Seattle mayor proposes doubling housing levy

On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray formally announced his plan to propose a renewal of the city’s housing levy that would nearly double the amount collected.

Seattle voters last approved this levy’s renewal in 2009, for $145 million to be collected over seven years. In 2016, Murray is asking voters to approve $290 million over seven years.

For the median home in Seattle, a property owner is paying $61 in 2016 for the existing levy. If the renewal is approved, that same property owner would pay at least $122 in 2017, depending on the increased value of the home.

“I don’t believe that there is anything more important that the people of the city of Seattle can do this year on the issue of affordable housing, and on the issue of homelessness than to step up and support the housing levy,” Murray said.

Seattle and King County voters approved several new levies over the last year or so, including emergency radio communications, Best Starts for Kids program, Move Seattle transportation, Honest Elections campaign finance, and the Seattle Parks District.

Because of these various approved taxes, Seattle property owners will see a 15 percent increase in total taxes paid, compared to 2015.

For someone with a median-priced home of $480,000, the difference is nearly $600.

“Is this going to end?” asked frustrated West Seattle resident Larry Clark at a community meeting Wednesday night. “Every little thing is ‘wonderful,’ but it keeps adding up for homeowners.”

“I think it’s really ironic that something for the homeless, and to help housing, is potentially knocking people out of their houses,” Clark added after the meeting.

Others at the community meeting were concerned that the city is rushing to proposal, without giving citizens time for feedback.

When KIRO 7 asked Murray about adding yet more money on top of that, he said, “First of all, our property in Puget Sound is worth more, which is one of the things that drives taxes. But the median tax on a house in Seattle is less than Bellevue, and Kirkland, and Redmond.”

KIRO 7 checked and found that statistic to be true. But Seattle property owners will see a larger increase in dollars paid in 2016, compared to those cities.

Move your mouse over the infographic below to see how Seattle taxes and increases compare to Eastside cities.

Murray also said, “It is, I realize a burden. It is not the most progressive approach. If – many of us tried to pass things like income tax, and the like, to have voters of the state say no.”

Seattle was the first in the nation to create such a levy to be used for affordable housing. Since 1981, 12,500 units have been created or preserved, which are required to stay at below-market rates for 50 years.

The proposed new levy hopes to create or preserve 2,150 affordable apartments and renovate 350 affordable apartments.

In addition, the levy has traditionally also helped provide one-time emergency rental assistance, and down payment assistance for low-income families buying a home for the first time.

With this proposal, the mayor hopes to prevent homelessness for 4,500 families, in increasing the amount available for short-term rental assistance.

That kind of assistance is what helped Beatrice Holbert get back on her feet last year. When her hours as a chef were cut back, she called 2-1-1 and was connected to Solid Ground, a nonprofit organization that receives levy funds.

Through Solid Ground, she was able to get help with rent for three months, in addition to workshops that helped her develop her catering business and enroll her in school.

Holbert said she cares for her 3-year-old granddaughter, and she worried about losing her home.

“I would kind of look at her, and she would look at me. She’d say, ‘grandma, you’re OK?’ And I’d say ‘yes.’ But you never really know what it is until it hits you,” Holbert said.