Transcript: Mayor Durkan Announces Two Initial Steps As Part of Her New “Housing Seattle Now” Plan

Seattle (July 24, 2019) –Today, at 12th Avenue Arts on Capitol Hill, Mayor Durkan laid out her vision for addressing Seattle’s housing crisis and announce her plan for a surge of new investments in housing for low- and middle-income families: “Housing Seattle Now.”

Mayor Durkan also announced two initial new steps for “Housing Seattle Now” that will address Seattle’s housing crisis:

  1. Using new state resources, Mayor Durkan and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda announced legislation to invest at least $50 million in housing for people experiencing homelessness; and,
  2. Mayor Durkan announced she is transmitting legislation to renew and improve the Multi-Family Tax Exemption program that currently provides affordable rent to 4,500 low- and middle-income households in private apartment buildings in neighborhoods across Seattle.

As part of Mayor Durkan’s Housing Seattle Now initiative, the Office of Housing in partnership with the Mayor’s Office Innovation & Performance Team has launched a new, innovative housing dashboard which allows viewers to see the affordable housing projects coming online through 2022. To view the dashboard, click here.

The Mayor’s remarks from this morning’s event as delivered are below and you can view the speech here:

Thank you, Chris, for that introduction.

And I want to make clear that it’s just a coincidence that we’re going to have an increase in LGBTQ senior housing during my administration.

And thank you for hosting us here today at this amazing place in a terrific community and such a great project here at 12th Avenue Arts.

This is the kind of place we need more of in Seattle.

Nearly 90 homes that are affordable for working people and their families who make Seattle better: artists, musicians, writers, and so many others.

Office space for Capitol Hill Housing and other local nonprofits.

With this amazing theatre, where people can experience all those things like the arts.

And small businesses on the ground floor – like Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

Rachel, thank you for that!

And all of it within steps of reliable, safe transit.

Transit is such a backbone and we need to make sure that people can use that as we build.

For people like Albert Zakharenko and his family, 12th Avenue Arts has meant a brighter future.

Albert grew up in the former Soviet Union, and came to Seattle in 1999, and then settled on Capitol Hill, an awesome place, in 2006.

Albert and his wife are freelancers: He’s a medical interpreter and his wife’s a fashion designer.

As he said, “We are people who would not be able to stay without this organization.” 

Their little girl was the first child to come home from the hospital to start growing upright here.

That’s a hopeful story. It’s what we need more of here in Seattle.

But we need to be honest with each other:

We don’t have enough of those stories.

We need more affordable housing in every part of this city. And we need it as quickly as we can get it.

And that’s what I want to speak with all of you about today: The next chapter in the story of housing in Seattle.

About what Seattle has done together to help people in their communities, to help people stay and to create more housing options.

I want to talk about the actions that we can start today for more housing in Seattle.

I want to share with you the first of two initial steps we are going to take in the coming weeks to make new, unprecedented investments in housing – our plan that I call “Seattle Housing Now.” We must have a sense of urgency.

A plan to use new tools and seize new opportunities. We will do it together with community.

We have a generational opportunity before us to bend the arc so more people can live in Seattle.

And as your Mayor, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we seize that chance.

First, we have to be real about the magnitude of the challenge before us.

Over the last decade, we have become the fastest growing city in America.

Our growth has brought some amazing opportunities, great jobs, new fantastic restaurants and small businesses.

Our city is the envy of so many across the country.

I hear from Mayors across the country that they wish they could have just a little of what Seattle has.

Our economy is booming.

We are making generational investments in light rail, our waterfront and a new Seattle Center Arena that will be home to our championship Seattle Storm and our new NHL team.

But all this growth has put some significant pressures on our city.

Like skyrocketing rents and homes that are out of reach for too many.

From 2010 to 2018, the average rent for apartments in Seattle increased nearly 44 percent.

But salaries for most workers didn’t increase 44 percent – people can’t keep up.

Today, the average price of a home is over $700,000. That’s triple what the house that I was first able to buy in Seattle cost after I worked for many years.

That means it’s getting harder and harder for low-income and middle-income neighbors to live in Seattle.

Just look at the Seattle Times this morning:

A new report shows that among 100 largest American cities, Seattle ranks number three – number three! –  for gentrification since 2000.

We need to be honest about something else:

The lack of affordable housing is helping fuel our homelessness crisis.

Homelessness is complex, and people experience it for different of reasons.

But we know it’s a proven fact that the more that households are burdened by the cost of housing, the more homelessness increases. 

And the harder it is to build, and keep and find affordable homes, the harder it is to move people out of homelessness for long term housing.

We also know this:

Rising costs and the lack of affordable housing has had a direct and disproportionate impact on communities of color in Seattle.

Families that have lived in Seattle for generations are priced out and getting pushed out.

We have to acknowledge the history of systemic racism – and the government policies that have helped create and continue racial disparities. In every part of our society – from housing, to our jobs, everything has been affected by this.

Who can live where, who can borrow money or afford to own homes, and who can afford to rent, and where they can work.

These disparities remain – and we must do everything we can as a city to fix it everywhere we see them.

Households of color are less likely and able to own their own homes.

Households of color are more likely to pay a huge share of their income toward housing.

Too many of our neighbors have moved to Renton, Kent, or other cities – and have to commute even further and further distances to work.

It affects them, their family, and businesses that want people around them.

Ultimately, the story of housing in Seattle is about more than statistics and graphs.

This is a story about people.

About families.

About building wealth – or not – for our children.

It’s a story about belonging. It’s about where you can call home and how you have hope.

It’s a story about single moms like Jahna Smith.

18 years ago, Jahna got the chance to move into one of the homes built by Habitat for Humanity.

She came to the opening of Fort Lawton when we finally got to sign that bill.

That home helped her as she overcome other obstacles in her life, and having stability helped her became an oncology nurse.

Today she literally saves lives.

And I can tell you personally how important my oncology nurses were for me when I had cancer surgery earlier this year.

Housing makes a difference.

It can make all the difference for single moms like Kourtney, who works a security job to support her two children.  

She has to work overtime just to cover the rent. 

Their budget is so tight she worries that missing just one day of work will mean it all comes apart.

And like many moms, especially single moms, it’s hard for her to juggle it all, but she is doing all it takes for her kids.

She dreams of being a first-time homebuyer.

She needs the opportunity for homeownership for her and for her kids.

And everyone in Seattle needs her to have that opportunity. I want to thank Kourtney for being here and for giving her story, but more importantly I want you to know that Seattle is with you.

Kourtney is here with us today. Kourtney, thank you for making the time to be here.

All across our city, I’ve heard these stories.

All across our city – from the grocery store to town halls to small business tours – I hear it everywhere and I’m listening.

And what I’ve heard is a shared vision for the future of Seattle. How we all need a place to call home.

We have a vision for housing that protects against gentrification and displacement, and makes it possible for families to stay in Seattle.

We have a vision for a city that houses those living unsheltered, and where there’s a place for middle class housing.

For our teachers, nurses, and case managers.

For our social workers, firefighters, and for all the people who work in the city.

We must pay fair wages, and we must also pay them wages make it possible for them to afford a home in this city.

We must be a city where people of different incomes and backgrounds can live together on the same block, or in the same apartment building. Put their kids in the same schools and they can work for the shared goals for their city, their country.

Since I became Mayor nearly 20 months ago, I’ve had four priorities for translating that vision into a better future.

First, build true educational and economic opportunity and access to family-wage jobs.

We must support our families our workers and our youth.

Because I believe the only long-term, sustainable way we will truly address this crisis is through shared prosperity and action that lifts all boats.

Second, we have to help residents stay in their communities and the communities they’ve called home and continue to call home.

We do that by preventing eviction, fighting displacement, and combating gentrification.


And the third prong is, build more housing for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, for low-income earners, and for middle-income earners like teachers, nurses, and construction workers.

We must make housing for all.

And fourth, we have to innovate and secure new tools and new resources for the City to address housing in a new, smarter way.

Of all those priorities, we’ve made a lot of progress:

With our Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, we expanded a one-year South Seattle pilot program to give two free years at all Seattle colleges.

Two years of free college for every Seattle Public school student.

Now, thanks to Seattle voters, every one of those kids has a path to real family-wage jobs.

With our Opportunity Promise internship program, we’re also giving students the chance for pre-apprenticeship programs with trade unions but every other company.

We want to make sure it’s a gateway to opportunity.

Working with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, we delivered on a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights – and we made real on the promise of fair wages and rights a reality for our domestic workers.

Listening to our students in Rainier Beach, we gave a free ORCA card to high school students, to Seattle Promise students, and to many Seattle Housing Authority residents. It’s their city – they deserve a passport and mobility and a way to get around. 

Together, we made funding for our Equitable Development Initiative permanent, so we could keep investing in community organizations who know best how to serve their community.

We will see the promise delivered on incredible community-driven projects like the Liberty Bank Building and Chief Seattle Club. Providing housing to the first residents of our city.

And we have made aggressive investments to build more housing.

Thanks to the generosity of Seattle voters who were smart enough to pass the Seattle Housing Levy, in 2017 and 2018, the City invested over $710 million with our partners to build more housing for our low- and middle-income neighbors.

Today, there are more than 16,000 affordable apartments that the City oversees – and another 7,000 apartments overseen by the Seattle Housing Authority.

By 2022, we think we’ll have more than 5,200 because of the investments we made together.

Finally, as we’ve invested more to build more housing, we’ve also implemented better laws and policies.

In March after years of work by many people in this room, we took another step toward more affordable housing choices when Council passed and I signed into law Mandatory Housing Affordability law.

In June, we delivered on a decade of work to create more livable, affordable community at Fort Lawton Army Reserve in Magnolia. The redevelopment will add nearly 250 units of mixed-income affordable housing including supportive housing for seniors and veterans, apartments for low-income households, and opportunities for homeownership.

Earlier this month, working with Councilmember Mike O’Brien, I was able to sign into law the ability to create more backyard cottages and in-law apartments.

And I signed an Executive Order to break down even more of the financial and permitting barriers to building these new homes.

We’ve done a lot.

But there is still so much to do. We have so much catching up to do.

This summer, and in the coming years, we have a chance to take new steps and make unprecedented investments in housing in Seattle with our plan – “Housing Seattle Now.”

Put simply, for both low-income and middle-income families, we have to surge our investments and try some new things.

I want to talk about this plan with all of you.

First, we have to do more for Seattle’s renters.

While we’re significantly restricted by state law on rent control, we must work with good landlords and protect tenants from eviction and help keep Seattleites in their homes.

That’s why earlier this month, working with Councilmember Lisa Herbold, we announced the City’s next steps.

She and her committee are working on updating our laws so we can take advantage of the state’s new stronger Residential Landlord-Tenant Act We will have protections for victims of domestic violence survivors and reduce evictions.

This includes giving renters more time to save their homes after an eviction notice, and more notice when their rent is going up.

To give them access to emergency relocation assistance sooner if their apartment is foreclosed or goes away.

But we also need to build more housing.

In the next few days, I will transmit two bills to help build more affordable housing for both our neighbors experiencing homelessness and working people.

The first bill will make sure we can take advantage of some new resources to build housing for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

For two years the city of Seattle’s top priority in Olympia was to create new tools for more affordable housing.

It’s paid off on several fronts – and I want to acknowledge our entire Seattle delegation who fought in Olympia so we could do more on housing.

I want to give some particular credit to Representative June Robinson, Speaker Frank Chopp, and Senator David Frockt, who were true partners in recognizing the need for resources to address this crisis.

Working together, we increased funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund. It had been depleted and let go for too many years.

We also finally got through legislation championed by Speaker Chopp and signed by Governor Inslee.

It gives cities like ours the chance to keep more of the money paid in sales tax. And put it to work to build more affordable housing.

Instead of sending that money to Olympia, we can keep it right here and put it to work for housing.

If we act boldly, we can be the first city in Washington State to take advantage of this new tool.

It will provide the ability to invest more than $50 million to build and support permanent housing units for people experiencing homelessness.

And I have to acknowledge Lorena González and Councilmember Mosqueda also fought hard for this in Olympia, and I am working on legislation with Councilmember Mosqueda to move ahead on that $50 million to help house our neighbors experiencing homelessness as quickly as we can.

This year, we also have the chance to create more homes that are affordable for working people and working families.

Too many people earn just too much to qualify for our low-income housing.

But it’s not nearly enough to live in Seattle. 

In 1998, the City created the first Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program to serve middle class people and families.

It works by giving a tax exemption to builders who set aside last least 20 to 25 percent of the homes in their buildings as income- and rent-restricted.

That means we have more affordable apartments, and that more Seattleites of different incomes can live in the same building and neighborhoods all across the city.

Right now, thanks to this program, there are over 4,400 homes that have been made affordable for our low-and middle-income neighbors.

The program is working.

And it’s time to renew and improve it.

So today, I’m sending legislation to City Council to renew and improve this program.

We are already on a path to building another 1,300 new affordable homes over the next three years, and increasing this program will help us create even more. We must take these steps every step we can and we’ll take those steps today.

Another opportunity lies along Mercer Street right in the heart of South Lake Union.

That’s where you’ll find a City-owned property, sometimes called the megablock, that we determined as a city has been underused and underutilized.

It can be put to great use, create jobs, and allow us to invest in more housing all across our City.

It is a generational opportunity that can help us today and into the future.

We have a chance to make truly transformational investments.

This is an asset owned by the people of the city. And it must provide for the future of the city.

Now, we must ensure its sale benefits the people of this city.

In the coming weeks, I’ll announce a detailed plan for how we can use the sale of this City property to do four things:

First, create affordable and mixed-income housing right there on site in South Lake Union – so people with family wage jobs can live in that part of the city.

Second, create a new program where the City can strategically buy property and then create more opportunities like Othello Square in locations facing extreme displacement and gentrification pressures. We know that transit is coming soon or exists, and we need to make sure that people can live in those areas.

And what’s happening in Othello is truly visionary. It will have affordable home ownership, housing, businesses. We don’t want to look back in 20 years and wish that the City had invested in equitable development near transit. We need to make those investments today.

Third, I will propose using some of the revenue from the sale of this land on Mercer Street to create a new fund that gives low-interest loans to people to build a backyard cottage or in-law apartment on their property. We cannot make a tool for just wealthy residents; we have to make it accessible to more.

And fourth, the City should use some invest in affordable homeownership opportunities – especially for families in communities that have seen the highest rates of displacement. We know it works. We know that those communities where people have the highest rates of gentrification and displacement, we have to build ways for home ownership.

Finally, I want to say that this isn’t enough.

We are going to keep looking at every tool to build more housing near every transit stop.

We need to be doing more – especially for working families with people who earn $15 to $25 an hour. They can’t afford to live in Seattle.

We need more housing near transit, and we need to do more to fill that gap.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be announcing more ideas on how we can build more housing near transit for working families for medical insurance.

Tenant protections.

More low-income housing.

More middle class housing.

More affordable homes near transit. It’s the future we need for climate goals and communities.

We must do it all.

But like any big regional challenge, Seattle cannot go it alone on housing.

We need on our partners in Olympia and the federal government to make all this a reality.

Just as we were last legislative session – we need everyone to keep advocating– we will be back in Olympia advocating for more state investments in housing in our region, and more tools for the City of Seattle.

We especially need housing and services for people who have a range of behavioral health issues, who are the hardest to house but need it the most. We need more resources to provide resources for people with mental health and substance use disorder.

And fortunately, our United States Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, continue to be strong partners in Washington D.C. for more housing, especially as we advocate for additional support for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Government also can’t go it alone and only does a small part of this.

Many of our large employers know this, and they’ve been stepping up to help create a city where the people who work in Seattle can actually afford to live in Seattle.

So we’ll continue to work to bring more employers and philanthropists in our region so we can provide a more equitable, just city.

To move ahead on this plan, I will also need the City Council as a partner.

Councilmembers, I look forward to working with you to deliver on this vision for housing in Seattle.

President Harrell and Councilmember Bagshaw have served Seattle well. They’re on their way out. We’ve been talking about this.

Let your crowning months open more doors for more people.

We can build a more affordable, more equitable, and a more just city.

Let’s make Housing Seattle Now a reality.

Let’s seize this generational opportunity.

Let’s work together to change the arc of housing in Seattle.

Thank you to all of you for all your work.