Mayor proposes ordinance to require all new residential multifamily developments contribute to affordable housing

MHA press conference

Mayor Ed Murray today unveiled his proposal to enact a residential Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA-R) program, which will require that new multifamily residential development in Seattle contribute to affordable housing, either with affordable homes in the building or payments to help construct them throughout the city.

The measure is the next step of implementing the Grand Bargain, an agreement between affordable housing advocates and private developers that will create an estimated 6,000 affordable homes in Seattle over the next ten years.

“As Seattle grows, we can ensure that people of all backgrounds can find affordable homes in walkable, livable neighborhoods,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Everyone who works in Seattle should be able to afford to live here. We will continue our community engagement process to find the right balance for businesses, residents, and advocates so that we are smart about how and where we grow.”

“The Mandatory Housing Affordability framework is an innovative, permanent solution which will provide our city with a continual source of new affordable housing,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson. “We owe this not just to our current residents, who are struggling with increasing housing costs, but to future residents who will benefit from the units we create today and tomorrow.”

“As rents climb, people face the prospect of displacement or even homelessness, and this component of the comprehensive housing affordability strategy is essential to keeping lower-income workers housed in Seattle,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, District 6, Northwest Seattle. “I look forward to collaborating with the community as we move toward implementation of this mandatory housing affordability program.”

Key features of the MHA-R framework are:

  • Requires inclusion of affordable housing or in-lieu payment to support affordable housing in zones that have been granted additional development capacity.
  • Applies any time one or more new dwelling units, live/work units, or congregate residence sleeping rooms are constructed or added to an existing building.
  • Rental housing created would serve households with incomes no greater than 60% of area median income (AMI) for a term of 50 years.
  • Ownership housing created would serve households with incomes no greater than 80% of AMI for a term of 50 years.
  • Funds received through the in-lieu payment option will be used to produce or preserve affordable housing, primarily for renter households with incomes equal to or less than 60% AMI.

The new multi-family developments will set aside five to eight percent of units as affordable for residents earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for 50 years. In 2016, 60 percent of AMI is $38,000 for an individual and $54,000 for a family of four.

“Seattle is my home and I am seeing many in my community being forced to leave.  Some are planning for it and some are barely holding on,” said Casey Gifford, neighborhood affordability advocate. “While our community has seen change, that change has come with less affordability.  The Mandatory Housing program will require affordability as we grow, and make some new options for those that may want to stay.”

Current market rates for a newer one-bedroom unit range from $1,399 to $1,887 in Seattle. The table below shows average monthly rent rates by neighborhood for buildings built since 2010:

Ballard $1,769
Capitol Hill/Eastlake $1,887
Green Lake / Wallingford $1,671
Queen Anne $1,694
Rainier Valley $1,399
West Seattle $1,615

In comparison, the affordable rate (30% of a household’s monthly income) for a one-bedroom unit for an individual earning 60 percent AMI is $1,017. Under the proposed MHA-R framework, rents for new affordable housing units would be set at this price.

“As a developer of market rate homes and a member of this community, I want to be a part of the solution that helps to build a more affordable and livable city,” said Maria Barrientos, principal at Barrientos Development LLC.  “I want to help create a city where hard working people can live, where my son that has recently graduated from college can afford to call home, and where the people that make up a diverse and thriving community don’t struggle to stay.  The Mandatory Housing Affordability program is a good step forward.”

The proposal released today sets up the program that requires any increase in development capacity or future changes in zoning to result in increased affordability. City planners and stakeholders will continue conversations and outreach with community members to determine what future changes may look like in their neighborhoods.

In exchange for creating more affordable housing, developers will be able to access additional development capacity in Urban Villages and Centers. Other cities in the region such as Issaquah, Kirkland, and Federal Way have already begun to use Mandatory Housing Affordability programs to address affordable housing needs.

The mayor’s proposal was developed by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee  (HALA) last year. At the core of that agreement was the creation of commercial and residential Mandatory Housing Affordability programs, requiring developers of new commercial or multi-family residential development to contribute to affordable homes. A Director’s summary of the measure can be found here. Full text of the ordinance can be found here.


Mayor Murray introduces first phase of ‘Shared Vision for Lake City’

Mayor Ed Murray has unveiled the first proposal of the Shared Vision for Lake City. The measure calls for expanded pedestrian access, rezones within the Lake City hub urban village and along Lake City Way, and more flexible uses of commercial space.

“By working directly with community groups and advocates, we are creating a stronger and more walkable Lake City business district,” said Murray. “This proposal builds on Lake City’s main street character, by expanding the neighborhood center through better walking connections and more commercial opportunities. As Seattle grows, it is important that we work together to create a compelling vision for the future that reflects the needs of our neighborhoods.”

It has been estimated that Seattle will add 120,000 residents and 115,000 jobs in the next 20 years. As housing development has grown in Seattle’s Urban Villages and Urban Centers, investments in neighborhood amenities have not always kept pace.

“This innovative initiative reflects Lake City’s ongoing commitment to economic vitality and commercial vibrancy,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez, who represents the Lake City community. “Lake City will become more modern and pedestrian-friendly, enhancing our unique sense of community and livability.”

In February of this year, Mayor Murray announced that Lake City would be the first neighborhood to work with the new Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) on an integrated approach involving all City departments and expanded community input.  Today’s announcement marks the first implementation of the Shared Vision for Lake City that will help create more pedestrian oriented-neighborhood as property develops.

These rezones, which do not include height increases, would:

  • Change Commercial 1 zoning to Neighborhood Commercial 3 zoning within the hub urban village and along Lake City Way between NE 97th Street and NE 143rd
  • Change multifamily residential zoning to neighborhood commercial zoning along NE 125th
  • Expand the existing pedestrian designation approximately three blocks to the west and one block to the north, requiring active street-level uses.
  • Allow more flexibility for ground floor uses outside of the business core.
  • Create new development standards that will control building bulk on large lots.

These proposals are the result of a collaborative process between City departments and Lake City Future First, which is comprised of several community groups, service providers, business and property owners. Input about the desired character of Lake City was received from numerous community groups and at a variety of community meetings over the past three years.

“We look forward to continued collaboration with the City to address the issues of all the people who live and work in Lake City,” said Chris Leverson, Executive Director of Lake City Future First. “We hope that the proposed Lake City development standards will help create a more pedestrian-oriented neighborhood over time.”

Upcoming priorities to be addressed in the Shared Vision for Lake City will include community input for creating a more vibrant business district, providing new workforce housing, additional senior services, a new pre-school, installing new sidewalks with natural drainage systems, and increased programming for young people through Seattle Parks and Recreation. Additionally, City staff will coordinate with Lake City Future First and the broader community to prioritize sidewalk locations that provide safe routes to school.

More information about the proposed zoning changes is available here.  For further questions, please contact Katie Sheehy, planner at the Office of Planning and Community Development: or (206) 684-5345.

Murray proposes ordinance to protect renters against discrimination based on source of income

Mayor Ed Murray today transmitted legislation to the City Council expanding fair housing protections for renters using subsidies or alternative sources of income to pay their rent. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) also released new guidelines on the use of preferred employer discounts in rental housing.

“For Seattle to become more affordable, we must reduce the barriers that our most vulnerable residents face finding a home to rent,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “If someone receives veteran’s benefits or child support payments, they should be able to use that income to rent an apartment and not be turned away. We also need to ensure that properties that offer discounts to employees of a specific company are not having an impact on other renters.”

The mayor’s proposed legislation expands civil rights protection to renters with legal and verifiable non-wage sources of income such as Social Security, veteran’s benefits, and child support. It also extends these same protections to our most vulnerable renters and people experiencing homelessness who use rental assistance provided through rapid rehousing or subsides to prevent eviction. Currently, Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance only offers protection to Section 8 voucher holders.

“We recently represented a client whose landlord gave notice to all the tenants in the building that rental subsidies would no longer be accepted,” said Merf Ehman of Columbia Legal Services.  “We also saw an admissions policy where a landlord will not accept tenants with protected income like retirement or disability benefits. Landlords should not be able to discriminate against people just because they are retired, disabled or utilize a subsidy.”

The legislation also:

  • Prohibits a landlord from denying a housing application solely because an applicant uses subsidies or alternative sources of income to pay rent.
  • Prohibits a landlord from evicting, harassing, or retaliating against a tenant for using alternative sources of income to pay rent, or using advertisements that state a preference on income.
  • Lays out rules for how landlords should calculate subsidies and alternative sources of income if they elect to use rent to income ratios when screening tenants.

A recommendation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee, the legislation was developed with input from a stakeholder committee comprised of tenant advocates, landlords, social service agencies and nonprofit housing providers.

Today, SOCR also released formal guidance on the use of preferred employer programs in rental housing. In 2015, media and community members reported that property management companies were offering discounts on deposits and other move-in fees to rental applicants who worked for particular employers. These discounts were reportedly not offered to other applicants. Given Seattle’s high rents and increasing affordability challenge, incentives and opportunities for certain groups over others may perpetuate existing racial, gender and other social inequities.

SOCR has developed Enforcement Guidance on the Use of Preferred Employer Programs in rental housing. SOCR has concluded that in some instances, preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08) if that program is shown to have a disparate impact on one or more protected classes.

“We will look at complaints about preferred employer programs on a case by case basis,” said Patricia Lally, SOCR Director. “Some programs may be legal; others may cross the line and violate our fair housing law.”

To determine the legality of a specific preferred employer program, SOCR will conduct a disparate impact analysis outlined by HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule. The rule covers practices that may adversely impact a group of people who are covered under the law, even if the practice itself appears neutral on its face. SOCR’s Guidance also describes how the Office would conduct an investigation of a disparate impact complaint.

Renters who feel they may have been impacted by a preferred employer program in rental housing should contact the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206-684-4500, or submit information at

Murray proposes Seattle Housing Levy for August ballot

Building on over 30 years of success, today Mayor Ed Murray delivered his proposal to City Council to replace and expand the Seattle Housing Levy in 2016. His $290 million proposal follows three months of stakeholder and community engagement to discuss the levy and hear what the community’s priorities are for this affordable housing resource.

“Expanding the Housing Levy is the most important thing we will do this year to support affordability in Seattle,” said Mayor Murray. “The levy is a powerful resource to build more affordable homes for low-income families and help people at risk for falling into homelessness. We value an equitable and diverse city and we will renew our commitment to affordable housing.”

The Mayor is recommending the Housing Levy be placed on the August ballot.

The City Council has created a select committee, chaired by Councilmember Tim Burgess, to consider the Mayor’s proposal. A public hearing on the proposal will take place at City Hall on April 4, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.

Responding to a broad range of affordability needs in Seattle, Mayor Murray’s 2016 Housing Levy proposal will produce affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, low-wage workers and people experiencing homelessness. The levy also provides funding for homelessness prevention and homeownership assistance. The program areas include:

  • Rental Production and Preservation ($201 million capital funding; $42 million operating funding): The levy proposal will produce and preserve at least 2,150 apartments; each will be affordable to low-income families and individuals for at least 50 years. The capital funds will also support reinvestment in 350 existing affordable apartments. The proposal also provides operating funds to supplement tenant-paid rent in 510 apartments serving extremely low-income residents.
  • Homelessness Prevention ($11.5 million): The levy proposal will provide short-term rent assistance and stability services for 4,500 families that are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness.
  • Homeownership ($9.5 million): The levy proposal will help 100 current low-income homeowners stay in their homes, and help 180 first-time homebuyers with limited income find a stable and affordable home for their family.

At least 60 percent of the combined Rental Production and Preservation and Operating and Maintenance funds ($145.8 million) will serve our most vulnerable neighbors, those who are currently experiencing homelessness and those who earn no more than 30 percent of area median income ($21,550 for a two-person household). The remainder of the Rental Production and Preservation funds will be dedicated to serving lower-wage workers who earn less than 60 percent of area median income ($43,020 for a two-person household).

The 7-year measure will cost the owner of a median value home in Seattle ($480,000) $122 per year. The current Housing Levy, which will expire at the end of the year, costs a median value homeowner $61 per year.

“People in Seattle have shown strong support for affordable housing over the last 35 years and our recent community outreach shows that this is still a strong value in our community,” stated Steve Walker, director of the Office of Housing. “The Mayor’s proposal aligns with what we heard, that the Housing Levy should prioritize helping those most in need.”

In 1981, Seattle voters were the first in the nation to approve a property tax ballot measure to support affordable housing with the passage of the Senior Housing Bond. In 1986, 1995, 2002 and 2009 voters have approved the Seattle Housing Levy, each time renewing and expanding the commitment to fund the construction and preservation of affordable housing.

“The Housing Levy is a unique and proven tool that works,” stated Marty Kooistra, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium. “Seattle has a dedicated affordable housing development community that has a track record of making sound use of public and private resources to make our city more equitable.”

To date, the Seattle Housing Levy has funded over 12,500 affordable apartments throughout the city, helped 800 families purchase their first home, and provided emergency rent assistance to 6,500 families. Every housing levy has met and exceeded its goals.

“For Seattle to live out its values of inclusion and racial equity, we must renew and expand the Seattle Housing Levy so that our city does not leave out the most vulnerable population, those with low incomes and people of color,” stated Rebecca Saldaña, executive director of Puget Sound Sage. “Everyone should have the opportunity to call Seattle home.”

“Investing in supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness is critical,” stated Paul Lambros, director of Plymouth Housing Group. “Increasing the Housing Levy builds on a proven track record of getting people off the streets and into stable housing.”

“The Housing Levy continues to be our best resource for providing affordable housing for the lowest income individuals and families in our city,” stated Faith Pettis, co-chair of the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee. “Expanding the Levy is a critical part of creating 20,000 new affordable homes in the next 10 years.”

“Seattle has had a long tradition of generously investing in housing by supporting housing levies over the past three decades,” stated Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association. “Particularly with our current growth, we must continue to ensure that we have adequate housing options for people at the lowest income brackets.”

More information on the Seattle Housing Levy is available at

Construction of 108 affordable homes begins at Othello Rail Station

Mercy Othello

Mercy Housing Northwest, one of the region’s largest not-for-profit affordable housing providers, hosted a celebration event at noon on Thursday to mark the start of construction of Mercy Othello Plaza. Bill Rumpf, Regional President, was the Master of Ceremony. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff and community leaders joined Mercy Housing staff in the celebration.

“There is a clear need in Seattle for affordable family-sized housing, and Mercy Othello Plaza helps meet that need,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “This is exactly the type of investment that helps make Seattle a more affordable and livable place for working families, new immigrants to this country and those facing obstacles to stable housing. When this project is complete, residents will live in a diverse neighborhood steps away from open spaces, health services and transit options that connect them to jobs and educational opportunities throughout the city.”

“With Mercy Othello Plaza, we’re connecting affordable housing with reliable light-rail service and creating a model for vibrant communities for the future,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Mercy Othello Plaza, located in the Rainier Valley in southeast Seattle, will provide 108 energy-efficient apartments for families. Over 60% of the apartments will have two or three bedrooms. Located one block from the Othello light rail station, families will have direct access to downtown, the airport and, soon, the University of Washington. Mercy Housing Northwest will relocate its headquarters from downtown to become the project’s anchor tenant in the ground floor office space.

“We are pleased to serve the critical need for affordable rental homes for families– most new construction happening now is small apartments,” said Bill Rumpf, Regional President of Mercy Housing Northwest. “Being located by Othello light rail is ideal for parents and children getting to jobs, school and other destinations.”

When Mercy Othello Plaza opens in March 2017, it will offer apartments affordable to families earning between $18,000-$55,000. Rents will range from $450 to $1,100. The building will feature 2,000 square feet of community space for resident programs and community events. Mercy Housing Northwest provides resident services that include after-school programs for kids, community health promotion and financial stability.

The project is an exemplary instance of transit-oriented development. Sound Transit selected Mercy Housing Northwest as the developer in fall 2014 through a competitive RFP process. Sound Transit had used the site for construction staging and sought to encourage compatible development near the station to foster ridership and support commercial businesses in the Othello neighborhood.

The $35 million project is funded by a combination of sources. The City of Seattle Office of Housing is providing $8.5 million, $4.5 million from the Seattle Housing Levy. JP Morgan Chase is the construction lender. Wells Fargo Bank is providing equity. The Washington State Housing Finance Commission has allocated Low Income Housing Tax Credits and bond financing. The Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, a community-based lending institution, provided a land acquisition loan and will help finance the ground-floor office space.

“Projects like Mercy Othello Project exemplify the power of the Seattle Housing Levy to be a key tool to fund affordable housing development at transit centers so our neighborhoods remain equitable as they grow,” stated Steve Walker, director of the Seattle Office of Housing. “This project demonstrates the magic of many partners coming together around a shared community vision.”

Private philanthropic support includes grants from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, Longbrake Family Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners.

The Othello neighborhood has a vibrant small business and retail center and represents one of Seattle’s most diverse areas. Active community-improvement efforts led by On Board Othello focus specifically on fostering strong and vibrant commercial growth in the Othello/Graham MLK corridor. Organizations currently involved include ArtSpace, HomeSight, MLK Business Association, Homesight, Mercy Housing Northwest, Othello Park Alliance (OPA), Othello Station Community Advisory Team (OSCAT), Rainier Chamber of Commerce, Rainier Valley Community Development Fund (RVCDF), SouthEast Effective Development (SEED), City of Seattle Office of Economic Development and City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Murray proposes to expand levy to support affordable housing



Continuing a 35-year history of public investment in affordable housing, today Mayor Ed Murray announced his proposal to replace and expand the expiring Seattle Housing Levy with a new 7-year ballot measure that would invest $290 million to preserve and produce affordable housing. The Mayor is seeking public input on the initial proposal and will transmit a recommendation to City Council in early March.

“Expanding the Housing Levy is the most important thing we will do this year to support affordability in Seattle,” said Mayor Murray. “We know what works – build more affordable homes for low-income families, preserve the affordable housing we have, and keep people from falling into homelessness – and we must renew our commitment and expand the levy so we can do even more.”

Responding to a broad range of affordability needs in Seattle, Mayor Murray’s initial 2016 Housing Levy proposal will produce affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, and people experiencing homelessness. The Levy also provides funding for homelessness prevention and homeownership assistance. The program areas include:

  • Rental Production and Preservation ($201 million capital funding; $39 million operating funding): The Levy proposal will produce and preserve 2,150 apartments affordable for at least 50 years, and reinvest in 350 existing affordable apartments. The proposal also provides operating funds to supplement tenant-paid rent in 475 apartments serving extremely low-income residents.
  • Homelessness Prevention ($11.5 million): The Levy proposal will provide short-term rent assistance and stability services for 4,500 families that are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness.
  • Homeownership ($12.5 million): The Levy proposal will help 200 current low-income homeowners stay in their homes, and help 180 first-time homebuyers with limited income find a stable and affordable home for their family.

Mayor Murray is committing 60 percent of Rental Production and Preservation funds ($144 million) to serve those who are currently experiencing homelessness and those who earn no more than 30 percent of area median income ($24,250 for a family of three). The remainder of the Rental Production and Preservation funds will be dedicated to serving lower-wage workers who earn less than 60 percent of area median income ($48,420 for a family of three).

The expanded 2016 Housing Levy will increase property taxes by $61 a year on a Seattle home with an assessed value of $480,000.

“Since the early 1980s, Seattle has led the country in making direct investments in public-private partnerships for affordable housing,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the Council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee. “The Housing Levy allows us to extend the value of City funding of construction and preservation projects by leveraging other sources of money, including state and federal funds. The Council will thoroughly review the Mayor’s proposal.”

“The Housing Levy is our most important resource for meeting the housing needs of the most vulnerable people in our community, including seniors and others on fixed incomes, and families and individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Mayor Murray. “Our levy will leverage other county, state and federal investments to support 1,200 new homes for people for Seattle’s lowest-income families.”

In 1981, Seattle voters were the first in the nation to approve a property tax ballot measure to support affordable housing with the passage of the Senior Housing Bond. In 1986, 1995, 2002 and 2009, voters have approved the Seattle Housing Levy, each time renewing and expanding the commitment to build and preserve affordable housing.

Since its inception, the Housing Levy has created over 12,500 affordable apartments throughout the city, helped 800 families purchase their first home, and provided emergency rent assistance to 6,500 families. Each of the four Housing Levies, and one bond measure, have met and exceeded their goals.

“For 35 years, people in Seattle have invested in affordable housing to preserve the diversity and affordability of our city,” stated Steve Walker, director of the Office of Housing. “We have learned what works, how to leverage our resources to have the greatest impact, and how to remain adaptable to the changing needs of our city. In partnership with strong community organizations, we will continue to build on this legacy of success.”

“Expanding affordable housing stock is critical for the escalating number of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle,” said Executive Director of Compass Housing Alliance Janet Pope. “As providers of homeless services, we can have great success in helping our clients address their personal barriers to housing, only to find we have absolutely no place for them to go. This levy must pass. It is a cost-effective smart solution that ensures we remain a place of opportunity for all–a city that values the safety and stability of those who are most vulnerable among us.”

“I worked low-income jobs in Seattle for more than 30 years and I had very few options if I was going to stay in Seattle in my retirement,” said Al Korpela, who lives in an affordable building for seniors on Capitol Hill. “The Seattle Housing Levy supported the purchase and preservation of my building, saving me and other seniors from displacement. Because of the levy, I can stay in my neighborhood, access the supports I need to lead a rich life, and enjoy the culture of the city throughout my retirement.”

With the release of this initial Housing Levy proposal, the Mayor will be seeking input from the community before he submits his proposed ballot measure to the City Council in March. Throughout February, the City will hold community conversations to provide information about the Levy, explain the Mayor’s proposal, and offer an opportunity for people to share their thoughts on their priorities for affordable housing investments. Comments can also be submitted online at The conversations include:

  • West Seattle: Feb 3, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Senior Center of West Seattle (4217 SW Oregon St) with Southwest District Council
  • East Seattle: Feb 18, 6:00 – 8:00 pm at 12th Ave Arts (1620 12th Ave), with Capitol Hill Community Council and Capitol Hill Housing
  • North Seattle: Feb 20, 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Lamb of God Church, 12509 27th Ave NE with Lake City Neighborhood Association
  • Central Seattle: February 24, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at IDEA Space (409 Maynard Ave S) with SCIDpda, Interim CDA, and CIDBIA
  • South Seattle: 25, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave S) with SouthCORE, Southeast District Council, and Greater Duwamish District Council

Murray seeks fair access to housing for those with criminal records

Today Seattle Mayor Ed Murray formed a Fair Chance Housing committee to reduce barriers to housing for people with criminal records. The committee will work to develop proposals that address rental housing discrimination, provide wider access to rental assistance and increase enforcement of Seattle fair housing ordinances.

“Creating an affordable Seattle means we must have equitable access to housing for everyone. Too many of our residents face life-long barriers to housing due to their criminal histories long after they have served their sentences and paid their debt to society,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Lack of fair access to housing can lead to homelessness and deeper dependence on public services. We must ensure everyone in our community has a fair chance to find a stable home.”

The formation of the committee was a recommendation of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) issued in July 2015. The HALA committee pointed to several discriminatory practices, including:

  • Advertisements for rental housing that make people with criminal records ineligible to apply.
  • Screening criteria that include an absolute exclusion of anyone with a criminal record or a broad category of criminal record, such as a felony.
  • Denials based on records that cannot be reported under state law, such as crimes greater than seven years since disposition or release, or juvenile records if the applicant is twenty-one years of age or older.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as one-third of adults in the United States have past criminal files. In 2013, a Seattle Office of Civil Rights investigation found that African American and Latino renters were asked about criminal history more frequently than white applicants.

In 2013, the City of Seattle established restrictions on how employers can use conviction and arrest records during the hiring process and in the course of employment.

“I am proud that the Mayor is moving forward with this measure to increase fairness and racial equity in Seattle’s rental housing market,” said Patricia Lally, Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. “This issue impacts everyone, but especially Black, Latino and Native American families, who face disproportionate barriers to stable housing in Seattle.”

“This is about addressing the aftermath of mass incarceration. We hear every day from clients, community groups and advocates that criminal records are a major barrier to housing,” said Merf Ehman of Columbia Legal Services. “A community coalition has come together to work for fair accessible renting for everyone and is committed to unlocking housing for all and ending homelessness.”

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently issued guidance to local Housing Authorities about the use of arrest records, state and federal law does not prohibit property managers from running advertisements that exclude people with any type of criminal record from applying for housing, no matter how many years ago an incident occurred.

The Fair Chance Housing committee will provide input to the Office for Civil Rights on a legislative proposal addressing these barriers to housing, while acknowledging and responding to business and safety impacts. The Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office will finalize the legislation prior to sending the proposal to the Seattle City Council for approval.

The members of the Fair Chance Housing committee are:

Billie Abers, Capitol Hill Housing

Afamefuna Ayika, BlackOut WA

Marcel Baugh, Seattle Human Rights Commission

Derrick Belgarde, Chief Seattle Club

Rod Brandon, Seattle Housing Authority

Cameron Carl, Seattle Goodwill

Augustine Cita, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

Merf Ehman, Columbia Legal Services

Eric Ellman, Consumer Data Industry Association

Mahnaz Eshetu, Refugee Women’s Alliance

Liz Etta, Tenants Union

Sean Flynn, Rental Housing Association of Washington

Andrew Kashyap, Racial Disparity Project

Mario Paredes, Consejo Counseling and Referral Service

Joe Puckett, Washington Multifamily Housing Association

Pastor Lawrence Willis, United Black Clergy

Clinton Wilson, FareStart

Kira Zylstra, AllHome

The Fair Chance Housing committee also includes a person who is currently experiencing homelessness due to their conviction record.

Bipartisan bill aims to preserve affordable housing statewide

PTE presserAcross the Puget Sound region, as real estate values and rents rise, cities large and small are struggling to preserve existing lower-cost, market-rate housing. A bipartisan plan to enact a local-option property tax exemption for existing rental homes aims to preserve lower rents and prevent the displacement of long-time tenants, even as landlords seek to make building improvements.

The Preservation Tax Exemption proposal sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) and Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) has earned the support of property owners, tenants, affordable housing advocates and a dozen urban and suburban mayors across the region. The legislation to grant cities the ability to offer the tax exemption will be introduced in Olympia on Monday.

“Housing costs for working families have skyrocketed in our region,” said Sen. Fain, who serves as Majority Floor Leader in the Washington State Senate. “Sometimes the tools policymakers use to maintain affordable housing can reduce supply over time, leading to shortages and higher prices. Giving cities the discretion to create incentives for landlords to upgrade and maintain their properties at prices families can afford is one tool for addressing this growing problem.”

“The Preservation Tax Exemption will be a critical tool for Washington municipalities to curb the effects of housing displacement, poverty and homelessness,” said Sen. Frockt. “This is a measure that will promote economic stability and opportunity in our communities.”

Under the bill, owners of rental properties could apply for a 15-year exemption to local property taxes, and in exchange, reserve 25 percent of the building’s apartments for low-income families earning less than 50 to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).

In King County, 50 percent of AMI is $36,000 for two-person household and 60 percent of AMI is $43,000.

Affordable rent in for a one bedroom apartment in King County at 50 percent AMI is $840 and at 60 percent AMI is $1,008. The average market rate for one bedrooms in new buildings in Ballard is $1,656, while a one bedroom in Renton averages $1,275.

And for larger families, affordable rent for a two bedroom apartment in Ballard at 60 percent AMI is $1,210, while the average market rate for a similar apartment in a new building is $2,072.

The bill gives cities the option to enact the tax exemption and each jurisdiction would determine how many homes to enroll.

The City of Seattle estimates that it could preserve 3,000 affordable apartments over 10 years at the cost of $12 a year to the average property taxpayer.

“We will never solve the housing affordability crisis if we only focus on construction of new apartments,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “We must work to preserve existing affordable homes, including affordable market-rate homes. This is a cost-effective solution to prevent the displacement of thousands of families in our city.”

“This will give us another tool to ensure that our residents can live in decent conditions,”
said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. “It is proven that a housing first strategy allows for more positive outcomes.”

Under the plan, each jurisdiction would have the option to target additional specific local priorities, including rent stabilization, energy and water conservation, or improvement of substandard housing conditions. In higher-cost areas, cities would have the ability to raise the income restriction from 50 percent to 60 percent of AMI. All apartments enrolled in the exemption would be inspected and required to meet minimum standards for physical condition.

State property taxes collected on enrolled properties would not be reduced under this proposal.

“This legislation represents a great opportunity for a public-private partnership to solve our region’s housing affordability issues,” said Sean Martin of the Rental Housing Association of Washington. “Solutions that provide owners with the tools to gain financial flexibility and invest in affordable housing are the quickest and most effective ways to preserve and enhance existing housing affordability.”

“When I was looking for a new home, it took me months to find a place my family could afford,” said Darryl Johnson, a tenant from Auburn. “Families always worry about rising rents and finding an affordable place is tough all over King County. We need more solutions that help families like mine.”

Murray applauds 2016 increase in Seattle’s minimum wage


Mayor Ed Murray today issued a statement applauding the latest increase in Seattle’s minimum wage during the phased-in implementation to $15 an hour:

“Tomorrow Seattle workers get another raise. When our $15 minimum wage is fully implemented, more than 100,000 workers across the city will benefit. Higher wages will help make Seattle more affordable for everyone who works in the city. Our phased-in approach, developed by labor and business working together, minimizes disruptions – especially to small businesses. I am proud that the Seattle model has been replicated in other cities across the country.”

Seattle’s minimum wage will continue to increase each year on Jan. 1, with the level of the increase dependent on the size of business and whether or not the worker receives healthcare benefits and/or tips. For more details, see the Office of Labor Standards Minimum Wage website.

Workplace poster (English)

Workplace poster (Spanish)

Murray Announces $45 Million for Affordable Housing


Today Mayor Ed Murray announced the City of Seattle’s $45 million investment in affordable housing development through the Office of Housing’s Rental Housing Program. Once completed, these 809 apartments will be home to low-income families, youth, seniors, and single adults, some of whom would otherwise be homeless.

“Today’s announcement makes a major contribution to building 20,000 affordable homes over 10 years, my goal under our City’s housing affordability agenda,” stated Mayor Ed Murray. “Our 30-year commitment to the Seattle Housing Levy helps keep Seattle affordable. This historic investment ensures that hundreds of people in our community – from working families to those who have experienced homelessness – will have the stability of an affordable home.”

The 2015 award is the largest ever annual investment in affordable housing by the City. Last year, the Office of Housing awarded $22 million. In his 2015 State of the City address, Murray pledged $35 million to support the recommendations of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) advisory committee.

This year’s extraordinary funding level is due to significant contributions from developers who have benefited from the recent building boom. Developers who participate in Incentive Zoning provide payments to the City’s affordable housing fund, which the Office of Housing uses to leverage other state and federal funding.

The Seattle Housing Levy remains the most consistent and important funding source for affordable housing in Seattle. Starting in 1981, voters have approved one bond and four levies for a total of $388 million dollars. These funds have been instrumental in providing more than 12,000 income- and rent-restricted apartments in Seattle. The Seattle Housing Levy is up for renewal in 2016.

“This year’s funding awards show how the City makes a sound investment of public funding, whether it comes from the voters or through development,” said Steve Walker, director of the Office of Housing. “And by collaborating with other funders we are able to leverage $4.00 of state and federal funding for every dollar of Seattle’s public investment.”

The HALA committee recommended expanding programs, like the Seattle Housing Levy, that have a history of success and creating new resources and programs to increase affordable housing in our city.  The City Council has already adopted the Mandatory Housing Affordability program framework that will require all new commercial and multi-family residential development to support affordable housing through building affordable apartments or paying into an affordable housing fund. Mayor Murray has also proposed expanding the Seattle Housing Levy when it is up for renewal in 2016.

“It was clear to the HALA committee from the start that the Seattle Housing Levy is a great tool for affordable housing,” stated David Wertheimer, co-chair of the HALA committee. “Today we see how combining Levy dollars with those that come from the private development happening in our community can have huge dividends.”

The 2015 Office of Housing Rental Housing Program funding awards include:

Project Name


Population to be Served Homes Incomes Served Location City Funds
Building 9

Mercy Housing Northwest

Low Income Families and Individuals 148 30%, 50%, 60% AMI Sandpoint $11,988,699
1511 Dexter Apartments

Bellwether Housing

Low Income Families and Individuals 71 50%, 60% AMI Westlake $7,274,656
Estelle Apartments


Chronically Homeless Individuals 91 30% AMI Mt. Baker $4,286,072
Chinatown/I.D. Workforce Housing

Inland Group

Lower Income Families and Individuals 247 60% AMI International District $9,950,000
Rainier Court Phase IV

Southeast Effective Development

Lower Income Seniors and Families 93 50%, 60% AMI Mt. Baker $4,048,000
New Ground Sand Point

Friends of Youth

Homeless Youth & Young Adults 7 30% AMI Sandpoint $247,653
Sandpoint YouthCare


Homeless Youth & Young Adults 19 30% AMI Sandpoint $468,229
University District Apartments
Bellwether Housing
Low Income & Homeless Individuals and Families 133 30%, 40%, 60% AMI University District $6,610,000

“We are so excited to be at this important milestone for these projects,” said Susan Boyd, director of Bellwether Housing. “This funding from the City of Seattle allows us to move forward on construction of over 200 new affordable apartments in 2016. Our new buildings will serve families and individuals transitioning from homelessness as well as those in lower wage jobs who could not otherwise afford to live in Seattle.”