Voters Will Decide Future with 2016 Housing Levy

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.

seattle housing levy

Image credit: Seattle Office of Housing

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

To stay updated on HALA’s work, see

Lena Beck headsotLena 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.


Advocacy Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness

Welcome Sheila Houston! An interview with FFH’s newest team member

Meet Sheila Houston, the newest member of the Faith & Family Homelessness team! Sheila is a Seattle native and lifelong advocate for vulnerable women and children. In the video below, Sheila speaks to what brought her to STM and FFH, how she has experienced domestic violence and homelessness in her own life, and what she and other faith leaders can do to educate and engage their communities around social justice issues like family homelessness. We’re thrilled to have Sheila on board!

Sheila’s Story:

Sheila was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, part of a large family with eight sisters and five brothers. In our interview, she shared some of her own struggle as a young mother living in poverty with an abusive spouse. While with her first husband, she experienced homelessness twice. The first time, she ended up on the streets and in a shelter with her young son to escape her husband’s violence. She described her experience in this way: “It’s not that [my parents] wouldn’t have helped me, but I didn’t want to tell because, you know, you have shame. And so, I ended up finding myself on the streets – my son and I. And I can remember just being in the shelter at that time. . . it really was a lonely place, and it was really hard because I just didn’t know what to do – I was already wounded, I already felt lonely, and now I had my son, and I just didn’t know where to go.”

Domestic Violence Faith and Family Homelessness Faith-based Advocacy School of Theology & Ministry Seattle U

Helping the Homeless: Seattle City Inside/Out Asks How

As temperatures drop, how are Seattle`s homeless coping? The county`s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness is in its eighth year. Is the plan on track?

What new strategies are the city and county pursuing to help this growing population? We meet James Phillips, a recently homeless man, who shares his insights about living on the streets. Our in-studio guests include Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center; Tim Harris, publisher of the homeless newspaper Real Change; Megan Gibbard, the Homeless Youth and Young Adult Initiative project manager for King County; and Vince Matulionis, director of ending homelessness for United Way of King County.

Watch this short (30 minute) video to learn more:

Helping the Homeless pic

Faith and Family Homelessness