- 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 But the tax was repealed just four weeks after it passed due to pushback from the public and business community.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.
Seattle (May 16, 2019) – Following her February announcement establishing her Executive Order addressing displacement, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan formally transmitted legislation establishing Community Preference, which will allow housing developers to give priority access to a portion of housing units to people who work in the neighborhood, or who formerly lived in a neighborhood and have experienced displacement. The legislation will be heard in the Housing, Health, Energy, and Worker’s Rights City Council committee, today.
“Far too many of our neighbors have been forced out of Seattle and communities of color have been displaced at shocking rates,” said Mayor Durkan. “We must use every tool available to protect our marginalized communities from the negative impacts of gentrification and displacement. By working with community, we can develop innovative ways to keep families rooted in the neighborhoods that they have called home for decades.”
“Rising rents driven by high-income earners migrating to the City have accelerated displacement and changed the character and culture of our neighborhoods,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle/South Park) “In high displacement risk neighborhoods like District 1’s South Park and Westwood/Highland Park, communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and people living on low-incomes can lose out on the opportunity Seattle has to offer when new, expensive development pushes them out of the vibrant neighborhoods that they helped create.”
“Past public policies that overtly excluded communities of color in our housing and zoning systems have resulted in the present day displacement pressures these same communities are currently facing. We need policies that proactively work to right these historic wrongs,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide). “Community Preference will enable affordable housing providers to prioritize those with historic connections to the communities that have been most harmed by this legacy of discrimination and segregation. This important anti-displacement strategy will support greater self-determination and community resilience by providing opportunities for folks to stay in—or return to—the neighborhoods where they have longtime social, cultural, faith and family ties.”
Hearing the call for increased access to more affordable housing from Seattle’s marginalized communities at high-risk displacement, Mayor Durkan directed City departments to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of displacement and further housing development throughout the city. In turn, and through extensive community engagement, the Office of Housing has restructured policy funding priorities of the 2016 Housing Levy’s Administrative and Financial (A&F) plan.
The Community Preference policy will only be applied in areas at high-risk of displacement. Seattle’s Office of Housing is actively working with Seattle Office of Civil Rights, community members and housing providers with projects under development to develop guidelines needed to apply preference on a project-by-project basis. In order to comply with federal fair housing law, developers must demonstrate tenant selection processes do not perpetuate segregation and do not disadvantage a protected class. Projects will conduct lotteries in accordance with the policy to select residents for preference units. Although not required, developers have the option of using the community preference approach to address displacement.
In addition to the Community Preference policy, Mayor Durkan’s legislation further addresses displacement with continued financing for property acquisition and preservation, the development of policies for homeownership on publicly owned sites, and expanding the City’s home repair program for low income homeowners.
In her February Executive Order, Mayor Durkan announced four central areas for strategic development of policies to mitigate the effects of residential displacement:
- Update and enhance policies and programs administered by the Office of Housing to promote low-income and marginalized communities access to opportunity to help prevent displacement.
- Advocacy at the Washington State Legislature for additional resources and tools for anti-displacement efforts and more affordable housing.
- Support of the City’s Equitable Development Initiative, which invests in Seattle’s existing community members and businesses in high displacement risk neighborhoods.
- Creating a Citywide cross-departmental workplan to look comprehensively at how residential anti-displacement efforts, which include regulations, tenant protections, incentives, and funding can work together to increase affordability and mitigate displacement.
Under Mayor Durkan, the City has made significant and historic, investments to provide affordable housing for Seattle’s low- and middle-income communities. Since December 2017, and along with our city, state, and federal partners, Mayor Durkan has announced more than $710 million to fund development of affordable homes. City investments will help build more than 3,600 new, low-income homes by 2022. In January 2018, Mayor Durkan established the Affordable Middle-Income Housing Advisory Council, to address the growing need of housing options for middle-income wage earners, including teachers, firefighters, and police, who have been priced out of the city. In March, Mayor Durkan signed legislation implementing the citywide expansion of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) that will produce 6,000 affordable homes throughout the city within 10 years.