month (requiring justification for evictions), ensure that people who are economically evicted receive relocation assistance, and requiring greater notice for no-fault evictions. The Community Housing Caucus has proposed additional measures, many of which I am supportive of.
I have been researching other funding sources, and one idea that was sent my way is exploring a capital gains tax on certain property transfers to ensure that not only developers and residents are paying into taxes for infrastructure (property taxes, REET taxes, and proposals for Linkage Fees and Impact Fees on developers), but speculators who are selling properties for massive profits – properties that are very valuable thanks to investment by the city in transit infrastructure, parks, and other amenities – are also participating in funding our city’s infrastructure needs.
On utilities – Santa Fe has a program for water that sets tiered rates based on usage, and has seen significant decrease in total water usage, even as the population has grown. I would be interested in looking at options like these to not only balance out the cost, but also encourage more conservation of our natural resources.