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While our City continues to boom, attracting new jobs, development, and infrastructure, we know that not all members of our community benefit equally. In fact, the increased pressures of our booming economy exacerbates our current housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and disproportionally harms low-income communities and communities of color. But I remain hopeful about our ability to grow and prosper without displacing the people, communities, and cultural anchors that make our city and neighborhoods great.
I have been reflecting on what it means for Seattle to grow and become a more equitable city as the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is being discussed across committees. The Comprehensive Plan guides the city’s policy decisions around development and defines the vision we all have for a city where all people are able to thrive. The plan includes goals and policies not only around urban growth, but also around transportation, community wellness, arts and culture, and how we engage community in planning. To me, the plan is an opportunity to decide together what we want Seattle to look and feel like in the future.
Last May, council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored, to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into our Comprehensive Plan update. Essentially, we asked that before making decisions about how to grow, we need to be able to define and measure displacement, beyond the antidotes we hear every day. Who is being pushed out? Of what neighborhoods? And why? How does growth impact communities differently? And how can we measure the where the greatest opportunities exist? The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has stepped up to this challenge. OPCD has published both the Growth and Equity Analysis (GEA), which measures growth, displacement risk, and opportunity across the city, and the Equitable Development Implementation Plan (EDIP), which recommends strategies to ensure that as we grow, all communities benefit. Staff continue to work in collaboration with communities most impacted by the threat and reality of displacement, who know best how to address their own needs as we grow.
I believe in the Growth and Equity Analysis’s Vision of an Equitable Seattle: Seattle will be a city with people of diverse cultures, races, and incomes. All people will thrive and be able to achieve their full potential regardless of race or means. Our city’s neighborhoods will be diverse and will include community anchors, supports, goods and services and amenities so that our residents can lead healthy lives and can flourish.
The equity analysis highlights the need for city-wide strategies as well as place-based strategies to ensure people thrive in place. This means not only considering how and where we grow, but investing in local community initiatives in places with high displacement risks and investment needs. One example recommended in the EDIP that my office is excited to see to fruition is the Rainier Beach Innovations District (RBID). The RBID is a community driven effort to focus transit oriented development (TOD) projects to produce decent quality jobs and create entrepreneurship opportunities for community members in Rainier Beach, bringing new economic development near the light rail station. I believe investing in community-driven projects like the RBID are essential to our growth as a city.
In addition to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our community continues to take strides forward to achieve the goals and vision set forth in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). We are taking essential steps toward building new, and protecting existing, affordable housing stock.
Access to quality affordable housing is key to anti-displacement. Building new affordable housing is an essential way we are able to maintain Seattle’s racial and economic diversity and vibrancy, but it cannot be our only strategy against displacement. Keeping people in place enables communities to continue to thrive in the places they call home. In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on housing affordability:
- Seattle Housing Levy: Last month, the Council voted to place the Seattle Housing Levy on the August Ballot. This Levy would create $290 million dollars to resource affordable housing. Working with Councilmember Herbold, we added a loan program so that tenant-occupied buildings can be quickly acquired and preserved as long-term affordable rental housing or permanently affordable homeownership units.
- Mandatory Housing Affordability: In addition to non-profit and community land trust efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, we hope to pass the Mandatory Housing Affordability- Residential legislation this summer. This legislation would require all new multi-family and commercial development projects in the city contribute to creating 6,000 new units of affordable housing in the next ten years. I am committed to ensuring our proposal meets this goal, and we would love to hear from you at a public hearing on June 21st.
- Affordability in Single-Family Zones: In addition I want to see more opportunities for affordability across Seattle. Including in single family zones. I am hopeful that encouraging more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will be a big step towards this goal.
- Tenant Protections: We are also pursuing increased tenant protections outlined in the HALA recommendations including protections that assure tenants are not discriminated against based on their source of income or background checks. Essential to keeping people in place is assuring we protect tenants most vulnerable to being priced out of the city.
Over the coming months, my office will continue to explore creative anti-displacement strategies that create community ownership and opportunities to build on the strengths of the diverse communities that make Seattle home. We plan to explore different models the city can pursue including:
- Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land and are primarily used to create long-term affordable housing by removing land from the private market. CLTs can also be used for commercial and retail properties. We are looking at models locally and from around the county, such as Burlington, Vermont, which stewards 6% of the housing stock in the City. Here in Seattle, Homestead Community Land Trust has been working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families since 1992.
- Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs offer ownership opportunities for lower-income people, and maintain affordability by limiting the resale value of the property. We are interested in exploring how the city could support tenants interested in cooperatively owning their properties. There are many models for what these community-owned LEHCs can function and work with other models, including CLTs.
We are looking forward to working with other Councilmembers, departments, community-based organizations, tenant advocates, non-profit developers and land trusts working on creative ways to ensure development without displacement. We hope to bring together local and national experts to learn more about how we can creatively keep people in place, and assure all of our communities benefit as Seattle grows.