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City of Seattle
Gregory J. Nickels (former Mayor)

SUBJECT: Mayor’s Goal: More Homes within Reach for Seattle Families

7/25/2007  10:55:00 AM
Rick Hooper (206) 684-0338

Mayor’s Goal: More Homes within Reach for Seattle Families
Program makes more housing accessible to
firefighters, police, teachers, hospital workers

SEATTLE - In an effort to address a real estate market that increasingly squeezes working people and families, Mayor Greg Nickels today announced a program to put more housing within reach of middle-income workers such as police, firefighters, nurses, grocery clerks and others.

“We want to make our city a wonderful and compelling place to live, work and raise a family, and that starts by creating opportunities for people of all income levels to find decent and affordable housing,” Nickels said. “The simple fact is that today’s housing market is rising beyond the reach of too many people. Whether you are a police officer, a grocery worker, or a nurse, if you work in Seattle, you should be able to live in Seattle.”

Nickels’ proposal, called “Seattle Homes Within Reach,” will expand an existing housing incentive program to help a broader range of people find apartments or condos they can afford in more neighborhoods across Seattle.

Under the mayor’s plan, which he transmitted to City Council today, the program will provide a 12-year tax exemption on the residential portion of any new apartment building in which 20-25 percent of the units are set aside for individuals who earn up to $49,000 or families who earn up to $62,300.

Condo developers can also opt into the expanded program by offering units that are affordable to individuals and families who earn up to $74,760 a year for a two-person household. The income limits vary according to household size. For condos, the tax exemption would be available to only the units in the building occupied by people who meet the Seattle Housing Within Reach income guidelines.

Seattle has a long history of meeting the housing needs of the poor or low-income earners. During the past 20 years, the Housing Levy and other programs have created nearly 10,000 homes for those earning between zero and $45,000 a year.

A new housing challenge has arisen in recent years. As housing prices climb, middle-income wage earners have found themselves increasingly priced out of the market with few places to turn. The median price of new condos now exceeds $350,000, requiring an income of more than $74,000. Median-priced single-family homes now require an income of more than $100,000.

To put that into perspective, salaries for police and firefighters start at about $47,000 a year.

“I worked extremely hard to become a firefighter in Seattle, but it is harder to become a homeowner in Seattle,” said Seattle Firefighter Paul Hermosillo. “Lots of the guys I came into the department with are in the same situation. I’d like to be able to raise a family in the city where I work. I’m saving as much as I can but it is going to take a long time to make a down payment on a house or condo.”

Under the current Multifamily Tax Exemption program, only single-person households earning up to approximately $38,150 can qualify for housing.

That ceiling shows the need to broaden the program, said Adrienne Quinn, director of Seattle’s Office of Housing.

“The fact is, a significant portion of our work force is priced out of housing and not eligible for any of the city’s housing programs,” Quinn said. “The Seattle Homes Within Reach program gives us a cost-effective tool to help many more people find homes they can afford in Seattle.”

The current incentive program applies only to selected areas, including portions of downtown, Southeast Seattle, and Northgate. Under the mayor’s proposal, the Seattle Homes Within Reach program would be expanded to all urban villages.

“To make this tool effective, we need to focus on all neighborhoods where development is occurring, and not limit it to a few neighborhoods as the existing program does,” Quinn said.

University of Washington President Mark Emmert voiced his support for Seattle Homes Within Reach, saying it will help keep the city’s economy strong and provide more opportunities for people to live closer to their jobs.

“The University, like other employers in the city, is finding affordable housing to be an increasing challenge in recruiting and retaining employees,” Emmert said. “Targeting an incentive program to develop housing that faculty and staff can afford helps keep us competitive. Developing housing close to campus also ensures that key personnel can get to campus during an emergency and gives our employees alternatives to commuting by car.”

Developer Scott Shapiro, through his company Eagle Rock Ventures LLC, is currently working on a project in Columbia City, building condos for moderate-wage workers.

“The Homes Within Reach program will enable working people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to purchase condos to become homeowners,” Shapiro said. “Since many of our purchasers are first time homebuyers, this will be the first step in achieving the American dream of owning a home, which some of these buyers would otherwise never achieve without this program.”

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