A Seattle City Council member believes she has an idea that could keep people from leaving the city because of high prices.
“There are two components that work together: a housing bond and a growth fund,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
She says it fills in the gaps where a housing levy leaves off. The levy supports homeless and those who are extremely low income. This could help people like those making low to moderate incomes who are struggling to afford housing cost increases happening in the city.
"We want to be able to get some of those properties into the hands of non-profit developers so that they can make sure that the tenants who live in that building can stay there,” Herbold said. “A lot of our housing policies are focused on developing housing for the folks who will come, but we really need to have a much sharper focus on how we can make sure we’re a city that maintains its economic and racial diversity.”
Boyd Pickrell of Homestead Community Land Trust said the percentage of people who own homes in Seattle is a lot less on average than the rest of the country, 46 percent versus 64 percent respectively.
"The median home price in March in Seattle hit $645,000,” Pickrell told the council. “If you are able to somehow cobble together $65,000 for a 10 percent down payment, you still need $130,000 annual income to afford that mortgage. And that's the median home price."
This wouldn't be the first time councilmembers would do something like this. In fact, there was a similar program councilmembers enacted between 1985 and 2002. It allocated $15.4 million, according to council stats, financed 32 projects and preserved 2,100 units.
Non-profit organizations would help in coordinating preservation, but resident organizations could too.
"So the people who are living in a building could potentially buy the building and keep it affordable by converting it into a, let's say, resident-owned co-op,” said Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute.
The Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee took no vote Wednesday, but Herbold’s plan is another affordable housing proposal sure to spark more debate in the coming months.
"I think the growth fund is complicated in a number of ways that, to me, kind of distracts from the fundamental issue,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said.
Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the committee, summarized the question at hand.
“What share of the tax revenues that we are able to collect from the taxpayers of the City of Seattle do we want to dedicate to affordable housing,” he asked. ““In essence, what we’re doing is we’re taking … of all the money we can collect through all the various means we have … How do we want to allocate those funds for affordable housing?”