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Vote YES on I-135 for social housing in Seattle

Social housing is not a panacea for Seattle’s ongoing housing affordability crisis. But it is one more tool the city can use to help alleviate ever-climbing rental prices. We need every possible solution we can get our hands on if our city ever hopes to be a more affordable place to live.

Vote YES on I-135. Ballots are due February 14, and this one only has this single issue, making it the easiest ballot to complete in years.

The social housing concept is simple. If a public agency were in charge of leasing more homes, then fewer people would be harmed or trapped by the exploitative rents charged by for-profit landlords and, increasingly, rental market speculation companies. There are plenty of cities around the world where a lot of the housing available for rent is owned and operated by a public agency, but the concept is somewhat unfamiliar around these parts. This is a chance for Seattle to be a leader.


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I-135 does not include funding (state law prohibits ballot measures from doing multiple things in the same initiative). Instead, it would create the Seattle Social Housing Developer, a new public agency with the power to buy, build and maintain housing. Efforts to fund the agency’s work would need to come in a future step. So let’s approve I-135 to get the agency on its feet.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is hosting a volunteer phone bank to get out the vote for I-135 starting 6 p.m. February 6. It’s virtual, so you can participate remotely.

Here’s a video from the House Our Neighbors campaign explaining how the finances would work:


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5 responses to “Vote YES on I-135 for social housing in Seattle”

  1. peri hartman

    I’ve been trying to make up my mind on this. Certainly, I strongly support subsidized housing and social services.

    In this case, does anyone have answers to the following:

    – why can’t an existing org, such as SHA, be modified to do this ? Why do we need yet another org, which will ultimately be competing for funds with the existing orgs.

    – would a co-op model be better. One where some units are owned by the occupant and some are rented – at market value and at subsidized rates.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      SHA is a housing authority that largely administers Federal HUD funds for low-income households. We really need the feds to increase funding through HUD. Seattle residents also help fund SHA through the housing levy. SHA wait lists are long, and it needs more funding. This is one of the important tools we need. But it’s different from Social Housing, which are rental properties to people of various income levels. And maybe they can go hand-in-hand, though I’m not an expert on the intricacies. For example, could social housing accept SHA/HUD housing vouchers? But SHA is not really a solution for the middle-to-low income folks who are struggling but don’t qualify for very low income services (if those services are even available).

      Co-ops are a great solution, too! It’s another tool Seattle should use more and help encourage. But co-ops are typically more of an ownership model rather than a rental model (though some co-ops reserve units for rent). People pooling money to create something none of them could do alone and then working together to manage it, that’s just wonderful. But co-ops are difficult to create and clearly are not spreading fast enough to meet the need. So yes to more co-ops, but they are different from social housing.

      1. Peri Hartman

        Thanks, Tom. Your first paragraph makes a good point why this program needs a different org, or at least *not* SHA. Too many restrictions on what the org can do (I read this somewhere else) if it accepts federal funds.

        For the second point, using a co-op model, I still feel unsettled. My fear is that a building that is solely rentals, mostly at subsidized rates, could deteriorate into a “project.” Why is this substantially different ?

  2. Sean P.

    Eh, it mandates expensive construction (passive house standards with various amenities) and has a bunch of explicit giveaways to favored organizations (union requirements and the board members are mostly chosen by specific community groups). Maybe we get one $1,000/sqft show building out of the deal before it collapses.

  3. eddiew

    There is a group in opposition; see: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/vote-no-on-i-135-another-mixed-income-housing-agency-wont-cure-citys-affordability-homelessness-crises/
    Many households willingly spend more than 30 percent of their income to live next to good transit or in dense walkable areas; there is a tradeoff between rent and transport costs.
    Tom: I am not sure you characterized the single purpose restriction on ballot measures well; funding may be part of the single purpose. For Eyman and I-695 in 1999 it included both $30 car tabs and changes to governance.

    Fiscally, I-135 seems parallel to recent transit measures. Seattle voted twice on monorail measures without funding components. At the ETC stage, the proponents did not think funding was required. The Murray-Kubly SDOT thought the CCC Streetcar did not require new service subsidy. Both we relying on fairy dust.

    We have a housing affordability crisis. We need funds and land. Both are very scarce. Do we need another government entity competing with the existing ones and the non profits attempting to address the issue? Note that the SHA has mixed income households at several projects (e.g., Yesler Terrace, Othello, Rainier Vista, and High Point). The federal government could be key; only it can deficit spend.

    Friday ST: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/seattle-voters-to-decide-on-social-housing-but-what-is-it/

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