- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan sent affordable housing legislation, the Community Preference policy, to the city council for consideration. It addresses housing for low-income residents and those displaced due to new housing developments or neighborhood revitalization. This advances her February executive order to create more affordable housing, especially in areas at high risk of residential displacement and gentrification.
- The ordinance would allow housing developers to designate a portion of units for priority access to people who work in the neighborhood or previously lived there and were displaced. Guidelines would be drawn up for applying community preference on a project-by-project basis via a lottery system. The measure would only apply to areas deemed high risk for displacement.
- The legislation also allots financing for property acquisition and preservation, developing policies for home ownership on city-owned sites and expanding the city's home repair program for low-income home owners. It potentially could go to the full city council as soon as next month.
Durkan has made housing affordability and related issues a top priority since taking office in November 2017. The Seattle area's rapid growth, especially with high-salaried tech employees, has contributed to a cost-of-living spike and housing affordability crisis. It is one of the cities leading the widening nationwide housing affordability crisis. The problem also has prompted an increase in homelessness in the Seattle region, for which the mayor and county executive at the time declared a state of emergency in 2015.
Seattle leaders have been researching and trying out a variety of solutions to stem the tide. Last year they proposed a head tax on the city's highest-grossing businesses to fund low-income housing and homelessness mitigation programs. But the tax was repealed just four weeks after it passed due to pushback from the public and business community. In December, Seattle and King County, WA officials committed to creating a single, independent body to oversee the region's approach to homelessness.
Durkan's newly proposed legislation aims to combat some of the negative effects of gentrification, specifically pushing out long-time citizens who can no longer afford to live in their revitalized neighborhoods. In many cities, including Seattle, people of color are disproportionately affected by displacement.
This legislation is in its early stages and likely will undergo numerous revisions. Leaders might benefit from further examining the individual initiatives it contains and the ordinance language, as well as the long-term consequences they could bring.
One element that could come up in discussions is that the legislation merely "encourages" developers to employ Community Preference but does not require it. Without mandates, incentives or penalties, developers might choose simply to sell or rent to those who can afford higher-priced new units instead of reserving some units for displaced citizens who need lower prices.
Another aspect to examine is language regarding which citizens are covered under Community Preference. One of the designated groups is citizens who "formerly lived in a neighborhood and have experienced displacement," according to the news release. Displacement is a problem best tackled before it happens because once long-time residents leave an area and settle somewhere else, it's often challenging to get them back to their original area. A variety of factors lead to this phenomenon including inability to afford long-term residence in the revitalized neighborhood, lack of desire to move again and an affinity for the new area. On a different scale, this was observed following Hurricane Katrina when New Orleans residents evacuated to other cities — including Houston — but never ended up returning.