Every year I volunteer with Rebuilding Together Seattle (RTS), a non-profit that helps provide free home repairs for low-income homeowners. I work with with RTS to identify a low-income homeowner, and help manage the project. Each time I visit these houses, I see how vulnerable the homeowners are and how important secure, safe, and affordable housing is. Witnessing these conditions in person and then seeing the effects of homelessness in Seattle (recent shootings in homeless camps), highlights the need for resources to help curb provide safe homes to those living on the streets. As I study this topic, and through my experience with RTS and other construction projects, I realize there are many roadblocks to providing more affordable housing in Seattle. What I propose is to help continue to diffuse these roadblocks to make affordable housing development easier for real estate firms.
Among the many roadblocks preventing an increase in affordable housing is the lack of public and investor knowledge. Put plainly, investors see affordable housing development as complex and full of red tape. To address this, the government created the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to encourage Developers to pursuit and build affordable housing. However once you dive into the details, you realize that the requirements to pursue affordable housing projects can be quite a complex, which prevents developers from pursuing this as a viable investment option. Why would spend so much time and effort on such a complex pursuit with a long term pay-off when you can work through conventional developments for a quicker profit (and much simpler process)? Those companies that do understand the process can reap the benefits of affordable housing developments all the while helping boost the availability of affordable housing. To ease the process, Seattle has developed a rental housing program to fund the development of low and affordable housing in Seattle. This program provides assistance and funding to companies who build affordable housing, which is an important incentive.
I propose that a new regulation be passed in addition to the mandatory linkage fee that were recently passed for office and apartment developers in late 2015. This new regulation will address the gap left by the linkage fee’s, which misses the opportunity to tie new home builders to affordable housing. It would be modeled after the 1% art ordinance established in Seattle in 1973. This fee of 1% of any new construction project cost would be allocated for the use for affordable housing. This regulation would reach beyond office/apartment developers and address those project such as new home constructions (in particular townhome construction), which also adds to the lack of affordable housing. By passing this ordinance, the development of homes for the middle income bracket will also address housing for those who are displaced by or can’t afford such housing.