Housing & Homelessness
INTERRELATED CRISES WITH INTERSECTIONAL SOLUTIONS
Our housing and homelessness crisis has resulted in a massive wave of suffering and vulnerability in Seattle and across the region. I will prioritize housing in key ways:
- Enshrine “Shelter as a Human Right” into our city charter.
- More housing at every level and equitably across all neighborhoods.
- Partner with the county and other cities so that everyone in the region is pitching in to solve our collective challenges.
- Focus urgently on those who are suffering the most, our chronically homeless.
- Keep people in the housing they have today.
BUILD MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
In a housing crisis and with many of Seattle’s residents facing housing insecurity or displacement, the thing we need most is affordable housing for renters between 30-60% AMI. I will address this in several important ways:
- Dedicate surplus or underutilized public lands to affordable housing, either by granting land to non-profits who build affordable housing or dedicating the proceeds to creating affordable housing or fund operations budgets for permanent supportive housing. The Mercer Mega-Block is an example of this that only gets halfway there. In the deal, as it currently exists, 174 units of affordable housing will be built on-site while none of the proceeds are currently slated for affordable housing. We can and should do both.
- Create additional debt capacity for projects that carry permanent debt by providing loan guarantees by the City of Seattle. This doesn’t add more to Seattle’s debt, it just opens up funds for affordable housing developers to produce more housing today.
- Instead of saddling non-profit affordable housing developers with the cost of infrastructure improvements (street improvements, utility extensions, electrical extension), we will have for-profit developers pay into a fund to help with these infrastructure improvements.
- Speed up delivery of projects by reducing the time required for design review, entitlement, and permitting from 12-18 months to 3-6 months while still maintaining quality control.
- Reduce or eliminate permit fees with the city for these projects.
EXPAND ALL TYPES OF HOUSING
The MHA Upzone and Backyard Cottage legislation passed by the council promises to produce much-needed affordable housing, but we need to be doing more. Currently, in areas not zoned for single-family houses, only townhouses and large apartment or condo buildings are being built, but we also need “light density” options to fill the missing middle of housing like small multi-family buildings with single floor living for ADA accessibility and for seniors to age in place.
Single family-zoned neighborhoods used to have much more diversity of buildings and having more flexibility is what we need to have again, allowing for a “gentle density” option like duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes that actually look like houses. This is a good way to maintain neighborhood character and have every neighborhood across Seattle share in our need for more housing.
We also must take empty apartments and hotels—which exist throughout the city—and incentivize property owners through programs like Economic Opportunity Zone tax deferral and permit fee reduction or elimination so that those empty units can be occupied again and rental “dead zones” can be eliminated from our communities.
CHANGES TO MHA UPZONE
I will amend MHA Upzone to ensure that we are truly getting a 50/50 split between units built on-site and built off-site, and that the percentage of affordable housing is sufficient for the city’s needs while still creating strong incentives for developers to build. I will require more developer buy-in on replacing sidewalks and streets in front of large developments, so we don’t see a brand-new building and next to it transportation infrastructure that’s falling apart.
CHANGES TO BACKYARD COTTAGE LEGISLATION
I will amend the Backyard Cottage Legislation to create separate tracks for short-term and long-term rentals so that the law is actually creating more long-term housing and not just more income for the wealthy with short-term rentals. We also need to make sure our homeowners most vulnerable to displacement can borrow against the value of their house, guaranteed by the city, so that they can create units for long-term rental and to keep vulnerable families from being displaced.
VACANCY TAX FOR EMPTY UNITS
While we’re in the middle of a housing crisis, many apartments around the city remain empty. I will advocate a vacancy tax on those units and use that tax (assessed on square footage) to build our Housing Now Fund which can be used to get people into temporary or permanent housing and fund a project similar to Atlanta’s “Open Doors”.
MARKET-RATE HOUSING AT AFFORDABLE HOUSING PRICES
To avoid vacancy taxes, property management companies can instead opt in to a program similar to Open Doors in Atlanta (which was originally piloted here) in which people who need housing today can access market-rate housing at affordable housing pricing, with subsidies provided through the new Housing Now Fund.
RENT STABILIZATION AND RENTER’S EMERGENCY FUND
Often renters are living month-to-month and one financial emergency or rent increase may put them at risk for eviction. While I believe there should be market influences on all housing to create a healthy, vigorous rental market, I too believe that renters should have three month notice on any rent increases, and that those increases should be no more than 7% a year plus inflation on buildings 15 years or older (like Oregon just did) and 15% a year on buildings 5-15 years old and make sure that the rent and increases include incident fees and insurance (rather than piling those on an increase).
We must also provide financial assistance for renters to help bridge an emergency and offer robust legal support so they can compete on an even playing field with landlords, especially in Seattle’s expensive and volatile housing market.
SHELTER IS A HUMAN RIGHT
You go to New York City and guess what you won’t see? Tent encampments. You know why? It’s because they’ve enshrined shelter as a human right into their city charter. We spend tens of millions of dollars each year on bad outcomes. Let’s invest once and get it right from the start. Housing first is the best policy, and when there isn’t sufficient permanent housing available, we must start with 24/7 low-barrier shelter and bridge/transitional housing.
BUILD NEW SUPPORTIVE HOUSING FOR THE CHRONICALLY HOMELESS
Those who are chronically homeless—around 2000 of our neighbors—are our most vulnerable residents. We are already paying to assist them but in temporary ways that contributes to their suffering and increases our long-term investment. I will work with King County to create a bond for 500 million dollars for the region to create 1500 units of supportive housing for all of our chronically homeless with wraparound services—including mental health and substance use disorder treatment—and provide the stability and support these residents need for a better future. We can repay our share of the bond (about a half of the total bond, or around $250 million) with general fund dollars ($12.5 million per year for 20 years), offsetting what we are already paying to serve these residents. This focus on permanent supportive housing will result in less suffering and better long-term outcomes.
EXPAND 24/7 LOW-BARRIER, HIGH SUPERVISION SHELTERS
We only have two low-barrier shelters for people experiencing homelessness, thousands of beds short of our current needs for those living outside. Low barrier can mean people don’t have to be sober to get into a shelter and that they can bring their pets, possessions, and partners. Those experiencing homelessness need 24/7 shelters so they aren’t forced back onto the streets in the morning. All new and existing shelters should be a place to access services, get stable, get fed, and get on the path to permanent housing. This type of shelter should only be used for short periods of days and weeks not months, and we’ll need a whole lot more of it if we are to stop the suffering on our streets.
I propose paying for increased shelters and shelter beds with an emergency, temporary increase (one year) in the hotel occupancy tax, from $2 to $10, with the extra $8 going directly to building and maintaining shelter, raising an estimated $50 million, which will fund the project for three years.
MEET SHORT-TERM NEEDS WITH TINY HOUSE VILLAGES
What people ultimately need is a door, not a bed, and tiny houses offer a safe, cheap way to temporarily provide that and still be connected to community and services. I will use city or county land, having the public at-large pitch in to raise the money to pay for and/or build the tiny houses, and have businesses pitch in (“sponsor”) to pay for the management of these communities. Together, we can create safe housing for 3-9 months as we build permanent housing for those who need it urgently.
PRIORITIZE TREATMENT ON-DEMAND FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER
Mental health and substance use disorder challenges can be both the cause and the result of homelessness. To mitigate the crisis and stop repeated trauma and suffering, both housing and treatment on demand for all mental health issues include substance use disorder is necessary. I will work with our county and state partners to use the funds already allocated to prioritize treatment on demand for our most vulnerable and expand options for Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT) through all our support services, including and especially our jails.
EXPAND THE L.E.A.D DIVERSION PROGRAM
Many “familiar faces” to law enforcement are or have recently been homeless. Some say we should throw the book at these people, but it’s clear our current approach of more prosecution isn’t working and it’s weighing our entire criminal system down with few benefits for anyone.
To get people into long-term housing, we first have to address the underlying issues that put them out into the streets in the first place, most crucially mental health and addiction issues. LEAD is a successful diversion program that puts people in front of a case manager, not a judge, and since the police and prosecutors are also a part of this rehabilitation process, it creates an incentive for participants to avoid any further contact with the criminal justice system. The LEAD program connects people with the services they need and creates the stability necessary to have more long-term success, leading to fewer interactions with law enforcement and limiting the resource-intensive problem propelled by regular cycling in and out of the system, which means it pays for itself in time.