What Do You Spend $5.50 A Month On?

(Editor’s note: Guest poster Kate Stineback is a resident of West Seattle and an affordable housing developer and community organizer at Capitol Hill Housing.  More on the housing levy here. )

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Less than $6.00 a month for the typical Seattle homeowner—that’s about 18 cents per day, or $65 a year for the Seattle Housing Levy, on the ballot for renewal this Fall.

Levies have become a common funding vehicle in Seattle for things that deliver widespread public benefit, such as parks, schools, and the Pike Place Market. The Housing Levy has been around since 1981, and every seven years since then, the electorate has chosen to renew it.

You should vote for the Levy because it houses homeless families.
A full 60% of Levy-funded rental apartments are for people and families making less than about $20,000 a year. For these individuals and families, homelessness is often one paycheck away, and many are now finding themselves on the streets for the first time because of the ongoing economic recession. We need the Housing Levy now more than ever.

But maybe you aren’t swayed by this moral argument; maybe you need more convincing. For you, wonky HAC reader, I have the following details…

The Levy saves taxpayers money.
In its first year of operation, DESC’s 1811 Eastlake project saved taxpayers $4 million. By providing permanent housing to 75 formerly homeless chronic alcoholics who were the heaviest users of crisis services (police, fire, hospital), the Levy’s $2.2 million capital investment in this building was leveraged to achieve long-term significant (and ongoing) cost savings for the City of Seattle (and you the taxpayer).


[ 1811 Eastlake, Downtown Emergency Service Center ]

The Levy helps keep affordable projects local.
Ever wonder what it would be like to have the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building projects in your community like the one shown below?


[ Cabrini Green Housing Project, Chicago, Illinois---NOT a Levy funded project ]

Through the Housing Levy, affordable housing development projects in Seattle are kept local, almost entirely built by neighborhood based non-profit organizations. So instead, projects look like this:


[ The Pantages Apartments, Capitol Hill Housing ]

And this:


[ The Historic Cooper School, Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association ]

The Levy leverages outside investment.
As a powerful local funding source, the Levy leverages outside public and private investment, mostly through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (the public/private funding mechanism that largely replaced HUD development in the 1980s). In Seattle, every Housing Levy dollar is matched by over $3 in other investment. Check out this pie:

Isn’t it nice to know that your tax dollars are being matched by non-government sources?

The Levy is administered efficiently and effectively.
I don’t know about you, but I also like to know that my taxes are being used wisely. In the 2002 Housing Levy, every production goal has either been met or exceeded, as this chart demonstrates:


The Seattle Office of Housing, which administers the Levy, is a great example of good government, at a time when government isn’t always so inspiring. It is efficient, transparent and effective.

The Housing Levy is a seven year investment in maintaining the housing affordability and economic diversity of our City. As this blog has highlighted so many times, the mismatch between low-wage jobs and housing affordability is staggering in Seattle. As we grow our public transportation options, and increasingly focus on transit oriented development in land use, it is the Levy that will ensure that future TOD retains affordability at the deepest levels and protects our neighborhoods from becoming enclaves of the very wealthy.

Vote Yes on Proposition 1 this Fall, because the Housing Levy is worth the price of a couple of lattes a month.

19 Responses to “What Do You Spend $5.50 A Month On?”

  1. Joe G

    Right on! I had no idea that structure in capitol hill is from the housing levy. I have admired it many times and always assumed that it was to expensive to live at for someone like me.

  2. Amy

    Even though I’m a fairly typical old-school, vote-for-any-tax-hike Seattleite, I’m also a numbers girl and this piece is a nice counterpoint to the opposition and their anti-tax rants. Go Prop 1!!!

  3. David Schraer

    The Housing Levy is also Symbolic . . .

    http://lightandair.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/the-housing-levy-is-also-symbolic/

  4. MichaelKelly

    Great piece Kate! VOTE YES on Prop 1!

  5. Matt the Engineer

    I’m a fan of creating affordable housing through intelligent zoning rules, but that’s a long term plan*. For the people that need help right now, I’m very happy that Seattle has this Levy. The best way to fight homelessness is to give people homes (duh). Keep up the good work.

    * and will still require some form of safety net for those with very low/no incomes

  6. Kate Stineback

    Just one additional note, after I read your piece David, I wanted to clarify that all Levy-funded housing is permanently affordable for 50+ years. These are not units that will be flipped to condos in five years.

  7. Anna M

    You can’t even go to a matinee for $5.50. I think providing safe havens for domestic violence survivors is well worth it.

  8. Renee

    Great post, Kate! So much benefit for so many who really need it – at such a small cost.

  9. croydon facelift

    I don’t want to rain on the parade, and I know this will come off as heartless, but the problem w/ this city that is never addressed is, how do we keep middle income people here? I don’t want to live in a city with a large percentage of welfare cases and everyone else rich or under 25. That kind of stark socio-economic rift is awful if what you want is a vital civic life, but this levy moves further in the direction of stratification.

  10. Matt the Engineer

    [croydon] Nah. $66 a year doesn’t keep the middle class out. The lack of affordable housing does. For that we really need to rebuild our zoning and construction codes to promote dense living. Affordable housing for the masses can only follow when housing quantities begin to meet demand.

  11. Michael

    During this down economy, seeing the positive impact of the public / private investment is impressive. The levy’s got my vote.

  12. Joshua Curtis

    The Housing Levy is a key piece to providing housing to low-income residents. Great City supports it, and I support it. Thanks for the great post, Kate!

  13. Kate Stineback

    @Croydon:
    Having lived in NYC and Nantucket Island before moving to Seattle – two incredibly income stratified communities, I really understand what you are saying about retention of the middle class. It is often these folks that flee the City for suburban districts, “driving to buy” and accessing better public school systems. This is such a complex problem that really lacks a successful policy framework to address it. I think that incentive zoning is a start – targeting folks making around 80% of AMI (around 50k for a single person in King County). However, as long as home-ownership reigns supreme in America (and is subsidized through things like the mortgage tax deduction) the market will continue to dominate and fluctuate in terms of affordability. There is a small portion of the Levy targeting low-income homeowners, but it is a very modest amount and there are not many other tools out there to address homeownership. Community Land Trusts are a great model, but they are not widespread and are more common in resort and island communities.

  14. Regarding The Upcoming Election: One Acronym And A Punctuation Mark: WTF? | hugeasscity

    [...] Seattle Housing Levy: Most people have no choice but to be aware of the cost of housing, and here in Seattle, it is pretty much universally recognized that we have a problematic, growing lack of affordable housing.   And as history has repeatedly shown in cities all over the world, there is very little that can be done about it aside from government subsidy.   So then, how is it that the modest levy on the current ballot isn’t a slam dunk at the polls?  And for that matter,  shouldn’t significant funding for affordable housing be a permanent part of the City budget that doesn’t depend on begging the voters every few years? [...]

  15. Kathryn

    This comment in no way negates or opposes the incredible work done because of our levy dollars…

    I hate to say it but new buildings are not intrinsically affordable to middle class or poor people, even if the market chills out. This is true for rentals, too. That’s just the cost of building. They do start to settle out after 10 years, but new building is a small portion of the housing stock no matter how much you try to create a building craze.

    Along with all the hyperventilating for build, build, build and oh yeah subsidize some and provide some incentives (which are such a hassle that most private developers won’t touch and small private developers can’t handle), I think we need to optimize re-use of, and augmenting, the built environment and focus on the economics of people.

    That older apartment building will naturally have lower rents. The Tax Abatement program, rehabbing and putting it into service, is actually almost within reach of many landlords. That’s an example that I’d like to see more of.

  16. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    As a middle income renter (over 25, too) I’d say that most new apartments that are were not built as luxury condos are “affordable” when defined as renting for less than 35% of gross income. However, few people want to spend that much when you can spend 25% of gross income on rent in an older building.

  17. Kate Stineback

    Kathryn: Over 75% of CHH’s 42 building stock is acquisition/rehab of old apartment buildings. Unfortunately, during the condo-flipping craze in the 2000s, we were priced out of that market and our last several projects have been new construction as a result. I agree that more private developers could utilize existing incentives to lock in at least some affordability in market rate projects.

  18. carrie zanger

    Really wonderful post Kate! I appreciate the financial breakdown you provided in regard to outside public and private investment too.

  19. Yuette D. Slots

    I like your writing style, and I’m hoping for more posts like this one.

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