Inside Seattle’s social housing initiative

Seattle’s social housing initiative proposes establishing a new social housing developer that would create rent-capped units for residents making up to 120% of the area median income (AMI). Last August, ballot initiative I-135 qualified for a special election to be held in February 2023.

Unlike other housing initiatives, the creation of the Seattle Social Housing Developer aims to assist a broader spectrum of residents in the city. The developer would be public and tenant-run, and its projects would not be government-funded, decreasing the amount of red tape and restrictions that often come with affordable housing developments.

In a city where there are dozens of affordable housing programs and organizations, social housing meets the needs of a specific demographic: residents who are not at the lowest end of the spectrum financially, but are still struggling to find housing. Many of Seattle’s current programs are designed to support individuals and families who are transitioning out of homelessness, have little or no income, and may be facing other more complex needs. However, the city currently lacks housing inventory that would meet the needs of median-income households.

By allowing residents making up to 120% of the AMI to benefit from these projects, social housing is also able to subsidize itself. Rents are determined based on a resident’s income, with those at the upper end of the spectrum paying higher rents that subsidize the units of those with less income. In total, rent in the proposed social housing project will be capped at no more than 30% of a resident’s income. This also allows residents to stay in the housing as long as they want, with only minor adjustments to their rent payment if their income increases over the years.

This mixture of incomes also serves to destigmatize social housing projects. While programs like Section 8 housing are vital, they can also come with assumptions and judgement from those outside the program. Social housing encourages people from a variety of backgrounds and income levels to interact and create communities together.

Overall, social housing is just one approach to solving Seattle’s affordability issues. By exploring more creative options like this, the city may be able to serve a larger portion of the population and create a more affordable future for those who live here. Locals will have to wait until February before they have a chance to weigh in on initiative I-135.

More information on this initiative can be found on Seattle Met.

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