Seattle initiative aims to cut homelessness, create housing

SEATTLE (AP) — A ballot initiative proposed by a new housing and homelessness advocacy coalition would establish a public developer that would create, own and maintain public housing in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports the initiative filed Monday is known as “social housing,” essentially publicly owned housing that is insulated from private market forces and designed to be permanently affordable. This model is popular in Europe.

The city clerk’s office will review the new ballot initiative to ensure it has been filed correctly. Once that has been settled, the initiative will receive a ballot title and members of the coalition will begin collecting signatures from Seattle residents. The coalition needs almost 27,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“This is kind of a referendum on all elected officials,” said Tiffani McCoy, advocacy director at Seattle’s street newspaper Real Change and co-chair of the coalition behind the measure, House Our Neighbors. “We’re very serious about solving the affordable housing crisis. We can’t wait another year.”

If the ballot initiative succeeds, it would create a public development authority, called the Seattle Social Housing Developer, which would be entirely separate from city or county government. The ballot initiative would create a renter-majority governing board to oversee the work and would establish a charter to determine what the authority can or cannot do.

The announcement about the initiative did not specify how much the new authority would cost or where the funding would come from.

Because this ballot initiative would operate outside of government, it wouldn’t have to follow federal housing stipulations, which generally creates certain low-income criteria that people have to meet to live there.

The homelessness advocacy organization, funded by Real Change, formed in response to Charter 29 — more commonly known as the campaign Compassion Seattle, which would have added into the city’s charter document a mandate to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on shelter and housing and to enforce camping laws.

The proposed amendment was kicked off the ballot by the Washington Court of Appeals, which ruled it would have interfered with state law.

However, Mayor Bruce Harrell pledged to adopt its main tenets when he was elected and has already started to take a more aggressive approach to clearing encampments.