The Need for Social Housing in Seattle

Seattle trails international peer cities in its social housing stock, but there are steps city leaders can take to produce more units and increase affordability.

March 3, 2021, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Brick Apartments

Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

Doug Trumm reports on Seattle's limited progress in creating more social housing, defined as "several forms of affordable housing including public housing, nonprofit housing, and rent-restricted homes in market-rate buildings offered via incentive programs like inclusionary zoning." Trumm points to peer cities around the world where social housing is a major part of housing policy. Singapore's social housing comprises 80% of housing stock; in Vienna, that number is 60%. Famously expensive Paris is on track to have 30% social housing by 2030. In Seattle, social housing comprises just 8.6% of housing stock, a number not projected to increase much.

Building more social housing, Trumm argues, " would combat displacement and shrink commutes for working class people, who keep the city functioning and culturally vibrant," and "engender mixed-income neighborhoods rather than Seattle slipping into a one-class city of the rich." This sentiment is echoed by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, whose statement that "everyone should have the possibility to live in Paris" has guided city policy during her administration.

According to Trumm, Seattle has the opportunity to build more social housing through the Seattle Housing Levy, the city's Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, and a variety of tax programs aimed at promoting housing density and producing revenue for housing projects. "The benefits of social housing are significant and setting an ambitious social housing target isn’t about bragging rights. It’s about making Seattle a better city and increasing quality of life for all people, not just the rich." Once freed from excessive rent burdens, Trumm writes, "working class folks would pump money into the economy, invest in education, business ventures, cultural creation, and their personal wellbeing."

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