By Lena Beck, School of Theology and Ministry Social Justice Intern
Let’s play a word association game. Ready? When I say “Seattle,” you list the first things you think of. Ok. Seattle. Space Needle. Rain. Housing crisis.
It’s not as though the need is new—this city has long been lacking in sufficient access to affordable housing. Residents have voted to fund more low-cost units since 1981, and even though those levies exceeded their initial goals, Seattle remains in the deep end of an affordable housing crisis. With another opportunity to make change coming up on the August 2nd primary ballot, many voters are hoping that this levy could be the one.
Like Portland, San Francisco, and other rapidly expanding cities, average rent prices in Seattle are much higher than can be met by people with modest incomes. Over 45,000 households in the city have to use more than half their wages to cover their housing costs. According to the Seattle city government, the average one bedroom apartment in town costs $1,544 per month, and two people would need to be earning $15/hour full time to sustain that housing cost burden. With Seattle’s minimum wage currently still less than that, there’s a noticeable gap that makes it pretty obvious: Seattle is up to its neck in a crisis, and desperately in need of housing that is more affordable.
Enter Prop 1, the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy. It is meant to both replace and build upon the levy that is currently on its way out, and its basic stats are as follows: It is a tax increase that will raise $290 million for the city to direct towards affordable housing over the course of seven years, costing the average homeowner about $10.17/month. This money will be invested into three main sectors. First, it will create and preserve 2,150 affordable apartment units within Seattle. Secondly, it will reinvest in 350 apartments that already exist. Last but not least, it will support the operations of 510 affordable units.
This levy comes as public attention to housing and homelessness issues in our region has increased dramatically over the past year or two. In September 2014, Seattle City Council and the Mayor’s Office convened a diverse 28-member stakeholder group to develop a strategy around housing affordability and availability, resulting in the creation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in July 2015—a list of more than sixty recommendations for how the city can legislatively address the affordable housing crisis. A few months later, Mayor Murray and County Exective Dow Constantine jointly declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle and King County. Throughout, we have rarely seen a day when housing and/or homelessness have not made the news in our city.
This newest housing levy has made it onto the ballot during a time when advocates and laypeople are actively looking for solutions.
The Seattle Times wrote a compelling editorial this week discussing the levy, highlighting both the city’s intense need for a proposition like this one, as well as encouraging voters to keep demanding similar changes with less overhead costs. The message is clear—the voter say-so in this case is going to have a huge impact on what our city looks like in a decade. While primary elections often slip by unnoticed, this is an issue that as it grows, affects all Seattleites. Whether you check yes or no on your ballot, be sure you have a say in how our city handles its affordable housing emergency.
For more information on the 2016 Housing Levy, visit http://www.seattle.gov/housing/levy
Lena Beck is interning with the School of Theology and Ministry this summer. A rising senior at Seattle University, Lena will be graduating in 2017 with a BA in Humanities for Leadership, as well as a specialization in Journalism and English. She originally became acquainted with the School of Theology and Ministry’s homelessness initiative while working as a writer for the university’s weekly newspaper, the Spectator. After interviewing Program Manager Lisa in the spring of 2015, she felt pulled by the work and eventually asked to come aboard in an internship capacity.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Lena feels at home in the Pacific Northwest and is currently living in Capitol Hill, Seattle. She loves hiking, reading and getting to know the Seattle community.