Housing costs have risen beyond the reach of many

Seattle, WAAverage Seattle incomes aren’t keeping up with rising housing costs and home ownership and rental opportunities are moving beyond the reach of wageworkers.

That fact prompted Mayor Greg Nickels to unveil his new housing program last week, which aims to put more homes within reach of Seattle’s working class. Nickels’ proposal, called “Seattle Homes Within Reach,” will expand an existing multifamily tax exemption program for developers and landlords to more neighborhoods.

The city defines “affordable” as being “something that meets an individuals needs,” said Rick Hooper, policy director for the city’s Office of Housing. In general, a homeowner should be spending no more than 40 percent of their monthly income on housing costs, and for renters, no more than 30 percent.

The median income in King County is about $50,000 for a single person household, according to Adrienne Quinn, director of the housing office.

The city looks at providing housing at all levels of the workforce, Quinn said, but by law, subsidies stop at about 80 percent of median income, or around $40,000. Under the state constitution, no government entity can gift or lend money to anyone with the exception of the “poor and infirmed,” a law Quinn called “archaic.”

The housing department spends about two-thirds of its budget on housing for people making $20,000 a year or less. About one-third is targeted to the $22,000 to 42,000 income levels.

Someone making 80 percent of median could afford a $1,090 unit or purchase a home in the low $100’s, said Hooper. But in general new construction prices are much more than that.

New condo construction went up 15 percent to17 percent since the first of the year. Hooper said an individual would have to be earning about 120 percent of median income, or $65,000 to $75,000, to buy a medium sized condo in today’s market.

Rents have increased by about 14 percent in the last two years, consistent with year’s prior, said Hooper. One-bedrooms in Ballard rent at an average of $790 and two-bedrooms go for about $850, according to realtors here.

“We are fast moving toward $1,100 a month studios,” Hooper said at a recent Seattle City Council forum on affordable housing. Several major developers in Seattle were invited to discuss how they could make new homes and rentals less expensive.

The mayor’s new housing incentive plan, which still needs council approval, would provide a 12-year tax exemption on the residential portion of new apartment buildings in which 20 to 25 percent of the units are priced for people earning up to $49,000 or families who earn around $62,000.

The monthly rent for an individual under the plan would be no more than about $1,170, between $50 and $250 below market rate, according the mayor’s office. Only single-person households earning up to about $38,000 qualify for the current program.

The Seattle Displacement Coalition, a housing advocacy group, called the mayor’s plan “outrageous,” saying it doesn’t address the real housing problem in Seattle – low income. Instead, the mayor’s program would provide millions in tax breaks to developers who set aside a small portion of units for those earning above what the average income tenant can afford, according to the coalition.

By Rebekah Schilperoort, Ballard News Tribune

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