Voters will decide in a special election next February whether Seattle should establish a public developer to create permanently affordable housing.
In an unanimous vote Tuesday with no discussion, Seattle City Council passed a resolution to allow King County Elections to put the proposed Initiative 135 on the ballot of a special election on Feb. 14, 2023.
If passed by a simple majority, the measure would establish a public development authority, called the Seattle Social Housing Developer, to build housing and take over existing properties using government and philanthropic funding to create renter-governed housing.
The city would be required to fund the salary and benefits of a chief executive officer and chief financial officer for the first 18 months, and to conduct a feasibility study whenever considering the sale or gift of public land, according to a legislative report.
The City Budget office estimates the two positions would cost around $750,000 for the 18 months, not including other startup costs like office space and supplies.
Proponents of the plan, led by the advocacy coalition House Our Neighbors, argue housing would be protected from rental market forces. The initiative’s language says housing units will be for a range of incomes and won’t be constrained by federal rules in determining who qualifies.
During Tuesday’s public comment, several people spoke in support of the initiative, adding that ensuring sufficient housing would help prevent homelessness.
Council members had the option of passing the initiative as an ordinance or passing an alternative proposal to also go on the ballot, according to the Seattle City Clerk’s office.
King County Elections confirmed in August that the effort, known as “social housing,” had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the February special election.
The initiative fell short about 5,000 signatures in June to qualify for the November general election.
Low-income housing providers, including the Low Income Housing Institute, Solid Ground and and other organizations, have endorsed the plan, while the Housing Development Consortium, a lobbying group whose members include King County’s major nonprofit housing developers, local housing authorities and financial institutions are in opposition.
House Our Neighbors formed last year in opposition to the Compassion Seattle ballot initiative, which would have required the city to build additional shelter space and keep parks and sidewalks clear of encampments. The initiative gathered enough signatures to qualify for last year’s November ballot but was struck down by Washington state’s Court of Appeals.