Thousands of new affordable homes will be built thanks to the state Legislature.
HAVING a decent and affordable home is a fundamental human need. For many Washington residents, the cost of housing is a real crisis. And many among us don’t have a home at all.
More than 30,000 children are without a permanent home. About 30 percent of people leaving our state hospitals experience homelessness within a year. And thousands of homeless individuals and families still live on the streets.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray knows this, which is why he formed the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee and set a goal of creating 20,000 new affordable housing units in the city. We commend the mayor, as well as King County Executive Dow Constantine and many nonprofit community organizations for their endeavors for affordable housing.
At the state level, we’re doing our part, too. Aided by grass-roots advocacy organized by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, we made substantial investments and approved major new legislation for affordable housing:
• This year, the Legislature invested $75 million in the Housing Trust Fund to provide housing to those most in need, including people with mental illnesses and disabilities, veterans, seniors, homeless families with children, homeless youths, and farmworkers. This will create and preserve housing not just in urban areas, but also in places such as Skagit County where farmworker housing is critically needed.
• Creating affordable housing and mixed-use communities at transit stations is great urban-growth policy. We enacted an innovative approach to ensure this will occur. Through a change in state law, approximately 65 percent of Sound Transit surplus land and “air rights” (the area above a transit station) must be transferred to local governments, housing authorities and nonprofit housing community organizations to build new housing for people with low and moderate incomes. An example of this is already under way at the new Capitol Hill Sound Transit Link light-rail station, where a local public-development authority will construct about 100 new homes for people living below 30 percent of the area’s median income.
Our thanks go to many state legislators throughout the Sound Transit region and to advocacy groups including Puget Sound Sage, OneAmerica, Transportation Choices Coalition and Futurewise, which helped advocate for such development. These changes will make our region a national model for equitable, affordable and transit-oriented housing.
• Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, gives counties and other jurisdictions the ability to seek a voter-approved 0.1 percent local sales-tax increase to generate revenue for affordable housing for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, senior citizens, veterans and others in critical need. Part of the new funds will also be used for mental-health-treatment programs and other basic services.
• Another new law sponsored by Springer will help low-wage workers, including those in the hospitality industry, to live close to where they work. The hotel-motel tax, which is already in place, is paid primarily by visitors to the state. This legislation enables King County to bond against this revenue stream to provide about $50 million in seed money to acquire sites to construct or preserve low-rent apartments. The notion that working folk should be able to afford to live close to their work is important not just for them, but to all of us using our congested transportation system.
Part of the affordable-housing equation is making sure it stays affordable on a permanent basis. These new state actions recognize that the best way to do that is by ensuring ownership of this housing is vested in community nonprofit agencies or public-housing authorities, which are required to keep the housing units affordable for the long term.
The Legislature made real progress toward the goal of affordable housing for all. As a result, tens of thousands of Washington residents will directly benefit from these tangible actions and related investments.
Passing legislation and allotting funds are just part of the overall picture. We look forward to working together with state legislators, local communities, nonprofit agencies and public authorities to fully implement these efforts to create thousands of new homes people can afford.