Editor’s Note: Wallyhood 2.0 relaunched the website with a spirit of innovation and change. This article is a test of supporting opinion pieces from our Wallyhood neighbors. Let us know what you think of these types of articles, and let us know your thoughts about this important topic’s impact on Wallyhood in the comments.
Wallyhood welcomes Glenn Singer as writer, and trailblazer for citizen opinion pieces at Wallyhood.
PROPOSED 2016 HOUSING LEVY
This August Seattle voters will be asked to approve a Housing Levy that will replace and expand the existing 2009 Housing Levy that expires at the end of this year and it will provide $290 million over seven years. This proposed Levy would provide funding that will support numerous programs and services to help make Seattle more affordable for everyone.
Here is how a property tax levy works. The city of Seattle sets a percentage rate for imposing taxes, called a levy rate, which is calculated against the assessed value of each home owner’s property. The final determination is the individual property tax for that resident.
Mayor Murray will be asking voters to approve the new Levy of $290 million dollars which is DOUBLE the old 2009 levy that is $145 million. According to www.zillow.com the median price of a Wallingford home is currently $742,100 so the proposed levy would cost the owner of the median Wallingford home $188 per year. This is an annual increase of approximately $100 per year. It is also important to note that Seattle property taxes have increased over 15% in the last decade.
Housing levies are not new to Seattle voters. As you can see by the chart to the right (chart from excellent Seattle Times Article on the topic) , housing levies have remained relatively stable from 1986 through 2002 but increased significantly in 2009 with another significant increase requested in 2016.
I am not opposed to housing levies in general or the fine work that the Seattle Office of Housing, the Seattle Housing Authority or the other housing offices are doing to assist in providing affordable housing opportunities for low income citizens of Seattle. The Stoneway Apartments, here in Wallingford, offers a portion of its apartments to lower-income residents as it participates with Seattle’s Office of Housing which is partially funded by the current Housing Levy. I am, however, not sold that the Mayor’s proposed housing levy needs to be doubled.
My concerns are simple and focused on the category of RENTAL PRODUCTION AND PRESERVATION. This category goes from a current budget of $104 million to a proposed budget of $201 million and it will only deliver 2150 new units and 350 retrofitted units which is less than the previous levy delivered for half the price (see table at left)! When I brought this issue up at a recent meeting of the Select Committee for the 2016 Housing Levy I was told that this doubling of the budget was a result of projected increased cost of land, building materials and labor as well as a loss of a United Way grant of $21 million. While I am familiar with the concept of cost inflation, the construction industry has never experienced this rate of cost inflation.
Recently I met with Councilperson Mike O’Brien (District 6 covering the north end of Wallyhood) to discuss my concerns about the Levy and, although the meeting was congenial, I really didn’t get an answer to my questions concerning the proposed Levy amount. I also recently spoke with a top aide of Councilperson Tim Burgess (Citywide Representative) who is the chairman of the Housing Levy Committee and learned that Mr. Burgess is aware of the sensitivity of the requested Levy amount and he is attempting to ensure that Levy priorities are cost-effective. Although Mr. Burgess’ aide provided some additional information which was useful, I still find that I am not in a position to support the proposed Levy based on the current data that the city has provided me.
Perhaps continued dialogue with Councilperson Burgess’ office will shed more light on this issue and if it does, I will keep you posted.