On August 2, 2016, Seattle residents voted to approve a new housing levy worth $290 million over the course of seven years to help support affordable housing. This levy, also called Seattle Proposition Number 1, passed with an impressive 68% of voters casting their ballots in favor of the increased housing levy. Local lawmakers are applauding city residents for voting to “put their money where their hearts are” by supporting the levy that will build or help fix and maintain more than 2,150 affordable housing units.
A Historical Perspective on Housing Levies in Seattle
This is far from the first time that Seattle voters have approved housing levies in order to help promote affordable housing for those most in need within the city. Since 1981, Seattle voters have voted five times to approach levies and bonds to support affordable housing. In 1981, voters passed the 1981 Senior Housing Bond, which allocated over $48 million to the creation and preservation of affordable housing units for senior citizens. Then, in 1986, voters approved a levy of more than $49 million over eight years to help provide affordable housing for large families, small families, families and individuals with special needs, and the upkeep and maintenance of existing units through the city and Downtown area.
In 1995, Seattle voters approved a levy of more than $59 million over seven years to help preserve and create new affordable housing, as well as assistance for homebuyers and repair assistance funds for homeowners. In 2002, voters approved a levy of $86 million over seven years, and again approved a levy in 2009 for $145 million over five years. The passage of the 2016 levy worth $290 million (twice the amount of the 2009 levy) over the course of seven years shows that Seattle residents understand the importance of keeping affordable housing available for low- and middle-income households.
The Impact on Seattle as a City
Seattle has seen increasing homelessness and indigence since the beginning of The Great Recession. As the national economy has strengthened, there has been a rise in rental prices across the country, and the Seattle area is not immune to this inflation. Housing costs have soared, in part due to the overall purchase price of homes increasing. Areas that were once affordable are becoming gentrified, pricing those who have lived there for years out of their community and displacing them. Those working low- and middle-wage jobs may currently or soon find housing costs are no longer realistic when compared with their income. The city has seen an increase in homeless encampments and complaints of housing inequality.
While previous levies and bonds have helped fund over 12,500 affordable apartments, the number of homeless and those struggling to stay off the streets makes it clear that there is still great need for affordable housing and housing subsidies. These funds created by the newly passed levy will help ensure that those who are most vulnerable, such as young families, families with special needs members, and the recently homeless will have affordable shelter despite the ever-increasing price of home ownership.
In addition to the affordable housing rental units, these levies have helped to provide home purchase assistance to first time homeowners from low- and middle-income families and home repair assistance to homeowners in the same income brackets. These funds make residents and citizens of Seattle feel like a part of the city via homeownership, making them more likely to invest in their community via their home, their spending habits, and their volunteer time.
The Impact on Individual Homeowners
For those who own homes in the Seattle area, the passage of a new levy means an increased financial burden in the form of taxes. However, in terms of cost, the 2016 housing levy will have minimal impact on residents.
The levy, as it was passed, provides for the collection and dispensing of $290 million over the course of seven years. This means that the impact on the average homeowner will be minimal. For those who own a home in Seattle that is worth $480,000, their contribution to this levy will amount to $122 annually for seven years, or $10.17 each month. For the cost of two coffee drinks a month, local residents can know that their property taxes are going to maintain existing, and create new, affordable housing for low- and middle-wage employees.
This, in turn, will help reduce indigence and homelessness in the area, preventing homeless encampments from popping up and impacting home values or the safety and livability of an area. Additionally, the increase in homeownership and community investment aims to spur a greater sense of community within the city, leading to increased community and city pride and possibly even reduction in crimes.
Overall, the 2016 Housing Levy aims to be a positive addition, both for those who have need of affordable housing and those in a position to help fund it. What do you think?