Murray praises new federal overtime rules

Mayor Ed Murray issued the following statement after the Obama Administration issued a new rule extending overtime protections:

“Thanks to the Obama Administration, more than 75,000 additional workers all across Washington will be eligible for overtime. These workers are entitled to fair compensation for their long hours, and this new rule is a big step in the right direction. In Seattle, we adopted a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and this move at the federal level is another important piece to address income inequality and support working families.”

City of Seattle brings Utility Discount to 10,000 more households

Today Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Director Andrew Lofton announced proposed changes to the Utility Discount Program (UDP) to auto-enroll more than 10,000 low-income Seattle Housing Authority households. Today’s announcement puts the City on track to surpass the Mayor’s goal to double program enrollment two years ahead of schedule.

“As Seattle’s economy continues to grow, we know that economic gains have not reached all our neighbors. Too many families are still struggling to meet basic needs,” said Murray.  “This partnership with the Seattle Housing Authority will cut utility bills in half for financially strapped residents so they can manage their utility costs on tight budgets.”

“The majority of people we serve at the Seattle Housing Authority are in the very lowest income segment,” said Lofton. “The extension of the City’s Utility Discount Program to our residents and voucher tenants will make a tremendous difference in their ability to pay for basic utilities and still afford food, medications and other necessities.”

Once auto-enrollment is complete, the UDP will provide more than $10 million in utility assistance each year to SHA tenants. This will cut in half their Seattle electric, water, garbage/recycling, sewage and drainage bills. The average household benefit will be $1,030 per year.

This move is a part of Murray’s commitment to address Seattle’s growing income inequality and remove institutional barriers between services and those in need. In 2014, Mayor Murray challenged City Departments to double the number of households enrolled in the UDP from 14,000 to 28,000 by the end of 2018.

“I would like to thank SHA for providing a place to stay and the Mayor for giving those of us living in subsidized housing the opportunity to participate in the Utility Discount Program,” said Ed Frezier, a resident at Rainier Vista in South Seattle. “I am on disability and have a limited income. After I pay my bills, the lights, phone, water, there’s nothing left.  This will leave me with a few dollars to buy groceries and whatever else is needed. It’s a blessing.”

After legislation to enact today’s proposal is approved by the Seattle City Council, all income-eligible households of Seattle Housing Authority will be notified that they have been auto-enrolled in the Utility Discount Program, beginning August 1, 2016. All households will have the opportunity to opt out of the Utility Discount Program if they prefer. The Council will take up this proposal this spring. Current City ordinances prevent SHA tenants from participating in the program.

The Utility Discount Program offers a credit of 60 percent on Seattle City Light bills and 50 percent on Seattle Public Utilities bills. This program is available for residential City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers only and does not apply to residences used for business purposes. Eligible households must have income of less than 70 percent of state median household income, about $60,000 for a family of four.

Today’s expansion of the UDP to SHA tenants is paid for by all utility customers. The average Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities bill will increase between 0.5 percent and 0.65 percent in coming years.

“This auto-enrollment program change supports people in need and minimizes bureaucracy.  This is truly government at its best,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents the West Seattle and South Park communities.  “Thousands of low-income Seattleites will no longer need to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.  I’m fully committed to expanding access to the UDP program even further.”

“Having light, heat, and water are basic needs that every resident should have,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “As a compassionate City, we have demonstrated our commitment to helping our residents by continually improving one of the strongest utility discount programs in the nation.”

“I have strenuously advocated for auto-enrollment into the Utility Discount Program. Studies show auto-enrollment results in systematically greater access,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee. “I am grateful to Kelly Enright at Seattle City Light for tirelessly working on this. Even after this step, there will still be thousands of others who will need to be enrolled, and I look forward to continue working with City Light and the Mayor’s office.”

This program expansion builds upon a partnership with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to auto-enroll eligible households of other affordable housing projects, reducing administrative barriers to utility discount services.

Ray Hoffman, Seattle Public Utilities Director, Larry Weis, Seattle City Light General Manager and CEO, and Catherine Lester, Human Services Department Director, were also in attendance at today’s event.

The UDP program is funded by both Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities and is administered by the Seattle Human Services Department. Utility Discount Program eligibility information and application materials can be found here.

 

Mayor Murray releases 20-year growth plan for Seattle

2035

Mayor Ed Murray today transmitted his proposal to update Seattle’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan to the Seattle City Council. Seattle 2035 focuses on equitable growth as Seattle expects gain 120,000 residents, 115,000 jobs, and 70,000 housing units over the next two decades.

“Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and while this growth provides a booming economy, we must continue to focus that development in livable, walkable neighborhoods with the amenities that help people thrive,” said Murray. “With this comprehensive plan, we will build a more equitable future for all residents with better access to the affordable homes, jobs, transit, and parks that make Seattle vibrant.”

Development of Seattle 2035 has been ongoing since 2013. The final proposal was informed by thousands of comments, 57 public presentations and 2,600 people participating in public meetings.

Seattle 2035 includes goals and policies, including those that:

  • Guide more future growth to areas within a 10-minute walk of frequent transit
  • Continue the Plan’s vision for mixed-use Urban Villages and Urban Centers
  • Monitor future growth in greater detail, including data about racial disparities
  • Increase the supply and diversity of affordable housing consistent with the Mayor’s Housing Affordabibility and Livability Agenda (HALA)
  • Update how we measure the performance of the city’s transportation and parks systems
  • Integrate the City’s planning for parks, preschool, transit, housing, transportation, City facilities and services

Seattle 2035 incorporates principles of the City’s Equitable Development initiative and new policies in almost every element of the plan specifically identify ways in which the City can reduce the risk of displacement for marginalized populations and improve their access to opportunities.

The policies in the plan governing industrial lands remain relatively stable. The mayor has begun a series of conversations with industrial and maritime stakeholders to develop new supports for their industries while balancing other pressures on land use in the City.

The plan and related legislation will be introduced to the Seattle City Council’s Planning Land Use and Zoning committee, chaired by Councilmember Rob Johnson, later this month.

Seattle 2035 represents years of work by so many here at the City and also reflects the feedback of thousands of Seattle residents,” said Councilmember Johnson. “The City of Seattle has always used the Comprehensive Plan to set ambitious goals related to sustainability, and I am so glad to hear that this update reflects a similar degree of ambition to combat Seattle’s equity and affordability crisis. I look forward to seeing the final plan and bringing it before my fellow Councilmembers.”

Seattle is required by Washington State’s Growth Management Act to periodically update its Comprehensive Plan. The last major update of the plan was in 2004. Seattle 2035 is consistent with State and County growth policies.

In 1994, Seattle’s first Comprehensive Plan was approved. The 1994 Comprehensive Plan was based around an Urban Village strategy. The Urban Village strategy designated certain neighborhoods as Urban Centers or Urban Villages and encouraged the development of new housing, jobs, and transit options within these areas. Over the past 20 years, about 75 percent of new housing and jobs have located in Urban Villages or Urban Centers, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

U.S. Supreme Court will not review Seattle minimum wage law

Today the United States Supreme Court announced that it would not accept review of the unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refusing to halt full implementation of Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage law.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court reaffirms that Seattle workers’ hard-fought raises in hourly pay will remain in effect,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “This is a great day for workers in Seattle as we look to continue to fully implement our $15 minimum wage for our largest employers by 2017 and 2021 for our smallest businesses. Our phased-in approach to raising wages, developed by labor and business working together, minimizes disruptions—especially to our small businesses which are the backbone of Seattle’s vibrant economy. I am proud that Seattle’s ground-breaking approach to addressing income inequality will continue to move forward.”

“I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court let the Ninth Circuit’s ruling stand and that we have prevailed at every stage of this lawsuit,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes.

The Ninth Circuit had affirmed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones, denying the International Franchise Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The effect of today’s decision by the Supreme Court is that Seattle’s minimum wage law can continue to be fully implemented as scheduled.

Workplace poster (English)

Workplace poster (Spanish)

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: Katie.sheehy@seattle.gov 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 www.seattle.gov/civilrights/file-complaint.

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 www.seattle.gov/housing/levy.

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

 

smiling

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 www.seattle.gov/housing/levy. 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