2016 Housing Levy passed out of committee

This morning the City Council made a handful of updates to the Mayor’s proposed $290 million 2016 Housing Levy and passed it out of committee, setting it up for full Council approval on May 2 and a slot on the August ballot for voter approval.

This morning was the Select Committee on the 2016 Housing Levy’s seventh and final meeting on the Mayor’s proposed levy, which doubled the amount from the 2009 version.

The Council members approved five amendments this morning, all relatively minor changes. They didn’t change the total amount of the levy, nor did they shift funds around between programs around.  The most significant changes were:

  • In response to feedback from the Office of Housing that the new minimum wage is already pushing up the incomes of some low-income families, they authorized some programs that currently target those making 30% or less of Seattle’s annual median income (AMI) to extend that up to 40% of AMI in limited circumstances. In practice, threshold cut-offs for programs can be dangerous things, where in this case the minimum wage increase could push someone barely out of eligibility for housing subsidies and in the end cost them more money than the increased wages gains them. So giving the Office of Housing more flexibility is a great thing.
  • Stepping up the preservation of affordable housing: extending the existing rental production and preservation program to be able to target acquisition of buildings for both affordable rental housing and alternative forms of ownership such as cooperatives that encourage residents to participate in preserving their own affordable housing.  The extended program would also leverage the “float” of cash for other levy programs that becomes available before it is needed in order to make short-term loans for acquiring occupied buildings that will be used to serve households at or below 80% of AMI.

All five amendments passed unanimously with 8-0 votes (Council member Gonzalez was absent), and the final amended version of the housing levy bill also passed quickly and unanimously.

The committee then turned its attention toward a companion resolution that specifies some policy intents the Council would like to see attached to the levy. There are currently twelve points for consideration in the resolution, many asking the Office of Housing to further study specific issues and report back to the Council. Other points require anyone who wishes to use levy funds to create housing that serves the homeless population to adopt All Home’s tenant screening criteria; encourage the development of family-sized affordable housing units, especially in areas of the city with schools, parks, transit and other family-friendly amenities; encourage the dispersion of affordable housing throughout the city; prioritize subpopulations currently struggling with poor access to affordable housing such as LGBTQ youth and seniors and people with disabilities; and require an annual progress report from the Office of Housing on the implementation of the levy-funded programs.  The resolution will get drafted next week.

Both the housing levy bill and the companion policy statement resolution will come before the full Council for approval on Monday, May 2, and should soar through easily.

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