City Where the City Council Candidates Live; What Their Property is Worth; and What They Think About Affordable Housing
posted by August 10 at 13:40 PMon
by Rebecca Tapscott
Affordable housing is a major issue in Seattle right now. And the landscape is not good for middle-income, low-income—and by definition—young people.
The cost of a single-family Seattle home has risen nearly 100 percent in the past decade, pushing young would-be buyers to rentals outside of the city.
Additionally, increasing rents on King County apartments (up nine percent this year), magnify the trend.
On a related note, developers are reaping the financial rewards of converting low-priced rentals to condominiums that now sell for $250,000. The high returns have resulted in a 450% increase in conversion rates since 2004—and a potential loss of 3,900 low-cost rentals. (All the candidates told us they supported the condo conversion cap that Seattle unsuccessfully shopped in Olympia last year.)
We looked into public records to check out this year’s candidates’ housing status: Where they lived; the value of their house; or (horrors) were they a renter? One candidate has a home valued over $1 million (Bruce Herrell) and two were renters (Lauren Briel and Scott Feldman.)
We don’t want to persecute candidates for owning fancy houses in nice neighborhoods. But we are interested in how their living experience might influence what they think about housing issues. For example, for those candidates that live in single-family homes—are they willing to support legislation that will increase density at the cost of neighborhood comfort?
We also asked them to guess the average rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle (correct answer: $1010.
*This slog includes only council members we could reach for comment.
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Ravenna
Total home value: $447,000
Rent guess: $800
“A lot of the programs we have now are good programs with good sounding titles—[but] they don’t really prioritize the money very well.” Szwaja discussed a multi-family tax break that provides subsides to developers to provide affordable housing in areas like South Lake Union and the University District, where he claims it already exists. “It gets a lot of wealthy developers money to use it in a way we don’t need to subsidize.” He suggests requiring developers to provide low-income housing to be eligible for subsidies.
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Viewridge
Total home value: Total: $756,000
Rent guess: $1000
Godden shut down Szwaja’s proposals, saying that when the Council tried to provide subsidies for low-income housing, developers wouldn’t take the bait. In response, the Council changed the requirements, trying to spur development, even if it produced slightly less affordable homes. “It was just a practical matter,” she says. “We are in a growth period—and it’s wonderful to have full employment, it’s wonderful to have a place where everyone wants to live, but it makes land more expensive.”
Status: Renter; Neighborhood: Queen Anne
Rent guess: $1200 to $1400.
Briel clearly explained that Seattle’s affordable housing problems are caused by a lack of incentive for builders to construct affordable apartments. Since building condos pays off, they buy condos instead. She says, “I haven’t talked to any builders, so I don’t know specifically what tools they need but [lack of incentives is] the issue we need to address.”
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Queen Anne
Total home value: $305,000
Rent guess: $850
Sondheim also advocates the “incentives for builders” route. He expressed concern that the middle class and arts community are suffering from this surge in housing prices, and says that on the City Council he would work to provide affordable housing in central neighborhoods, like Capital Hill.
In a follow up phone interview, he added an additional idea. “We can build affordable housing in the way of condos and apartments, but for people to find affordable housing they really have to leave the city. One possibility no one is really talking about is improving transportation so that people can find affordable housing outside the city and get back and forth efficiently, and that would be a solution as well.”
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Mount Baker
Total home value: $692,000
Velazquez emphasizes the necessity to increase supply, which she hopes will decrease demand and cost. She also hopes to increase incentives for non-profit developers to build affordable housing. To support non-profit developers, Velazquez would like the City Council to take two steps. First, to developers purchase land to keep on cue—currently, they can only afford to purchase when they are ready to build, slowing down development—and second, provide tax breaks on affordable housing construction.
Specifically on the condo conversion cap, Velazquez says, “I’m hesitant…because for some people condos are actually a way to get into home ownership right away…Do I think that we have too many condos being converted right now and displacing renters? Yes. That’s why if I had to vote on it this year, I would actually vote [yes] on it now.”
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Genesee/Mount Baker
Total home value: $1,044,000
Rent guess: $749
Bruce Harrell covered a range of possible solutions, including living with roommates, increasing wages, and land acquisition and growth related housing funds. His overall emphasis rested on his desire for “all nine members of the City Council to embrace this issue.”
“Whether it’s called a land acquisition fund or a growth related housing fund, let’s define it and say, we’re going to earmark funds specifically for this issue. It’s critical in our city.”
Status: Renter; Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
Rent guess: $800
Like Velazquez, Feldman emphasizes supply and density.
“A core aspect that I believe is that we need to be able to work, live and educate ourselves within the city so we can protect our outlying areas. I mean, where did all this stuff in Sammamish come from? When did we get strip malls up in our foothills? That’s something that really concerns me about our area. I don’t want to see this sprawl taking place.”
Feldman suggests improving public transportation, which might cut the overall cost of living and allow people to spend more on housing. He also suggests a subsidy for public servants, who may not be able to finance city living.
Status: Homeowner; Neighborhood: Rainier Beach/Dunlap
Total home value: $266,000
Rent guess: $750
Manning emphasized keeping affordability in the city, saying “something needs to be set aside for low-income housing,” and it’s important to “[make] sure that there is affordability built in to whatever [developers] are building.”
Status: Homeowner; Wedgwood
Total home value: $361,000
Rent guess: $1000
Runte didn’t weigh in much during the affordable housing discussion, except to point out that if housing remains too expensive for young people, the night life problem may take care of itself.
Status: Homeowner; Mt. Baker
Total home value: $389,000
We still trying to reach Clark for her position. We don't feel like talking to her opponent Stan Lippmann anymore.