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.
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.”
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.