Mayor, Council launch new affordable housing effort

Mayor Ed Murray and members of the City Council today launched an effort to develop new policies to encourage more affordable housing in Seattle.

“Now that we’ve successfully increased Seattle’s minimum wage, housing affordability is the next major policy area we must tackle to close the income inequality gap, and we must act with as great a sense of urgency as we did with the minimum wage,” said Murray. “As the fastest growing city in America, too many low and middle-income families find it increasingly difficult to live and work in Seattle. It’s a complex problem, but we’ve got to address concerns about both the cost and availability of housing in our city.”

Murray today signed a City Council Resolution creating the Housing Affordability & Livability Advisory Committee, and announced the committee’s structure, membership and timeframe for action.

“City residents, community groups, employers and others are deeply concerned about rising rents, erosion of affordable housing, the impacts of the size and type of housing being built throughout Seattle, and the best way for the City to engage,” said Councilmember Sally J. Clark, sponsor of the resolution chartering the housing plan work. “It’s time that we, as a city, take a sharp and purposeful look at the entire spectrum of housing development and affordability and to plan for what we want.”

“With the support of the Advisory Committee, we will develop a long-term plan for addressing the growing pressure on affordability and providing more opportunities to live in Seattle for more people,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “I am grateful to these individuals for stepping up to help us tackle one of the biggest issues we face in this city.”

The twenty-eight member, stakeholder Advisory Committee is being co-chaired by Faith Li Pettis of Pacifica Law Group and philanthropic-sector leader David Wertheimer, and includes renters and homeowners, for-profit and non-profit developers and other local housing experts.

The Advisory Committee will seek to identify and evaluate policy options to create more available housing for people all along the income spectrum.

“Seattle already faces a housing affordability challenge, and the demand for housing will only increase as our economy grows,” said Pettis. “We need to move from defining the problem to action, embracing the realities and possibilities that our economy and our unique strengths as a community provide.  I am excited and honored to be a part of this critical effort.”

“As a resident of Seattle for the past 25 years, I’ve watched as the city has grown significantly and struggled with important issues of housing affordability and livability,” said Wertheimer. “I look forward to joining with my colleagues on the Committee to create a strategic, long-term approach that keeps Seattle the vibrant, diverse, and creative community that it must continue to be.”

The Advisory Committee will review every piece of the housing puzzle, including exploring innovative ideas to pilot new types of housing, the impact of accessory dwelling units, new efforts to preserve existing affordable housing, opportunities to stretch our valuable Housing Levy dollars using public-private partnerships, and more.

A steering committee will direct the Advisory Committee’s efforts, which will include three public meetings in November and December, and an online town hall.

The Advisory Committee will complete its work and issue its recommendations to Murray by May 30, 2015.

In addition, Murray said the growing crisis of the unsheltered homeless population, which has increased more than 30 percent in the past three years, requires even more urgent action.

“At least 2,300 individuals are right now living in our streets, and will sleep there tonight,” said Murray. “To be without a home is a difficult enough challenge. But to be without shelter is something else entirely.”

Murray announced an Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homeless will convened by Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim in mid-October, with representation from the homeless advocacy community, non-profit service providers, funders, and members of business districts and neighborhoods.

Task Force members, who will be announced in the coming days, will have until December 15 to provide recommendations for how the City can better respond to the unsheltered homeless population of Seattle.

“Nothing will be off the table, including the issue of how best to address homeless encampments in our city,” said Murray.

Murray said the work of the Task Force will complement the effort he announced in his budget speech on Monday being undertaken by Human Service Department Director John Okamoto to evaluate the City’s investment in homeless services and make recommendations for how to better align them with best practices.

“While separate and distinct from the work of the Advisory Committee on Housing Affordability & Livability, these two related, parallel efforts will bring new focus to the issue of homelessness and our City’s investment in homeless services and programs,” said Murray.

Okamoto’s recommendations are due on March 1, 2015, Murray said.