Washington State Standard: What advocacy groups want from lawmakers in 2024

As we approach the dawn of 2024, local advocacy groups are raising their voices to encourage lawmakers to address crucial issues, with a spotlight on affordable housing. We are among these advocates, continuing to push for more accessible housing solutions.

We continue to emphasize the need for significant investments in affordable housing across the board. Our vision encompasses various types of housing, emphasizing not only rental units but also opportunities for homeownership. As the cost of living continues to rise, Habitat for Humanity is calling on the Legislature to take bold steps in ensuring affordable homeownership remains within reach for many.

A key focus of our advocacy mission is the preservation and expansion of Black homeownership. We are urging lawmakers to allocate resources for down payment assistance and property tax relief specifically designed to support and enhance Black homeownership. Recognizing the disparities that exist, we aim to contribute to closing the gap and fostering more inclusive communities.

We are also pushing for practical measures to streamline affordable housing projects through quicker permitting processes and lower fees to provide cities and counties with more opportunities to facilitate affordable housing initiatives. By reducing bureaucratic hurdles, these changes could catalyze the development of more affordable housing units, addressing the pressing need for accessible living spaces.

This call to action aligns with a broader movement striving for positive change in housing policies. For those interested in delving deeper into the advocacy efforts shaping the landscape, a recent story from the Washington State Standard explores what various advocacy groups, including Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, are seeking from lawmakers in 2024. Click the link to read the Washington State Standard story.

As we move forward, it’s evident that the collective push for affordable housing is gaining momentum. Habitat for Humanity and similar groups are at the forefront, urging lawmakers to embrace transformative policies that can reshape the future of housing accessibility. Stay tuned as we navigate the evolving landscape of advocacy, working towards a more inclusive and affordable housing future for all.

Seattle Times: Seattle voters to decide on $970M levy to fund affordable housing

In a significant move to tackle Seattle’s housing crisis, voters are preparing to make a crucial decision on the city’s largest-ever property tax measure for affordable housing.

The latest iteration of the Seattle Housing Levy aims to raise an impressive $970 million over a span of seven years, which is more than triple the existing levy set to expire at the end of this year. Supporters of the levy assert that it represents a “critical investment” in the city’s housing stock, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the housing shortage.

Patience Malaba, a leader of the Yes for Homes campaign and the executive director of the Housing Development Consortium, underscores the gravity of the situation, stating, “We are in a deepening housing crisis that demands more tools at scale, and this levy rises to meet the moment.” However, not everyone is in unanimous agreement, as the levy also has prominent skeptics who advocate for alternative strategies to address the housing challenges facing Seattle.

Click the link to read the full Seattle Times article.

Habitat Repairs Keep a Hub of Comfort Going

Ivory Haywood embarked on a big adventure in 1972 when she followed her older brother to Seattle from rural Mississippi. He came here to join a pro basketball team and Ivory came in search of opportunity for herself. She’s still living in South Seattle and raising her twin granddaughters in the home she purchased in 1994.

As a single mother, Ivory raised one biological child, one adopted child and two others in foster care. “I’ve had 30 or 40 foster kids in my care over the years. There are so many kids who need a home.”  She did all this while engaged in a 33-year career with the City of Seattle administrative offices.

It’s an understatement to say Ivory’s home is a hub of comfort for her family and community. The repairs Habitat provided included waterproofing, significant deck repair, installing handrails and grab bars and retaining wall repair. These updates make her feel safe and more secure in her home as she ages in place and as her granddaughters grow up.

A recent cancer diagnosis and treatment rendered Ivory somewhat disabled. Her eldest daughter has moved into her home to help, and the Habitat repairs have enhanced their home life.  “Habitat did some magnificent things for us. I didn’t think I’d need it so soon, but that new deck allows me to get outdoors and enjoy the air.”

Ivory is looking forward to returning to the volunteer work that sustains her emotionally and spiritually. “Helping others helps my mental health,” she says. She is involved with Kinship (a group of seniors who care for others in their community); she volunteers with Catholic Community Services; and has been an active church member. The Habitat repairs will make it possible for her to continue that work when her cancer treatment is complete.

Ivory sings Habitat’s praises every chance she gets and has been delighted with the quality of the craftsmanship. “It is totally amazing how everything has turned out. I don’t have the words to say how wonderful it is. Habitat has saved me from so much.”

Seattle Times: Amazon pledges $40M for affordable homeownership in Seattle and beyond

In a groundbreaking move, Amazon has committed $40 million in grants and loans to support affordable homeownership projects across the United States, with a significant focus on the Seattle area. This announcement marks a remarkable expansion of Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund, initially launched in 2021, which primarily supported affordable rental developments. However, this recent commitment represents Amazon’s first significant step into the world of affordable homeownership.

Read the full Seattle Times article here.

Why Affordable Homeownership Matters

The significance of this initiative lies in the understanding that homeownership is a critical factor in addressing the nation’s racial wealth gap. Data from 2021 reveals a stark disparity in homeownership rates, with 68% of white people in Washington owning their homes compared to 35% of Black people and 47% of Hispanic people. Bridging this gap is essential for promoting economic equity and stability.

Amazon’s Commitment to Affordable Homeownership

Amazon has chosen to allocate this $40 million to the nonprofit National Housing Trust, which will then provide loans and support to several nonprofits working on homeownership projects in various regions. Notably, Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties is set to receive a low-interest loan to facilitate the construction of four crucial projects:

  1. Cottages in South Park: These cozy homes are designed to offer affordable housing options in a vibrant neighborhood.
  2. Condos in Capitol Hill and Columbia City: These condominiums provide homeownership opportunities in two sought-after Seattle neighborhoods.
  3. Townhomes in Burien: Located in a charming community, these townhomes aim to make homeownership dreams come true.

Habitat for Humanity’s commitment to providing homes for households making 80% of the county area median income or less underscores their dedication to promoting affordability and inclusivity in homeownership.

Impact on Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties

For Habitat for Humanity, this funding comes at a critical time when securing financing has become more challenging due to rising interest rates. The low-interest Amazon funding will play a pivotal role in ensuring that these important projects continue without delays.

Moreover, a grant from Amazon will provide down payment assistance to approximately 50 Habitat homebuyers over the next year and a half, further facilitating their journey towards homeownership.

Collaboration and Community Engagement

Amazon’s support doesn’t stop there. The tech giant is also extending its assistance to African Community Housing & Development, collaborating with Habitat for Humanity to develop affordable condos and townhomes along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in Rainier Valley. This initiative aims to create not just homes but also employment opportunities and community stability.

Additionally, Homestead Community Land Trust will use a grant from Amazon to partner with community organizations in areas where residents face a high risk of displacement. By empowering communities and giving residents a say in neighborhood developments, this initiative seeks to create sustainable, community-driven change.

The Road Ahead

The Seattle region has grappled with housing challenges, and while Amazon has sometimes been a target of criticism, it’s important to recognize the complexity of these issues, including zoning restrictions and various contributing factors.

Since 2021, Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund has committed a substantial $524 million to preserve or build over 5,300 units of affordable housing in the Puget Sound region. However, the demand for affordable rental and for-sale homes still surpasses available resources. King County alone needs nearly 17,000 new homes each year for the next two decades, with more than half of them being affordable to low-income individuals and families.

The commitment of Amazon and its partners is a step in the right direction, but it also underscores the need for a broader mobilization of resources and a collective effort to address the pressing need for affordable housing. We must work together to bridge the gap and create homeownership opportunities for all, ensuring a brighter and more equitable future for our communities.

At Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, we are deeply grateful for Amazon’s support and remain dedicated to our mission of building affordable homes and empowering families to achieve the dream of homeownership. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of countless individuals and families in our region.

Habitat SKKC Assembled Regional Leaders for a Clear-Eyed Exploration of the Local and Global Housing Crisis

As CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, Jonathan Reckford has led the organization to recognition as one of America’s top 20 favorite charities. During his 18 years in the post, the non-profit organization has grown from serving 125,000 individuals a year to helping more than 7 million people last year alone. Reckford visited Seattle on August 16, and Habitat Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties took the opportunity to gather the area’s corporate, philanthropic, and government leaders in three events to address the region’s affordable housing crisis, especially as it affects our Black communities. 

Sponsored by the Washington Mortgage Banking Association (WMBA), the day included a breakfast with the region’s corporate and philanthropic leaders, where they learned more about the magnitude of the crisis and how they might work together to help solve the problems. At lunch, Habitat’s major donors and supporters learned more about new coalition partners working with Habitat SKKC to secure safe, affordable housing for everyone.

Habitat SKKC CEO Brett D’Antonio announced the City’s approval of a historic project in partnership with African Community Housing & Development (ACHD). Together, Habitat and ACHD, with funding from The Seattle Housing Levy, will develop and steward 65 new, permanently affordable homes across three sites on Martin Luther King Way S. in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, on surplus land provided by Sound Transit.

The culmination of the day was a Closing the Racial Homeownership Gap Forum moderated by KUOW reporter Joshua McNichols.  Panelists included Jonathan Reckford, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and the Black Home Initiative’s (BHI) Nicole Bascomb-Green.

At the Forum, Mayor Bruce Harrell acknowledged, “Like it or not, Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country… I have to recognize that there are people moving here to fulfill our employers’ needs… But we are, first and foremost, a maritime city. Not everybody’s going to write code for Microsoft and make a six-figure salary.”

Lt. Governor Heck characterized the state’s housing crisis, “The magnitude of the problem is beyond what most of us grasp. (Solving it) is going to take local, state government, and increasingly federal government. It’s also going to take the private sector.”

BHI’s Nicole Bascomb-Green is a native of Seattle’s Central District. “Growing up, I didn’t know we lived in a redlined district …when I was ready to buy a home at 24, I couldn’t get a loan to buy anything in the area where I had been born and raised and where I wanted to raise my family. So, I had to move to the suburbs. It’s been a challenge to see the community go from the community I know to a community I don’t even recognize anymore.”

Dramatic increases in housing costs have pushed middle-class families out of the city.  Says Mayor Harrell, “…that middle class demographic – nurses, food service workers, teachers – are borderline homeless now… If we can’t figure this out in Seattle, our country is in a world of hurt.”

Lt Governor Heck praised the diverse coalition, including Habitat SKKC, which led the State’s recent legislative session to earn the title “The Year of Housing.”  “More legislation than ever was passed to increase the supply of especially affordable housing than any session in history… It happened because an unbelievably diverse coalition of people came together and said whatever disagreements we may have ‘out here,’ here’s what we agree on.”

In his report titled The Racial Wealth Gap is the Housing Gap, Heck points to the generations of policies and practices that prevented Black people, especially from being able to purchase their homes. That led to the fact that a little more than half of Black families own their homes as white families.  “On a national level, the average net worth of a Black family is about 10% that of a white family,” Heck added.

The forum turned to Jonathan Reckford for news of how other countries are solving their housing problems.  “I don’t think there are any perfect models; there are principles that have worked really well. Japan has always made it easy to build, and whether you own it or rent it, you’re using it (housing) as a product rather than an investment.” Reckford suggested, “Thinking about housing as a service rather than as an investment is a legitimate conversation.”

He went on to cite ‘bad behavior’ stemming from people using housing as an investment, “Quick flips, spinning and zero interest rates were probably negative in terms of affordability. Now we’re in a messy correction.”  Reckford identified the global issue as a supply problem. He noted that over a billion people globally are living in informal settlements, and they’ll need housing in the next 10 years. Global and human conflicts are spurring rapid urbanization as people flee to cities “…that don’t have the infrastructure for their current population, let alone the incoming refugee population.”

There are creative solutions out there. “Columbia didn’t build the housing, but they formalized the settlements and created transit connections to them. Families, knowing they could stay, started investing in housing, and the market started solving housing, but the government started by solving the underlying infrastructure.”

“There are no easy answers,” said Reckford, “but cities have land, and they need to find the fastest ways to allocate housing on that land and then put density in the right places.”

The best way to use the land is to address zoning. “Racial covenant laws were replaced with single-family only zoning restrictions.” Reckford declared the best outcome for all is mixed-income use. “It’s best for the environment, for the economy…So we need to lower the barriers in high-income communities that have restrictive zoning.”

In search of solutions, Bascomb-Green said, “There is no right way other than collaboration. It is important that we all think about this collaboratively… There is no one organization that’s going to get it done.”

As a woman of color, Bascomb-Green got to the heart of the issue, “We’re talking about the descendants of enslaved people. They have been pushed out the most; they have been most affected by these racist policies. Practices and systems were put into place to assure that people who look like me could not be true citizens as the Constitution calls for. When we solve the problems for Black communities, we solve the problems for everybody… We need to be clear about the history and use that language.” She urged leaders to make lenders ‘toe the line’ in their policies with Black mortgage applicants. “Holding lenders’ feet to the fire is one of the other things that are important to me.”

Mayor Harrell also stressed the necessity for collaboration. “.. While I’m passionate about the 84 square miles of Seattle, I also want to work collaboratively with state and county leaders….I must fight for diversity in Seattle because it’s one of the biggest problems, but I have to collaborate with other communities.” 

Harrell confirmed that the city’s planning strategies consider housing first. He outlined ways the city is already working with other groups to address the underlying causes of the housing crisis. “Now, first and foremost, we consider climate change. And, what’s different is that I don’t have to lead the way. With groups like the Black Home Initiative, I just have to give them resources and get out of the way… I realize we don’t have to be saviors.  We just have to be compassionate leaders and let others lead the way.  I’m seeing partnerships in communities, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.” He lamented the lack of support from the region’s large corporations. “We’re a wealthy city.  Why do I have people living in tents who can’t afford to live in a house?”

Lt. Governor Heck proclaimed, “Housing lies at the intersection of a lot of issues. Inadequate supply reduces retirement income and security. Lack of supply harms the environment because people must move farther away from work, commuting long distances. It certainly increases racial disparity. It lowers standards of living because as rents go up, people make tradeoffs between things they need in their lives and rent payments.”

Heck emphasized the critical importance of implementing the legislation passed last year. And he pointed out that the coalition working for affordable housing in Olympia must stay focused in the upcoming session on their areas of agreement.  “If we allow disagreements to take center stage, all those things we want to get done won’t get done.” 

Washington State and the Puget Sound region are recognized leaders in seeking and implementing innovative solutions to the affordable housing crisis. Habitat for Humanity continues to play a pivotal role in developing those solutions that are critical to the health of the entire State.   

As Denny Heck puts it, “If you don’t have a pillow to lay your head on at night, a blanket to keep you warm, and a roof over your head to keep the rain off, then any other issues you deal with in your life will not be successful because you cannot deal successfully with life if you’re living under a bridge, couch surfing or living in a tent.”

Watch the full panel presentation here.