High Point social housing. (City of Seattle)

We asked Seattle City Council candidates to submit answers to a questionnaire before meeting with us as we decided which candidate to endorse in each race.

One of the questions we asked them: What do you think is the most important strategy or set of strategies Seattle can pursue to make the city affordable to live in? What assumptions about affordability do those strategies rely on?

Here’s how each of the candidates who answered our questionnaire responded. You can click on each candidate’s name to get a PDF of each candidate’s entire questionnaire. We will be highlighting some of the other big issues addressed in the questionnaire in the coming days as ballots arrive in your mailboxes. Our primary endorsements are available here.

Lisa Herbold (District 1)

A number of strategies are needed, with a focus on housing and on employment. I believe supply-side strategies, whether for housing or jobs, is not enough. We need better laws from renters and workers and we need regulations on employers and builders that create new revenue so that we can reduce reliance on regressive taxation.

I also believe that we should use our bonding authority to rightsize our annual NOFA’s for each of the final four years of the levy, just like I led the City to do in 2018–despite the opposition of the Mayor, the City Budget Director, and the Council Budget Chair. I am, today, working on implementation of SHB 1406, adopted by the state legislature, which allows for dedicating some existing state sales tax revenue to finance municipal bonds for affordable housing. Seattle needs to double its spending to build affordable housing, as does King County, and individual King County jurisdictions.

I have taken a number of actions as a Councilmember:

  • Supported an increase in the size of the housing levy.
  • Sponsored a $29 million bond sale to directly fund affordable housing.
  • Supported Mandatory Housing Affordability.
  • HALA Strategy P1: I was the prime sponsor of increased funding for preservation in the Housing Levy.
  • HALA Strategy T1 I led efforts to “combat displacement by increasing funding rental and operating subsidies for extremely low-income households,” with significant added funds for Rapid Rehousing Program and Permanent Supportive Housing when I was acting budget chair.
  • HALA Strategy T1 – I championed and was prime sponsor for “legislation supporting fair access to rental housing for people with past criminal records.”
  • I sponsored “first in time” legislation for rental applications, to combat discrimination in rental housing, and ensure fairness and equal access to housing.
  • Last year, I also advocated for using the portion of King County’s hotel-motel tax authority to be dedicated toward affordable housing, and worked successfully with King County Councilmembers, who adopted $184 million in additional funding.

Tammy Morales (District 2)

The housing crisis is the greatest challenge that our city faces. Obtaining home-ownership or even sufficient and safe rental housing has become a daunting challenge for many in our city—especially in neighborhoods at high risk for displacement. I support strategies that include:

  • Right to return and affirmative marketing so folks can return when their building gets renovated or replaced.
  • Build more housing – support increased development of backyard or garage apartments and small apartment buildings (~20 units) in all neighborhoods so there are more kinds of units available, including units targeted for lower income people.
  • Require Displacement Impact Study – Our development process must align with our Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) goals. Ensuring equity in development must be a part of the process. We will work with SDCI to adjust permit process so that permits are granted for projects that don’t cause displacement or that meet racial equity goals.
  • Develop a comprehensive anti-displacement strategy that includes community ownership.
  • Secure a permanent source of funding for the Equitable Development Initiative.

Christopher Peguero (District 2)

The most important strategy is to get rid of single family zoning and increase the density of housing. This includes building near where public transportation is to increase density.

Phyllis Porter (District 2)

It’s going to take a range of smart-upzones, subsidies, and incentives to combat the housing affordability crisis. Housing affordability is just one factor though, the cost of transportation, daycare and many other things also needs to be considered.

Kshama Sawant (District 3)

Trickle-down economics don’t work, and the for-profit housing market has failed us. Relying on the for-profit market to someday, sometime, bring rents to affordability has no basis in statistical evidence. What we need is bold public policy to address the affordability crisis: comprehensive, citywide rent control, free of corporate loopholes, and a massive expansion of social housing. Social housing implies that the rental home is affordable to all working people, regardless of income: meaning no one pays more than 25 to 30 percent of their income on rent, which is the economist’s rule of thumb for housing affordability.

Our taxation system needs to be flipped on its head. Big business and the wealthy must be taxed if we are to have any realistic hope of addressing the affordability crisis and funding infrastructure.

Just as was necessary with the movement to win the $15 an hour minimum wage, we will need to build a struggle against corporate domination to transform Seattle into a city affordable for all.

Logan Bowers (District 3)

The most important strategies we can pursue to make the city more affordable are those that increase housing supply, housing affordability, and walkability. Relegalizing small multifamily developments of up to four units on every lot in Seattle, similar to Minneapolis recent rezoning, would go a long way toward this goal.

But we also need land use policies and budget priorities that lead to 100% walkable neighborhoods, meaning that the amenities and services people use on a regular basis (e.g., grocery stores, restaurants, child care) must be located within walking distance of every home. Only by providing families options other than using a car to access daily necessities will they choose a mode other than a car. By creating affordable places to live that minimize transportation costs and commute times, we can significantly improve the affordability of the city and the region.

Zachary DeWolf (District 3)

Schools are community hubs, and our Council should treat them as such, and be working on building up around these schools. Increasing housing types—missing middle, such as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, courtyard apartments, mom and pop 4-6 unit buildings, and more—within a four block radius of each of the 105 schools in the Seattle Public Schools. It would help with increasing housing options, affordability, and getting creative about increasing services in these areas, which is a great way for us to be bringing needed services and resources to our families right where they live. And I firmly believe it would create priority for our transportation. Plus, we can prioritize our teachers and our students and their families who most need affordable housing options to live right near their schools—leveraging the MHA payment in-lieu dollars for non profit develops to build affordable units right here.

Shaun Scott (District 4)

The most important strategy Seattle can pursue to make the city affordable involves not leaving our housing decision up to the free market alone. My assumption is that the market, left to itself, will not distribute goods and services (like housing, healthcare, or education) in a way that aligns with the general social welfare or health and well-being of society. We need progressive revenue for public housing. We need a land bank that allows the city to compete for land with the private market. We need zoning changes that allow for more diverse forms of housing throughout the city. We need the housing market to incorporate the wellspring of energy and ideas that progressive urbanists across the country have devoted to the completely solvable crises of affordability that many major cities find themselves mired in.

Cathy Tuttle (District 4)

Here are a few strategies I am exploring: First, I would propose an Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay. This would be a city-wide overlay that would allow modest increases in height and density (e.g. in districts that now allow three stories, 100% affordable housing proposals could go to four stories, etc.), and reductions in set-backs, parking requirements and other dimensional issues.

The City should be negotiating with major institutions to build housing and support low cost existing housing stock near their facilities. In D4 I’m particularly looking at UW, medical institutions like Fred Hutch, Children’s Hospital, and UW Medical Center that all have a need for more workforce housing.

I’d also like to raise our percentage of required affordable housing in any development over 10 apartments to 30%. That is, developers are required to rent 30% of their apartments to households that earn 80% of the Area Median Income and they must allow them to pay a rent of no more than 30% of their gross income.

Additionally, I’d like to see funds put into a Land Trust by any developer putting up non-residential space (office, commercial, entertainment, hospital, laboratory educational) that is over 30,000 square feet. They can pay to the Trust Fund something like $15 per square foot before getting an occupancy permit.

While I support much of the current MHA legislation, ADU/DADU contributes only a tiny bit to affordability and often new dwelling units in upzoned areas are at least as expensive as the properties they are replacing.

We should explore the slow movement of housing stock out of the hands of for-profit owners and into the hands of non-profits and public agencies. It is important to recognize that housing cost (brick and mortar, labor, architects, etc.) and housing price (supply and demand) are two entirely different things. The only relation between them is that price must be a little more than cost or nobody will build any housing. But in hot markets like Seattle, price will exceed cost by a great deal. As long as for-profit owners control that housing, they will do what good capitalists are supposed to do—maximize price so they can take the profits and invest in other deals that create construction jobs and drive the economy. They are not going to leave money on the table. I worry a lot about what happens when that apartment is “home” to a household and “investment” to an owner. In the case of any conflicts, “investment” will always win. And that is not good for our cities, neighborhoods, and communities. So I would like to see ownership of our rental stock move more into the hands of public agencies and non-profits whose interest in real estate is much closer to that of the resident, including existing older housing stock.

Finally, we have made it illegal to live in small units. Building microhousing in Seattle is almost impossible due to code requirements passed by Seattle Construction Code Advisory Board. If people want to live in small units or if small units can get people off the street, that should be completely legal.

Emily Myers (District 4)

The city needs more progressive revenue to really become more affordable because economic inequality is driving our affordability crisis. If we can tax businesses with enough money to pay their CEOs a million dollar salary, we can begin to fund affordable childcare and public housing. This strategy assumes that affordability is tied to the rising gap between the rich in the poor. Significant data back up this presumption, including a recent analysis from McKinsey ​which basically said that homelessness is a symptom to economic prosperity under our current tax regime. However, it is important to note that in cities like Seattle with exclusionary zoning, dwindling housing supply, particularly permanently affordable housing supply, also drives the lack of affordability so we need progressive tax revenue to fund housing ​and​ zoning reform.

Joshua Newman (District 4)

We must allow up to four units on residential lots throughout the 75% of residential Seattle that is currently zoned for single-family homes. We also need to eliminate the limits on non-related roommates living in a single structure. Finally, we need to re-legalized boarding and single room hotels that used to provide affordable housing two single working individuals. These assume that the private market will be able to provide housing for the majority of our population, and historically that has been true. However, there will be individuals who do not or cannot compete in the private market, and it is up to the government to build public housing to ensure all of our neighbors have somewhere to live that is safe, sanitary, and reliable.

Debora Juarez (District 5)

High-quality, affordable childcare ought to be considered required infrastructure just like schools, roads, hospitals, and other institutions our city needs. Childcare is exceedingly expensive and difficult to find near home and work. I have coined the term “transit-oriented childcare” as I am collaborating with a few for-profit developers to add a childcare facility to the area before the arrival of light rail. Having accessible childcare is crucial for families to thrive in Seattle.

We can also expand our public/private partnerships to build more affordable housing, similar to LIHI’s Tony Lee House and the Compass Broadview.

Melissa Hall (District 6)

We have to fund affordable housing; the market just is not set up to build it. That can happen a lot of ways, for example ground leasing land to make construction possible, direct investment, technical assistance, fee waivers or building and owning. At this point we kind of need to just make housing happen, including market rate housing to just keep up with demand not to mention digging out of the lack of building during previous growth periods.

Heidi Wills (District 6)

We need to integrate more housing opportunities into our neighborhoods in areas where it makes sense. When I was on the council, we had a robust neighborhood planning process led by Jim Diers in the Dept. of Neighborhoods. It was heralded as a model around the country. I think it’s time to engage neighborhoods again to add more housing in our City because driving from distant, suburban communities adds to our carbon footprint and is expensive. The average cost of owning a vehicle is $10,000/ year.

ADUs should be an easy gain as a gentle way to increase affordable housing opportunities in our city, and yet they have been fraught with opposition, and still are. There are so many reasons to favor them. They’d allow aging homeowners the income stream of a rental on their property, or even renting out their home to a family while they move into an ADU on their own property. They’d allow adult children the ability to move back home after college and live autonomously. They’d allow people who work in our communities the ability to live close, from teachers who work at a nearby school to hair stylists and baristas who could walk to work at the neighborhood barber shop or coffee house.

Our building code could be changed to allow for cross-laminated timber, CLT, in high-rise affordable housing. Our current code limits buildings made of wood products to no more than 85 feet or 6 stories. Taller buildings have been made of CLT in other parts of the world, including Europe and Canada. It is less carbon-intensive than steel and concrete and CLT buildings are carbon-neutral. The carbon stored in the building helps offset greenhouse gases released in making and hauling the other building materials used in construction. It is estimated that a 6 – 10 story building made from CLT has the same emissions control as taking over 1,000 cars off the road for a year, and they are more energy efficient to heat and cool. The manufacturing of CLT locally would create more green jobs in the Pacific NW.

Jay Fathi (District 6)

The most important thing we can do to make Seattle more affordable is to build much more housing, and more types of housing, across the city. We need more “missing middle” housing, the 2+ bedroom apartments and condos suitable for middle-income families that our current housing policy disincentivizes. We need more subsidized housing, particularly for those between 30% and 60% AMI. We need more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless who are struggling with debilitating mental health disorders and substance abuse.

We also have to make it much faster, easier, and cheaper for Seattle residents to travel throughout the region. Low- and middle-income residents, who often cannot afford to live close to schools, jobs, and public amenities, are disproportionately reliant on cars. But cars cost a lot of money to operate, maintain, and store. Seattle is less affordable when you have to get around by car, fill up the tank, pay insurance, park it on the street, etc. Public transit is central to so many of our top priorities, like safety, mobility, sustainability, and racial and economic justice, and the benefits of public transit so profound for Seattle and the region, that it should be free for all residents. That would go some way towards making Seattle more affordable.

Michael George (District 7)

As someone that’s worked on projects at all income levels (From 9% LIHTC to Market Rate) I believe that it’s going to take a range of smart-upzones, subsidies, and incentives to combat the housing affordability crisis. My assumption is that households should not be paying more than 30% of their income for housing. Housing affordability is just one factor though, the cost of transportation, daycare and many other things also needs to be considered. These issues are large, but not unsolvable, that’s why we need to elect people that have the depth of understanding to navigate these challenges.

Andrew Lewis (District 7)

I support aspiring to be like Vienna Austria, wherein 60% of the population lives in some kind of public housing. We should be building publicly owned buildings operated by the Seattle Housing Authority on top of transit oriented sites offering units with at-cost rents to pay off the bonding. We could, functionally, create a public option for housing allowing families at 60%-80% AMI to pay into housing where there is no profit motive. We can work with communities around proposed sites to guarantee placements for the displaced and support for local businesses, some of which could even be sited in new publicly owned developments.

In addition to my comments above about a public option for housing, making sure we are jumping at every opportunity to explore using public land for housing. I support housing at Fort Lawton and the Armoury property in Interbay.

Jim Pugel (District 7)

One of the main strategies that Seattle can pursue is access to low income housing. I support moving low-income and affordable income projects to the front of the line at the Department of Construction and Inspections and allowing alternative construction approaches to the current onerous one experienced by everyone. In this economic climate, affordability means that below median and moderate-income workers can afford to live near their place of work in Seattle. It makes absolutely no sense for those who serve us in the hospitality industry, the trades, our child care, teaching, public safety and health care fields to spend multiple hours a day transporting themselves to and from their workplaces. There are myriad negative consequences to a city being unaffordable to workers and residents: Traffic congestion, stress and unhealthy lifestyles, absence from the civic life of their city, time away from family and friends, and other components that determine quality of life.

King County Assessor John Wilson has already identified many publicly owned, surplus property in the city that can be converted to public housing at little or no cost. This would be a huge step forward in creating adequate affordable housing for all workers. The city has got to stop selling public land to developers for an amount that rarely ever gets translated into affordable housing. I also support increasing housing along transportation routes and near employment centers in consultation with the communities and neighborhoods affected.

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The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of community volunteers and staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.