This year, Seattle will invest the most it ever has in affordable housing, a total of $110 million, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday.
All of that funding will go toward the construction and redevelopment of new units, the most ever generated through Seattle investments in a single year – 1,944 in full – across the city.
Durkan, speaking from the Rainier Beach meeting hall of the Ethiopian Community in Seattle (ECS) on Monday afternoon, stressed the urgent need for affordable housing in a time of great economic growth and displacement.
“Look, we know that our city has grown so rapidly, and so many people have been pushed out of the community instantly, that I think it really threatens who we are as a city,” Durkan said.
Ethiopian Village, an ECS project that received $10.7 million from the city as part of today’s announcement, aims to counter some of this displacement by providing 89 units for low-income seniors in the neighborhood.
Seattle taxpayers have decided to fund much of the city’s affordable-housing investment through the Seattle Housing Levy, last renewed for another seven-year period in 2016, but this year the city was also able to use a state sales-tax credit authorized by the Washington Legislature last session. It allows local governments to invest in affordable housing. An additional $13.3 million came from that tax credit, as did $32 million from real estate excise-tax revenue and $12.75 million from the sale of the Mercer Mega Block.
Emily Alvarado, director of the Seattle Office of Housing, stressed that federal dollars only made up a “modest” contribution to this year’s investments.
“We need far more federal resources, and federal reinvestment, if we are going to fully address our housing and homelessness challenges,” Alvarado said at Monday afternoon’s news conference. Funding from the federal government has remained stagnant in recent years, according to the Office of Housing, and other funding sources have grown to make up the difference.
The new investments will help fund construction of 11 buildings for low-income families, individuals and seniors, as well as 304 permanent, supportive housing units for people who have been chronically homeless.
The city’s single biggest investment, at $14.3 million, is dedicated to housing families and individuals making up to 60% of the area median income, $66,400 for a family of four and $46,500 for an individual at the Mount Baker Housing Association’s Via7 building in Rainier Beach.
A third of the building’s 221 units will have two or three bedrooms, able to house larger families, and the ground floor of the building will house a Community Food Center provided by Rainier Valley Food Bank.
Another project in Beacon Hill, North Lot, will create 154 units of affordable housing for people at risk of displacement from North Beacon Hill and the Chinatown International District. It will include a child care facility operated by El Centro de la Raza, based in Beacon Hill, as well as a health care center for seniors run by Kin On Health Care Center and International Community Health Services.
In addition to the senior housing slated for Ethiopian Village, funding will also go to The Eldridge on Capitol Hill to provide 125 units for seniors, with special attention paid to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning/Queer) senior community. It’s the first project of its kind in Seattle, according to the Office of Housing.
“This is really a historic year for investment, both in the amount of resources that we were able to invest and in the amount of resources we were able to produce,” Alvarado said in an interview.
The added revenue from the state sales-tax credit, Alvarado added, meant the city could allot more money to permanent supportive housing, an intervention measure to house people with long histories on the street.
Three buildings are dedicated to, or have units set aside for, people who have been chronically homeless. They include the 12th & Spruce Supportive Housing building by Plymouth Housing in First Hill; the Downtown Emergency Services Center’s (DESC’s) Hobson Place II in the North Rainier neighborhood; and the Madison/Boylston Project building from Bellwether Housing and Plymouth Housing in First Hill.
A study on permanent, supportive housing published by Seattle University School of Law’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project over the summer concluded that providing this kind of housing for the chronically homeless decreased other public costs in emergency-room visits, hospital admissions and incarceration incurred by people who would otherwise still be on the street.