Housing Levy aired at Southwest District Council; 2nd WS discussion promised. Plus: Fauntleroy Boulevard, again

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Hours after Mayor Murray officially unveiled the $290 million, 7-year Housing Levy renewal/expansion, it was the centerpiece of this month’s Southwest District Council meeting.

First – here’s the overview flyer:

The briefing was led by Office of Housing director Steve Walker, with colleague Maureen Kostyack. He first tried to explain where HALA (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) and the levy overlap, and where they don’t.

Voters have elected “to tax themselves for affordability” since 1981, he said, segueing into the levy-specific discussion.

This will cost you about $10/month if you have a home around $480,000 in value – double the $5/month for the housing levy that’s expiring, according to Walker, who added: “In the end, the levy’s about people … How can we create an opportunity for our children to be able to live in Seattle? … At the pace we’re going, that’s not possible. How can we be sure people aren’t displaced by the community and the community connection they have?”

Kostyack summarized the three areas the levy is intended to address (the city team was supposed to have a slide deck but couldn’t get the setup to work, so they improvised without it):

*Affordable rental housing: Priorities are housing for seniors and disabled people – low-wage workers – homeless people. “Depending on the population, there may be on-site services or connections to community services.” Vouchers would be included here too. “The housing’s located throughout the city,” continued Maureen, while acknowledging the map showing there’s a lot concentrated downtown. The city doesn’t generally pick up the full tab – it’s usually a ratio of one city dollar to three dollars from other sources, governmental and otherwise.

First question from Pete Spalding, who represents the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce on SWDC: Given that this levy is double the last one, “what’s different that would make people vote for it?”

Maureen said one of her upcoming topics – preventing displacement – was an example. Also, “A lot of what we’re trying to do is making sure that as we grow, there are some affordable opportunities for people.” Walker picked up that HALA is an important part of the overall conversation because “the levy alone” won’t do it. “The levy is really the instrument, the financing mechanism that speaks to the most vulnerable. … It’s a housing-production program,” including the 50-year affordability requirement. It doesn’t build shelters, but does build some permanent housing to get people out of homelessness. And he picked up a theme the mayor had sounded last week – “the federal government is walking away from these issues … We’re challenged with trying to fill a void.” (Later, he added that something “different” would be “different financing models.” And Kostyack said they’re building more family-sized housing – two- and three-bedroom units – to the program.)

If the federal and state governments are “walking away,” asked one attendee, where is the “multiplier” money coming from? That wasn’t answered. Next question wondered how much help seniors would get from this, as they are a growing and vulnerable population. Kostyack said, “It’s always been high on the priority list and will continue to be.”

Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association asked how many affordable units were produced by the last levy. More than the 1,670 goal – about 2,000 – said the city reps, in part because the recession allowed some purchase of property with affordable prices. “We’re going to be coming in well ahead of the goal,” and they hope this one will exceed goals too. (It was clarified later, those are new units.)

An attendee who works for a housing provider says they’ve gotten smarter about how they use the money.

Next area:

Preventing homelessness: Services are provided to help people stay in their home or move to a place that’s more affordable if that’s not viable – paying for a screening report, for example: “The small amounts can make all the difference,” said Kostyack. Short-term rent payments might help, too. The program is funded at $11.5 million, serving 4,500 families over the levy period. “Families access the service by calling for help” via 211, which is provided in multiple languages.

Chris Langeler, executive director of the West Seattle Helpline, said he’s excited to hear about an increase in that, because it’s the kind of emergency assistance his agency provides. He wondered about geographic priorities, for example. Kostyack said the city knows the current resources don’t meet the need. “In terms of priorities – I think the biggest priority is to try to use the learning from national best practices to identify which family is at most risk of becoming homeless. … One of the highest risk factors when you are facing eviction is having been homeless before.”

And third:

Assisting with home-buying: One of the program involves working with a land trust to build houses that will be kept affordable in perpetuity. It can also help with low-income homeowners who are at risk of losing their home – including funding for life-safety repairs, or a “one-time mortgage-rescue loan.” This is a new part of the levy, Kostyack said.

What happens next in the process? This is one of about half a dozen presentations planned around the city. They could come back out again, Walker said, if need be. “We’ll be spending the next 20-plus days with our track shoes on, having conversations like this,” as well as an online survey, and then making some modifications/adjustments before the mayor sends the council a final version by March 1st. They have not yet decided whether to send this to voters in August or November but “have been asked to stay on a schedule that would enable an August vote,” requiring the levy to get to the county by mid-May.

“It just kind of seems we’re rushing through this to get it on the August ballot,” said Spalding. “Seems there should be time for the community to have a more thoughtful conversation about it … just feels like there’s this push to get it done.” Deb Barker of the Morgan Community Association added that her organization meets quarterly; Spalding says his community (Pigeon Point Community Council) meets every other month; but that means they’re left out of the feedback deadline.

The city’s been working on this for a long time, said Walker, and it’s a renewal, not something new.

But even this meeting was a late announcement, said Cindi Barker, who’s with MoCA and West Seattle Be Prepared.

OK, we’ll be back in West Seattle, promised Walker. They’ll figure out when and where.

Also at SWDC:

FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD: Picking up from the discussion at last Thursday’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting (WSB coverage here), SWDC talked about the power-undergrounding issue, which has been unsettled for a year now, brought up first in January 2015 by former Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, now picked up by Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

This project has been more than a decade in the making, Sharonn Meeks of the Fairmount Community Association pointed out. As she summarized it, it’s meant to make the area “a more encompassing, walkable, walk-shed opportunity.” As Melrose of WSJA pointed out, it’s fully funded for construction in the Move Seattle levy – $16 million. But the potential undergrounding of utilities was not included. “But I think there are many who feel the visual impacts and the investment in the project at this time would be a tremendous lasting benefit to West Seattle and this is the time to make the investment in our neighborhood. Other neighborhoods get tremendously beautiful … pedestrian corridors.” It could cost $5 million to $7 million. SDOT wants to know which way to go – they’re ready to move forward without undergrounding, maybe as soon as this year, or await pursuit of the additional funding. City Light would have to contribute – up to 60 percent, it was said by those who had seen an e-mail chain going around.

Herbold wondered if SDOT had reached out to schedule a conversation as she had asked them to. Not yet, said the community-group leaders in the room.
One question that came up: Would there be a cost for private businesses along the route to reconnect to the underground utilities, separate from the $5 million to $7 million?

Another question: Will waiting run the risk of losing the money set aside for the project? Herbold said she thought it “might be particularly vulnerable” since it’s the only project “that is 100 percent fully levy funded.”

So what next? It was agreed that real info about the costs is required, as is a smaller-group meeting to strategize, once the costs (and other facts) are obtained.

GATHERING OF NEIGHBORS: If you’ve missed the mentions in previous coverage – 9:30 am-1:30 pm on March 12th, VIEWS is presenting this year’s Gathering of Neighbors at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. The theme is “Growing Pains”; it will include a panel on youth homelessness.

JUNCTION PLAZA PARK: Troy Pillow, who’ll be doing the art at Junction Plaza Park, will be at Cupcake Royale during West Seattle Art Walk on Thursday, February 11th, and it’s your chance to comment on the possibilities. (Watch for a followup on this before then!)

The Southwest District Council, whose members represent community councils and other organizations in the area of western West Seattle that the city designated as the SW District, meets first Wednesdays, 6:30 pm, Sisson Building.

39 Replies to "Housing Levy aired at Southwest District Council; 2nd WS discussion promised. Plus: Fauntleroy Boulevard, again"

  • 935 February 3, 2016 (11:12 pm)

    Not a chance. No WAY voters are going to raise taxes again….Oh wait….This is Seattle…YES YES YES!!!!If there werent so many taxes, I’d expect to see residents burning $100 bills for warmth. Oops, thst might create a false PSCAA burn ban…..

  • Seattlite February 4, 2016 (5:11 am)

    NO more taxes.  Seattle’s leadership is corrupt at best and has no vision to solve Seattle’s problems other than to take money from the middle class.  Seniors are being taxed right out of their homes.   Margaret Thatcher — “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

  • WestSeattleLiving February 4, 2016 (5:16 am)

    I am not interested in paying more taxes to an inefficient government and will vote no.I would love to hear, just once them say…we take plenty of money from you tax payers…we will figure out how to use the money we already take from you and make it work…

  • Rick February 4, 2016 (5:43 am)

    Yeah,tax yourself out of your home that you worked for your whole life to support those who choose not to work. I’ve grown weary of the excuses. Welcome to freattle. You know what I’m talking about. Hey 935, let’s burn some of those C notes.

  • Brian February 4, 2016 (6:55 am)

    A yearly $120 bill so that some folks can maybe have a chance to sleep inside sometimes? Hell, I’ll probably get a raise worth 25x that this year just because I’m privileged enough to work in a white collar desk job where I process spreadsheets like a robot. I think I’ll live. Voting Yes.

  • WSince86 February 4, 2016 (7:42 am)

    Congratulations on your forthcoming  large raise, Brian.  Not all of us have the confidence you do that our wages will go up 25x the amount the Mayor wants out of us for THIS levy.  What about the NEXT one, too?  It’s just too much, when you add it all together, for a lot of folks to bear.  Or, maybe we are choosing not to WANT to afford it, just like we’ve chosen not to live our lives ‘processing spread sheets like a robot’!  

    • Brian February 4, 2016 (8:03 am)

       Certainly life is full of choices that we all make and live with. I can’t speak for “the next one” because I can’t see into the future, unfortunately. What I can speak for is the rapid increase in homeless (especially homeless youths) who have no where else to go. Maybe once we get that situation under control we can hem and haw over whether or not $120 is going to put us out on the street too (if it is, you should probably reach out to King County and City of Seattle social services because you’re literally living on the brink of poverty if that is the case).

      • Joe February 4, 2016 (11:35 am)

        The problem is, the city wants to add $100 – $200 almost every year. 

  • Kmac February 4, 2016 (8:14 am)

    Love the fuzzy math in the caption box at the top…..somehow $122/year increase per household only equals $5.00 per month!  LOL   No…I am not supporting Freeatle or this administration.  One term and done!

    • WSB February 4, 2016 (8:39 am)

      Currently, the housing levy that expires at the end of this year costs $5/month to the city’s example homeowner. Again, that levy is expiring. What is proposed would cost $10/month. So it is a $5/month increase, as the city flyer says.

      • KT February 4, 2016 (10:02 am)

        “…if you have a home around $480,000 in value…”   

  • GDD February 4, 2016 (10:25 am)

    Is there a website which shows all of the current levies in Seattle and their expiration dates?

  • wetone February 4, 2016 (12:30 pm)

     I have to agree with many of the comments,  Mayor Murray seems out of touch in so many areas. Making it very tough to trust his decision making and feeding tax dollars to. Most white-collar jobs keep up, but most blue collar jobs pay equal or less than 10yrs ago. Most people today allow a couple hours for daily commute as SDOT director Kubly has done nothing to help and for many things are worse. Many of his projects have to be redesigned after built to get positive outcome if any. Until I see some belt tightening from government don’t expect me to volunteer anymore money to city. Just remember Mayor Murray and crew have a couple more new levy’s in work soon to be released. Probably need new levy to cover Pronto bike share bail out and hiring of more city employees to run program pushing losses even bigger than today. Cheaper to buy all Seattleites own bike, therefore  justifying all the required bike parking on new builds and elsewhere along with money city spent on bike lanes/road configurations ; )   

  • John February 4, 2016 (1:15 pm)

     I gotta say I never really paid much attention to my property taxes until I starting thinking about retirement.  I’ll be on a fixed income and my home value will have me paying $400/month.  That’s a lot of money to give to the City for a house that I owe!  I can understand why many people have to sell and move out of Seattle.  I’m voting “NO”. There must be another way to get money?! 

  • B February 4, 2016 (1:35 pm)

    I worry that the housing levy bypasses the normal feedback loop for supply and demand. Developers will not build low income housing, because they know they can build more expensive housing (let’s call it “middle income housing”) and low income people can get subsidized to live there. Likewise, if rents go up, low income people who can’t afford it move away; then the labor market shrinks for low income workers. So, you’d expect a) companies would pay more to attract workers back or b) developers would see the increased demand for cheaper housing and then build more. But again, if we subsidize then we remove that feedback. Rent control is even worse – it’s the subsidy PLUS penalizing owners by forcing them to rent below market rate. 

  • Alkiobserver February 4, 2016 (2:42 pm)

    I am voting no. I don’t trust the fools asking for this levy to actually dispense with it properly. The same flavor of incompetence that runs amok in Seattle Housing Authority or the city council dopes that want the taxpayers to buy a failing bike sharing service will surely doom this housing levy to yet another waste of our tax dollars. The endless socialistic taxation of home and property owners is cutting the legs out from the working class.  I am all for helping the less fortunate, but this chronic use of us as the wallet has got to stop or my family and I will end up in the soup kitchen line ourselves.  I say to all those offering to gleefully pay this, great.  We contribute to helping those in need through our church by choice. I think instead of a levy like this, we should have the mayor put this out there as a volunteer-only tax like those when you renew your tabs where you get to opt in or out and specify how much, if any you want to contribute. 

  • Captain Dave February 4, 2016 (2:56 pm)

    The City of Seattle is becoming as corrupt as Baltimore and Detroit.  We are ruled by proxy from the boards of subsidized crony monopolies and special interest groups that want us home owners to pay more than our fair share.     Seattle’s war against small businesses through excessive regulation and fees has greatly reduced job diversity and prosperity opportunities for local residents that don’t have the skills or interest to work for the Amazon, Boeing or Microsoft.  I know because my business was one of those that was quietly forced out–not by law, but by arbitrary bureaucratic policy aimed at benefitting the crony class.   MANY OF US NON-AMAZONIANS CAN’T AFFORD MORE TAXES.  (Except for perhaps those on City payroll who have seen huge wage increases at our expense). Many people are having to adjust their mortgages just to pay the bloated taxes and fees we have now.     History shows that this has 100% chance of being another big waste of money. Seattle’s social engineering experiments have been a colossal failure. We now have more homeless and impoverished people than ever before.  The Mayor wants to train us “filthy rich” space-wasting home owners to accept more escalating taxes every time they create a new scheme to enhance government services.  Seattle’s policies have done nothing but put many of us on the path to joining the poor.  There is no way I am going to vote for another dime to be collected by these clowns.     It’s time we start having some real discussions about how this City should be working for all it’s citizens.  We need to end the self-enriched political class that could eventually turn Seattle into the Detroit of the west.     The best way to make Seattle affordable is to 1.) Reduce bureaucratic barriers to small businesses so that Seattle can return to being a entrepreneurial center that creates wage-competitive jobs–(like back in the days Microsoft and Amazon started). 2.) Improve both public and private transportation in and out of the City via land and sea so that more places are within reasonable commuting distance. 3.) For those who still cannot make it, lets use excess Port of Seattle property to build homes from used shipping containers like they have done in other progressive cities around the world.–Google it. You will see some fantastic low-cost examples of very livable dwellings.

  • Ms. Sparkles February 4, 2016 (3:12 pm)

    I can afford this, and I would vote for it IF they repealed the 12 year property tax exemption for builders who include low income housing in their plans.  But currently the people profiting most off the growth that squeezing out affordable housing aren’t paying enough into the support system.

  • dcn February 4, 2016 (3:37 pm)

    My biggest concern is the level of increases we are seeing in levy renewals. The new transportation levy was double the old one. This levy is double the old one. And then there are all the new levies as well. These increases are compounded by the rapid rise in property values, which increases the amount paid in taxes too. If everyone had jobs like Brian and had nice raises every year to cover these increases, it would be fine. But for the people in Seattle whose income doesn’t change much from year to year, this can make it hard to afford a once affordable home. And, since we don’t get to set the amount of the levy, we are left with a yes or no vote on helping the homeless, paying for road improvements, schools, parks,etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                     I also wonder why the increases in levy amounts need to be so large, when higher property values and more homes/condos being built mean much more revenue for the city. I will pay about 60% more in levy taxes compared to 5 years ago when I bought my house, just based on the increase in value of my home. This doesn’t even include increases in levy amounts or new levies. I dread seeing my new house payment for the coming year. 

    • sam-c February 4, 2016 (4:45 pm)

      Where’s Tim Eyman when you need him? Wait, did I actually just say that?   I’m scared to see my new house payment too. 

  • Born on Alki 59 February 4, 2016 (3:56 pm)

    Captain Dave, well said. Liberal City=Liberal taxdollars being spent uh…..Extremely Liberally.Enough of the tax and spend and tax em’ again because we wasted those tax dollars on something else mentality. How about some accountability?

  • Rick February 4, 2016 (3:57 pm)

    Captain Dave – Quit making sense.

  • KT February 4, 2016 (4:07 pm)

    I have tried to get a listing of all outstanding levies from the Mayor’s office to no avail.  I gave up keeping track of them in 2012.  I know right now there is a Low Income Housing Levy, Families and Education Levy, Bridging the Gap Levy, Libraries Levy, Seawall Levy, and I don’t know what else.  We just passed that incredible Transportation Levy, the rumors persist of a Public Safety levy proposal this fall, and now this Low Income Housing renewal is made public.  I know there is little sympathy for those of us who are elderly and/or retired and whose income is not increasing.  Yes, I can pay my tax bill.  But at what point does paying the tax bill impact me so much financially that I have to head out of Seattle?  Here is what really concerns me … there is no question that building is at an unprecedented level in Seattle adding to the tax rolls and increasing the property tax collections plus property tax valuations are sky rocketing also increasing the property tax collections.  So where are the extra $$$ going to?     

    • candrewb February 4, 2016 (4:55 pm)

      Here is a list of current levies’ per year amounts. Mind you, these are Seattle only. King County has their own set as well and I haven’t been able to get a summary of those… Housing ($20.7 million) Families/Ed ($33.1 million) Library ($17.3 million) Preschool ($14.6 million) Seattle Park District ($47.8 million) Move Seattle Transportation ($95 million)

  • anonyme February 4, 2016 (5:06 pm)

    How ironic that this levy ostensibly provides resources for elderly, disabled and low-income folks while simultaneously driving them out of their homes due to outrageous property taxes and cost of living increases.  Social Security was frozen again this year, and yet the ‘real’ costs of living for seniors (not artificial COLA estimates) continue to soar.

  • Junctionite February 4, 2016 (6:01 pm)

    Agree with John, we recently paid off our mortgage, planning to retire in about 5 years. Will probably end up selling to Amazon hipsters at this rate of increase. Hard to justify $100 a week only for property taxes. And these are never just levy renewals anymore, always significant increases. 

  • Jakers February 4, 2016 (6:14 pm)

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Doing the same thing and throwing more money at a complex problem without understanding the problem will not fix anything.  All this does is allow the holier-than-thou’s and weekend warriors for the cause to pontificate and feel good about themselves and superior to others because “they are doing something” even though the “something” is not, and has not been working.  The city of Seattle needs to take a long look at the problems that it is facing, and admit that what has been tried in the past has been a failure, and realize that to “double down” will only make that failure worse.  More money is not what is needed.  The existing money being spent in a way that will have a real, and lasting impact is what is needed and clearly, nobody in a position of authority in Seattle understands what this is.    Unfortunately, too many of the citizens of Seattle also don’t understand that either; the saying that in a democracy people get the kind of gov’t they deserve is very true.  Quick fixes and “solutions” that only make the problems less obvious, less “dirty” and only work until people stop paying attention are not solutions at all; they are just a way to let the above types of people feel good about themselves.Increasing the amount of this levy and simply doing more of the same will not fix the housing problem.  A real fix to the problem is not solved by money alone, and will not be fast, easy, clean or simple.  It will also anger a large portion of very vocal Seattle residents andforce many people to admit that they were wrong, and complicit in keeping these problems alive.And so it is unlikely that anything will actually happen.

  • canton February 4, 2016 (8:11 pm)

    Been also trying to find a list of current levies. Seems with all the multiple years involved with each, there’s a lot of overlapping. With the current school levies, only one seems to actually be expiring, the 2013 capital levy was for 6 years. Why are they claiming that both are expiring? Where’s the transparency and accountability that shows taxpayers where EVERY  dollar is spent?

  • canton February 4, 2016 (11:09 pm)

    What’s the term and differences between the two? Both enact the same goals, just different headings? 

  • Mickymse February 5, 2016 (12:17 pm)

    Wow… Who are some of you and where do you live in West Seattle? For starters, apparently some of you think that once you have paid off your mortgage you no longer have any duties to contribute property taxes for City services? That’s what you sound like at least. For those concerned about what the City does with the money, and whether or not it’s well spent, feel free to visit the Office of Housing;s website for a complete accounting of how funds are spent, how many units have been built or preserved, and stories of some of the people who have benefited from these funds: http://www.seattle.gov/housing/levy

  • dcn February 5, 2016 (1:04 pm)

    According to the Seattle Times link that Devnull posted in an earlier comment, money for Seattle city levies is increasing from 125.4 million in 2015 to 228.5 million in 2016. That’s an 82% increase. This doesn’t include King County Levies nor the increase in taxes due to higher property values.  I don’t see the K-12 school levies either. Now I really dread getting my tax bill this year. 

  • LJ February 5, 2016 (2:05 pm)

    The developers (with the City’s blessing) are responsible for the affordable housing being torn down. For seniors like myself it’s not possible to keep up so then you have more people needing affordable housing . What’s wrong with this picture? Let the developers pay their fair share since they’re the ones making money on this fiasco.

  • ChannelingLewisBlack February 5, 2016 (8:41 pm)

    Need to face the reality that Seattle property owners are going to be incessantly subject to increased levies that, in my limited time here, have no efficacy.  The sheer fact that there are more voters that do not own property will perpetuate this.  if you don’t have to open up a property tax bill and actually pay it, it’s an easy way to feel good.  And spare the “even renters pay property taxes” mantra.It would be easier to digest if we saw balanced focus on the needs of the property owners – say – eliminate car prowls, RV parking and assaults.  But instead we have a city council and mayor that would rather grab more headlines by throwing money at the problem by creating $7m KOAs instead of providing real solutions and respecting the rights, sanctity, and financial viability of the homeowner.This is what caused “Prop 13′ in California.  We ridicule Eyman but “tax by vote” is not responsible government either.  City Council and Mayor – focus.  Now.

  • RayK February 6, 2016 (8:15 pm)

    The FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD PROJECT visual impacts so admired by proponents of the change will LIKELY be affected by ST3’s light rail construction either “planting” pylons in the median planters for an elevated rail structure or displace at least one travel lane at grade for the rails. If it is at grade the catenary will be raised on utility poles, many more poles that now carry the utility services.”One question that came up: Would there be a cost for private businesses along the route to reconnect to the underground utilities, separate from the $5 million to $7 million?” The answer was that the property owners must pay to again connect to SCL and SPU services. In many / most cases the businesses along that stretch of Fauntleroy Blvd don’t own their building site.

Sorry, comment time is over.