The solution to a housing crisis is more affordable homes.
May I suggest an 18th-century rural solution to a 21st-century urban crisis? We need an old-fashioned barn raising. While technology is moving at the speed of light, humanity hasn’t really changed.
We all want healthy, livable communities. We know that cities are living, growing organisms — and while change is inevitable, change can also be equitable. If we honor our values — innovation, inclusion, shared prosperity — then our region can grow with grace, honoring social and cultural diversity, addressing the racist legacy of redlining, and creating a community where each person feels they belong, and every person has a safe and stable place to call home.
For nearly 20 years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working to strengthen our region’s response to families who are in crisis, whether experiencing homelessness right now or at-risk because of rising rents. We have seen major achievements — including better public systems, and more accurate data — which tells us that families who become homeless now spend less time unsheltered and are less likely to return to homelessness once housed. But more families are becoming homeless, and there just aren’t enough places for them to go.
There are no easy answers, and “affordable housing” is easier said than done. On top of that, while a stable home is essential, supports for education, job training, mental health and overcoming addiction are in short supply and under-resourced.
Local governments can encourage mixed-income neighborhoods through zoning and building codes, tax incentives, and public investment in housing and behavioral health. But we cannot expect government to do this alone. Here’s where the barn raising comes in — it’s a matter of broad community support and coordinated action. It means living our values.
This collaborative approach is already happening. Seattle and King County are uniting resources, planning and services to better coordinate a regional government response to homelessness. Businesses are stepping up: Microsoft is offering low-interest loans for affordable housing, Amazon is providing space for Mary’s Place family shelter, and the Seattle Chamber is advocating for affordable housing and connecting property owners with ways to help. State policies, like eviction reform, the Housing Trust Fund and behavioral-health services are on the table in the upcoming legislative session. And nonprofits are getting creative in the quest to build more places for people to live.
“Rise Together” is a consortium of five nonprofits that traditionally served different communities: Africatown Community Land Trust, Byrd Barr Place, Capitol Hill Housing, Southwest Youth & Family Services, and White Center Community Development Association. After two years of planning, the consortium is now sharing staff and resources, and pooling capital rather than competing. Another nonprofit innovation is Bellwether Housing’s “Building Opportunity Fund,” crowdfunding impact investments as part of their capital campaign.
These projects are collaborative, community-driven and effective — which is why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing in both. Together, these efforts will create nearly 1,200 affordable places to live — many in neighborhoods that are historically home to people of color, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ seniors and families who are striving to make ends meet. To complement these homes for families and working adults, we’re also supporting YouthCare for an additional 75 units of housing and services for young people. These are just a few of our local grants for housing and supportive services, bringing our support for these basic needs to nearly $26 million over the past four years.
Centuries ago, neighbors came together to build a barn because that’s what people needed — and it’s hard for any one of us to build alone. Right now, our neighbors need more affordable homes, and we can meet that need together. Our economy is more complex and interconnected than ever, our technology is more advanced than ever, but the basic needs of people remain the same — food, shelter, safety, health and love.