Oct 23, 2023 - Politics

Seattle voters to decide on $970 million housing levy

Illustration of a pen filling in a ballot checkbox in the shape of a house.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Seattle voters will soon decide whether to approve a new citywide housing levy, raising about $970 million for affordable housing projects and rental assistance over the next seven years.

Why it matters: Seattle is becoming increasingly unaffordable, pushing out many workers, longtime residents and families.

  • A 2021 analysis commissioned by the city found that Seattle had a shortage of about 21,000 affordable housing units.

Driving the news: The ballot measure, Proposition No. 1, would renew an expiring property tax levy that voters last approved in 2016.

  • It would also roughly triple the levy's tax rate — from about $0.14 per $1,000 in assessed property value under the current levy to $0.45 per $1,000.

By the numbers: If approved, the housing levy would cost the owner of a median-value Seattle home about $383 per year, or $32 per month, the city estimates.

  • That's about $260 more yearly, or $22 more monthly, than under the expiring levy.
  • That's based on a home with an assessed value of about $866,000, the median in Seattle this year, per the county assessor.

Details: Most of the levy money — over $700 million — would go toward building and preserving about 3,500 units of affordable housing over seven years, according to the city.

  • About $30 million would go toward short-term rental assistance and other programs to keep people from falling into homelessness, which city officials estimate would help about 4,500 people.
  • $50 million is aimed at helping people become homeowners by building new affordable homes for sale and helping people afford down payments.
  • $122 million would go toward permanent supportive housing.
  • All told, the levy would help about 9,000 people, city officials estimate.

What they're saying: Mayor Bruce Harrell and groups such as Habitat for Humanity are urging voters to pass the levy, citing the urgency of the city's housing crisis.

  • Ryan Donohue, chief advocacy officer for the local Habitat for Humanity, estimates the levy will cost the average Seattle household roughly "the price of a large pumpkin spice latte every week."
  • That's "a small price to pay to make sure our neighbors have a safe and affordable place to live," Cliff Cawthon, the group's advocacy and policy manager, told Axios.

The other side: According to campaign finance records, there's no organized campaign against the levy.

  • Yet at least one person opposes it, and has written about why in the county voters pamphlet.
  • Roger Valdez of Seattle for Growth argues that the city hasn't solved the housing crisis with the millions it has spent so far and can't be trusted to spend the new money wisely.
  • He told Axios it would be better for the city to provide people with more direct cash assistance for housing, rather than building so many additional units.

What's next: Ballots went out in the mail last week. They must be returned to an official ballot drop box or postmarked by Nov. 7 to be counted.

  • For more information about how to register to vote, how to update your registration and what else is on the ballot, check out our 2023 Seattle voter guide.

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