A Council Majority Supports Spending Some North Precinct Money on Affordable Housing

With help from Sawant, Herbold has a plan to bond $29 million for low income housing.

Six Seattle city council members introduced a proposal today that would add $29 million to the city’s affordable housing budget. That’s enough money to pay for several hundred units affordable to low income renters. The proposal will be discussed in council Wednesday.

As you know, Seattle is currently in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Rents are surging. Poor people—especially those of color—are gradually being squeezed out of the Seattle isthmus to suburbs like Renton and Shoreline, while the city’s booming economy keeps sucking in more and more upper class skilled workers.

Mayor Ed Murray convened a task force in 2014 to make recommendations about how to mitigate this gentrification. One of their recommendations was finding more ways to use city bonding (that is, a loan from investors to the city) to finance the construction of affordable housing. This April, Lisa Herbold floated a proposal to do just that, but it went nowhere.

In August, #BlockTheBunker protesters filled city hall to agitate against a proposed new $160 million police precinct in North Seattle. Funding for the precinct was to come from real estate tax money and bonds. They eventually succeeded in delaying the plan, though not cancelling it. One opponent, councilmember Kshama Sawant, said the city should use that money to pay for more affordable housing—or, as one of her posters puts it, “1 POLICE PRECINCT VS 1,000 HOMES: YOU DECIDE.” Critics said that Sawant’s plan was unworkable because of arcane state rules prohibiting the use of real estate excise tax (REET) to pay for affordable housing, but in September a memo from council central staff disagreed, saying that REET could indirectly pay for affordable housing via budget displacement.

That’s basically Herbold’s plan. She wants to use:

1. Bonds to pay for housing.

2. Department of Transportation money to gradually pay back those bonds.

3. Real estate taxes to replace that Department of Transportation money.

The long and the short of it is that through budget displacement, Herbold believes she’s found a legal workaround that lets the city use REET money to indirectly pay for affordable housing development.

According to a press release, Herbold has a majority of the council (Herbold and Sawant, plus Sally Bagshaw, M. Lorena González, Rob Johson, and Mike O’Brien) in favor of introducing her plan into council’s budget deliberations. That’s not the same thing as a majority voting to pass it into law, as Bagshaw’s office was quick to point out when we called them. But it’s a start.

In a November 4 letter to Herbold from Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit that finances affordable housing development, vice president M.A. Leonard outlines a variety of ways that $29 million could be used to pay for affordable housing, including developing 600 or more apartment homes for households earning less than 60 percent of area median income.

We asked Herbold if she’d have been able to get this proposal on the table without Sawant’s rallying cry for 1,000 homes.

“Nope,” she replied. “I would not have. It’s basically what has created the space for this other proposal to come forward, absolutely.”

This proposal would use some but not all of the money that was previously slated for the North Precinct. Do you support that project?

“I support rebuilding the precinct,” she said, but at a much lower cost than $160 million or $149 million. “I don’t support the cost, I support the project.”


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Unemployment claims continue to climb

For the week of March 22-28, claims have reached more than 181,000.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

Inslee to state businesses: Pivot to make medical equipment

The governor said Wednesday that the state must become self-reliant in the fight against COVID-19.

Enumclaw Rehab center a hotbed for coronavirus

Ten clients and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

State legislators discussed COVID-19 impacts during a East King Chambers Coalition webinar on March 31 moderated by Kate Riley of The Seattle Times. Screenshot
State lawmakers discuss COVID-19 impacts with chambers

Four state lawmakers gathered for a webinar with the East King Chambers Coalition.

Fighting the coronavirus, 100 masks at a time

In the early 1930s, Dorothy Lucille used whatever she had on hand… Continue reading

How will COVID-19 impact wildfire response?

Answers and resources are short in short supply right now, but fire academies are still planned.

Gov. Jay Inslee is pictured March 28 at a field hospital set up at the CenturyLink Field Event Center to address non-COVID-19 medical needs. (Photo courtesy of Jay Inslee’s Twitter feed)
Gov. Inslee warns of stepped-up ‘stay home’ enforcement

“Thousands of calls” from residents concerned about businesses and people not following restrictions.

Most Read