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Housing Access in Seattle: Where We Are and Where We Are Going

From L-to-R: Marcia Wright-Soika, Jamie Lee, Patience Malaba and Susan Boyd speak at the Seattle Women's Commission Housing Access panel.

On November 15th, the Seattle Women’s Commission hosted an incredible panel of guests to discuss recent state-wide housing legislation and considerations following the passing of the City of Seattle Housing Levy. Panelists included:

  • Susan Boyd, CEO of Bellwether Housing and co-chair of Housing Development Consortium’s Housing Levy Task Force
  • Jamie Lee. Co-Executive Director of Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda)
  • Patience Malaba, Executive Director of Housing Development Consortium
  • Emily Alvarado, WA State Representative, 34th Legislative District
  • Darya Farivar, WA State Representative, 46th Legislative District

Key Issues Raised

  • Stigma is a key issue raised by several panelists. Communities need to have dialogue to figure out how to integrate supported housing services into their neighborhoods. Key questions to ask include: How do we support people who are experiencing behavioral health crises? Criminal legal involvement? Homelessness?
  • The cost of housing is increasing faster than any type of income making housing unaffordable. Housing costs require people to make choices between basic needs and/or move out of Seattle. 
  • There is not enough housing supply at any income level. There are certain policies like zoning changes that would help, but panelists advocated for large scale government intervention.
  • Much exists beyond housing units. Panelists shared the need to consider supportive services within buildings, ground floor tenants (businesses/organizations) that might connect with the tenant community, and staff that work in buildings. This is all integral to not just housing people but supporting them to successfully remain in housing.

Current Progress

Washington State representatives Emily Alvarado and Darya Farivar highlighted the following wins at the State legislature:

  • HB 1110 – “Increasing middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing.”
  • $400 million invested in the Housing Trust Fund which is the state’s tool for investing in affordable housing.
  • Covenant Homeownership Act which helps to advance racial equity in home ownership.

Future Considerations

Washington State representatives Emily Alvarado and Darya Farivar shared the following priorities for the next legislative session:

  • Diversion: Continued investment for people at the intersection of the behavioral health and criminal legal systems, including resources and services to support them in housing.
  • Dedicated funding source for housing: Because there is no dedicated source of funding for housing at the state level, this is a fight at every legislative session.
  • Rent stabilization: Washington State is behind the curve on rent stabilization.
  • Progressive revenue: The State needs increased progressive revenue to invest upstream to help support people’s basic needs. 

City of Seattle Housing Levy

In the November 2023 election, Seattle voters voted to renew the City of Seattle housing levy. The housing levy is a voter approved property tax that operates on a 7-year cycle. It is a dedicated source of funding for housing across Seattle. In the last levy cycle, more than 12,000 units were developed and preserved and 1,000 home ownership opportunities facilitated. Panelists shared the importance of the 2023 levy passing and the impact it will have for housing including the following:

  • Culture and community: The levy allows organizations like SCIDpda to build and retain community as the city shifts and to build culturally responsive housing.
  • Housing as a public good: Public goods need deep public investment
  • Dedicated funding source: The levy is a dedicated source of funding for housing in Seattle, but it unfortunately is just one piece of the puzzle as the scale of need is much higher than the funds raised from the levy.

Taking Action

Panelists offered their advice and encouragement about what everyone from policy makers to concerned citizens can do to support housing access in Seattle:

  • Showing up is half the battle.
  • Have individual conversations with those who may be dismayed about paying an additional tax: this is what is needed to support housing access in Seattle.
  • Speak out in support of the Seattle City Council adding necessary provisions to the 2024 Comprehensive Plan to increase affordable housing.
  • Housing and public safety are connected – remember this.

Our Vision

Representative Emily Alvarado summarized the vision of Seattle Women’s Commission perfectly in her closing statement on the panel:

“Housing is a basic need and we have to treat it like that. Everyone deserves housing choice and housing stability. We are far from that. My vision is a place where people see someone’s else’s housing instability as fundamentally interconnected with their own stability. We have seen it in other realms, health, education, but we are not there on housing. The kind of human suffering we are seeing, I would argue that it is bad for democracy and bad for each and every one of us. We all do better, when we all do better.”

The Seattle Women’s Commission advises the Mayor, City Council and city departments on issues that impact the women of Seattle. The Commission identifies areas of concern and recommends policy and legislation, provides feedback and opinion on issues of city and state budget, and acts as a liaison between the women of Seattle and City government.