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Seattle 'social housing' proposal could be headed to voters

Campaigners with Initiative 135 say they've gathered enough signatures to earn a space on the November ballot.

SEATTLE — Organizers of Initiative 135, a proposal that would create a social housing developer for the City of Seattle, say they have collected and turned in sufficient signatures to merit a position on the November ballot. 

If passed, the initiative would create a "Seattle Social Housing Developer" to "develop, own, and maintain social housing for all of the workforce and communities in Seattle."

"What the social housing developer would bring is housing for those people that make 0% of the area median income all the way up to 120% of the area media income, so we're talking about teachers, bus drivers, nurses, people who are rent-burdened continuously in the city, and then all of those who are at the very bottom of the income spectrum," organizer Tiffani McCoy said.

Organizers say it differs from public/nonprofit housing models in that it is not federally financed, meaning it is not subject to those specific requirements. Rent would be permanently restricted, building governance would be run by renters and the tenant income range would go up to 120%, allowing for more workforce housing for people making in the 80-120% range.

"Your bus drivers, your school teachers, lab technicians, those are a few, those are folks making in that income spectrum, and they are still being priced out of the city all the time because they're not able to afford private income rent that is just continuing to rise and there's no end in sight," McCoy said.

Rent would be based on income and if someone grows in their career and makes more money, they could pay more as opposed to needing to move. Organizers say legally, they could not include a funding mechanism in this initiative; if it passes, it would begin an organizing board and they would then begin a campaign for funding. 

In King County, petitions go through a four-step process of organization, gathering, petition submittal and signature verification. The signature verification process for I-135 is set to begin Tuesday, July 5 at 9 a.m., with 26,520 signatures required and 27,527 submitted.

King County Elections says if the petition has a sufficient number of verified signatures, the Seattle City Council would need to pass a resolution to add it to the November ballot by Aug. 2. If it has an insufficient number, rules in Seattle would allow campaigners 20 days to collect more signatures as opposed to starting a completely new petition.

The City of Seattle said once it is referred to council, members will have four options. They can pass the initiative as an ordinance, reject it, fail to act on it or reject it and pass a different measure dealing with the subject. If they reject it or fail to act upon it within 45 days from when it was introduced to them, the initiative will go before voters at the next regularly scheduled election. 

If they choose to pass another measure, both measures will go before voters at the next regularly scheduled election or an earlier election if the council decides to produce one.

Since the launch of the campaign, a number of groups have come out in opposition to or in support of the measure. 

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