Poll shows Seattle residents support $970 million housing levy

A majority of Seattle residents say they support a $970 million property-tax levy for affordable housing on the ballot this fall, according to a poll conducted earlier this month.

The result underscores the popularity of the decades-old levy as Seattleites strain under rising costs of living and a shortage of affordable homes. But even with majority backing in the poll, the new levy, which is triple the current one, hasn’t yet garnered the levels of support seen at the ballot box in past years.

Of those polled, 57% said they support the levy, 30% said they oppose it and 12% were undecided. The Seattle Times/Suffolk University poll of 500 Seattle residents, conducted by phone from June 12 to June 16, has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

The existing $290 million housing levy passed in 2016 with 71% of the vote. Its predecessor passed in 2009 with 66% of the vote.

Firefighter Scott Wedemeyer, a Wedgwood homeowner who responded to the poll, said he is likely to support funding for affordable housing, but wants to learn more about how effective the existing levy has been.

“We definitely need more housing. We need to solve a problem. We can’t just wish it away,” Wedemeyer said. “It also needs some metrics and accountability to make sure the money is well-spent.”

The new seven-year levy would charge 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, costing the owner of the median $866,000 Seattle home about $390 per year. That would be an increase of about $260 from the current levy rate. The current levy expires this year.

If voters approve the levy, $707 million would go toward construction and renovations. Nonprofit developers typically pair city money with other sources to build subsidized housing.

To qualify for the housing, people need to make 60% of area median income or less, about $74,000 a year for a family of three. Much of the money will be directed to rentals for those making 30% of area median income, or $37,000 for a family of three.

The levy would also fund other affordable housing efforts: $122 million for operations, maintenance and services, including subsidizing rents and increasing wages for human services workers employed in supportive housing; $51 million for affordable homeownership programs; and $30 million for rent assistance. An additional $60 million would fund administration, including city staff.

The current seven-year levy has helped fund 2,735 new units so far, according to data from a city oversight committee. The renewal is expected to fund 2,881 new rental apartments over seven years. City officials say that despite the higher cost to taxpayers, the number of affordable units will increase only by a small amount because of higher construction and property costs.

Wallingford homeowner Bridgette Landers, who participated in the poll, said she supports the levy because Seattle needs more housing across the income spectrum, including for people experiencing homelessness and people working in the service industry.

“People like living in a city with restaurants and stores … but who makes those city things happen, and where do they live?” said Landers, a 51-year-old software engineer. “You can’t expect to have restaurants where people drive three hours to get to work.”

As rents rise, some tenants are “on this tenuous edge” of affording their housing, leaving them at risk of eviction, Landers said. “I’d like to see more ways of intervention to keep people from falling off that edge.”

Homeowners were overrepresented among poll respondents at 57%, while 35% of respondents were renters. In Seattle, 45% of housing units are owner-occupied, according to census data.

Support for the levy was higher among renters, with 65% in favor compared with 56% of homeowners.

Residents in Seattle City Council District 3, covering Capitol Hill and the Central District, were most likely to back the levy, with 67% of those polled in support and 28% opposed. Support was weakest in District 7, covering downtown, where 50% of people supported the levy and 36% opposed it.

Democratic respondents were far more likely to support the levy than Republicans.

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