Seattle moves quickly on new funds for affordable housing

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Seattle’s new sales tax proposal is expected to bring in more than $50 million dollars. But don’t panic. It’s not a new tax, it’s a tax you’re already paying.

This past session, the Legislature passed a bill that lets cities and counties keep a small percent of sale tax revenue they collect for the state over the next 20 years — so long as they use it to build or operate housing for the homeless and low-income residents.

It’s new access to existing tax dollars. But to get access, cities have to pass a bill that shows their intent to use the tax. They also have to pass an authorization bill. The new state rule kicked in Monday, and on Thursday a council committee quickly approved those bills.

Seattle’s new plan to curb affordable housing crisis

“This is a way for Seattle to lead the state in implementing this new tool that has been offered to us,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said ahead of the committee vote.

Mosqueda fought hard for the change in state law in Olympia this session, along with Councilmember Lorena Gonzales.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan praised the committee’s action.

“In this past legislative session, the city of Seattle’s top priority was to create new tools to build and operate more affordable housing,” Durkan said in a statement. “This critical local option bond bill gives the city the ability to retain more sales tax revenues and new bonding capacity to build and operate new affordable homes for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle.”

“Now, we have the chance to invest more than $50 million to build and support new homes for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. I applaud the City Council’s quick initial action and look forward to the full Council voting to make Seattle among the first cities in the state to seize this opportunity to investment more in housing for our neighbors living unsheltered.”

The plan is to use the money specifically for permanent, supportive housing. Also, heavily subsidized affordable housing meant for the chronically homelessness in buildings that also have wraparound services for medical, addiction, and mental health care.

Implementing this new state plan was the first step Mayor Durkan’s new Housing Seattle Now initiative, announced a couple of weeks ago. That initiative aims to invest at least $50 million to build housing for people experiencing homeless. The money would come from bonding local sales taxes, and taking advantage of the sales tax access.