Housing talk

WHAT A CACOPHONY! No fewer than five city officials—four City Council members and Mayor Greg Nickels—have put forward proposals pushing their vision for this year’s citywide housing levy, which provides subsidies for low- income tenants and home buyers. Now the question is which of the proposals will make it onto the September ballot—and who will benefit if taxpayers vote for the levy again.

The debate over the six-year levy funded by property taxes is both philosophical and practical: Should levy dollars be used to help middle-income renters—those making up to 80 percent of Seattle’s median income ($54,400 for a family of four)—buy into Seattle’s pricey housing market? Or should the money be invested in rental housing for the poorest of the poor—those making less than 30 percent of Seattle’s median ($23,350 for a family of four)?

The mayor’s proposal would give a larger chunk of levy dollars—12 percent, or $11.4 million of the $95 million total—to first-time, middle-income home buyers. Not everyone was happy with that proposal, and within weeks, a new series of plans—ranging from one with no funding for homeowner assistance (from council member Judy Nicastro) to one that would prune the levy back to $89 million over eight years (from council member Jan Drago)—came flying off council desks.

At press time, council members Peter Steinbrueck (pictured), Nick Licata, and Richard McIver were tossing around ideas for a compromise proposal that would reduce home-buyer assistance, increase rental assistance for very poor tenants, and substantially reduce the overall size of the levy.

Left to his own devices, Steinbrueck says, “I’d say let’s eliminate [homeownership funding] altogether.” But considering the popularity among his colleagues of homeownership programs, Steinbrueck says he’s willing to compromise by cutting the home-buyer subsidy in the mayor’s proposal in half, to around $5.5 million, and adding funding for low- income rental assistance. Reducing the overall size of the levy, which would cost the average homeowner around $64 a year, is another option Steinbrueck says he’d like his fellow council members to consider.

Erica C. Barnett