Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Housing Now! And Tomorrow Too!

Last week, the Seattle Human Services Coalition put a modest proposal before the Seattle City Council. We should take $12.5 million of Seattle’s $70 million projected budget surplus this year and make an investment in long-term housing affordability.

The white-hot Seattle condo market, rising land values, and double-digit rates of increase in rental prices have led to unprecedented losses in Seattle’s affordable housing stock, and the trend continues.

Forbes Magazine just named Seattle as one of the few places in the nation where housing is likely to remain a strong investment. That’s good news for homeowners, but for the rest of us, it just means housing costs are likely to keep rising.

If you want to see the future, look to San Francisco, where a one-bedroom apartment now goes for around $1,500, and rents are up another 8.3% over just the last year.

A Seattle Housing Acquisition Fund would provide loans to non-profit developers who need the flexibility to move fast on available opportunities. By helping the good guys compete for properties with those who often have superior resources, Seattle can make a long term-difference in the outlook for affordability. The best part is that the fund renews itself. As projects succeed, the money is repaid and becomes available for others.

This is an idea that has worked well in numerous cities, including Washington, DC, which established a $15 million fund in 2005, and New York, which parleyed $8 million in city investment into a $230 million fund supported by nine private foundations.

Opportunities to make a real difference in Seattle’s housing market do not arise all that often. This is a bold investment in the future that needs action by the City Council now, when the resources and the political will are aligned. It’s the right idea at the right time. Hearing dates and City Council contact information can be found here.

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