Ballots sent to Seattle mailboxes last week ask voters to decide whether to create a new housing authority tasked with bringing people of all income levels together in housing developments that offer some protection from rental market forces.
Initiative 135 would create a social housing authority — essentially an agency that uses a mix of public and philanthropic dollars to develop new, dense housing and buy existing properties. The properties would be governed by the renters who live there.
This model is picking up steam in other states, including Hawaii and California, and is popular in other countries, including Austria and Singapore.
The measure was created in response to the 2021 failed Charter Amendment 29 called Compassion Seattle, which proposed requiring the city to build 2,000 shelter units while keeping parks and sidewalks clear of encampments.
While the social housing measure is vague on where the funds to operate the new authority would come from, the initiative’s sponsor, housing and homelessness advocacy coalition House Our Neighbors, said it is confident that it could work.
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 Seattle 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.
The measure has also seen support from some nonprofit homeless service providers, tenants rights groups, labor unions, Democratic organizations and progressive officials.
A local group of low-income housing developers previously opposed the measure, saying it would be redundant with existing public housing authorities that are primarily funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now, they have taken a “neutral” stance.
Ballots must be postmarked or placed in a drop box by Feb. 14.