#HALA Part 6 - Preservation & Tenants

Some of the least read posts on this website are the #HALA series. I'm assuming it's because people have already read the report in order to adequately fight or defend the proposals. Fair assumption?

Regardless, I'm going to trudge on. I started this project, I"m going to finish it. Based on a cursory review, there are three more posts that are summarizing the report line-by-line, then a few for the Community Housing Caucus report, and then an overall summary. Because why not. 

So, time to dive back in, and start up on page 31.

Launch a Proactive Preservation Effort

P.1 - Pursue Opportunities to Acquire and Finance Existing Affordable Multifamily Housing

Basically, this calls for funding and expanding efforts to finance purchase of "naturally affordable" multifamily structures that come up on the market. Some of this was included in the Housing Levy, and with the notice requirement implemented thanks to Council Member Tim Burgess, there's more opportunity to identify "naturally affordable" buildings coming onto the market, and with this tool, ability to keep them naturally affordable once sold. 

P.2 - Make Strategic Investments to Minimize Displacement

This is another strategy that is already being (has been?) implemented. Specifically recommending a city-wide displacement analysis, this goes further to propose geographic-specific displacement mitigation strategies, and equitable investment in transit and other necessary infrastructure. 

P.3 - Pursue a Preservation Property Tax Exemption

The MFTE allows a new building to get a property tax break if 25% of units (20% if a certain threshold of units are family-sized) are reserved for folks making 80% of the area median income. This calls for expanding that to property owners who refurbish existing buildings, particularly near transit hubs and high-capacity transit corridors. 

Now I'm going to go sideways for a second here. This proposal has been decried as a "giveaway" to developers. I disagree. While I do believe that the MFTE program could use some tweaks (notably a requirement that signing up for it keeps the structure in the program for a minimum of 12 years, not allowing folks to just opt-out a few years in), and then a PTE can and should be modeled after the MFTE, not allowing this option simply means more economic evictions in Seattle. Landlords are already raising rents in buildings near high-capacity transit, and will continue to do so. Having the ability to get some income-restricted units in all buildings means fewer moderate-income families will be pushed further and further away from transit and community amenities. 

P.4 - Engage Private Owners with New Financing Tools and Technical Assistance

This proposal would create a low-cost rehab loan program for small landlords to keep buildings in shape. In exchange for a covenant for maintaining affordable units, this would ensure more homes in Seattle have needed repairs, and are not falling into such a state that a teardown is the cheapest option. 

P.5 - Mitigate the Impact of City Code Requirements: Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance

We have some current (and potential future) regulations for rental units that protect renters. In some instances, they may also cause significant costs for a building, necessitating significant rent increases. This proposal implores the city to find ways to provide mitigating support to assist small landlords with these regulations. 

So there are recommendations to preserve existing housing in Seattle, in particular areas that are seeing the greatest risk of displacement or significant rent increases due to market conditions or necessary building repairs. Instead of just leaving it all to the market, this section proposes that the city get involved through financing and other measures to help preserve existing affordable housing. 

Next section (and final for today): Increase Tenant Supports

T.1 - Increase Access to Housing for People with Criminal Records

#BanTheBox. One of the barriers to re-integration for folks exiting prison is stable and affordable housing. Often, this can lead to recidivism. Our justice system already is full of institutional racism, and low-income people of color are disproportionately incarcerated. We have also seen that there is institutional racism in access to rental properties. Doubling down means we are doing a severe disservice to our city, and this recommendation basically says: let's do better. (While "protect[ing] property owner's rights and interests.")

T.2 - Explore Local Rental/Operating Subsidies to Serve the Lowest Income

Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) are not keeping pace with the need. Aside from just producing permanently (and long-term) affordable housing, this recommendation suggests working to expand on Section 8 with local funding (government, nonprofit, for-profit, etc.) to provide more individuals with the support they need to secure safe and stable housing. 

T.3 - Increase Tenant Counseling and Landlord Education Funding

More funding for groups that provide education and support both for tenants (so we know our rights and responsibilities) and landlords (so they know their rights and responsibilities). 

T.4 - Allow for Local Portability of Tenant Screening Reports

The Rental Housing Association HATES EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS. Currently, if you're looking to rent, you have to pay a fee for your tenant screening - $40-60. If it takes you five tries to get into a unit, you just blew $200-300 just on being screened (not including the costs of holding a unit, and other creative fees). This would allow folks to do it once, and shop around the report. THIS IS A GOOD IDEA THAT SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED STATEWIDE. 

T.5 - Increase Impact of Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO)

Basically strengthening the TRAO so it covers more households, works through language barriers, and acknowledging and legislating requirements to trigger TRAO payments from landlords who just jack up rents before applying for a use change, teardown, or major rehab, in order to avoid paying the fee. 

T.6 - Support the Landlord Liaison Project

This is an existing program that works with landlords and prospective tenants who are experiencing homelessness and have credit issues - but otherwise would qualify for housing - to use alternative screening methods so we can get more folks into permanent housing. The proposal: Provide city support to the County program. 

T.7 - Explore Solutions to Housing for People Exiting Incarceration

The recommendation calls for a stakeholder group to identify ways the city can provide the support for individuals exiting prison to have safe and stable housing, particularly when they don't have familial support that they might otherwise rely on. Potentially including incentives for private market housing to be part of the solution. 

T.8 - Restore Community Service Officers

CSO's used to provide some intermediary support to help resolve disputes between tenants and landlords. Then SPD cut them during tough budget times. This recommendation says: Let's bring CSO's back!

T.9 - Explore Effects of Housing Costs on Protected Classes

How are skyrocketing housing costs impacting specific communities? Is it greater in the LGBTQ community than the city as a whole? Are we seeing more African Americans priced out of Seattle than we know of? Let's take a look so we can better implement measures that would impact these specific communities that might be at greater risk of not having an affordable home. 

T.10 - Expand Source of Income Protection

If you have a verifiable source of income, that should be what matters when renting. Discriminating against people because it is from SSI, Section 8, or something else, is classist af. This recommendation says: let's ban source of income discrimination (SOID) in Seattle. And I'm pretty sure we did that. 

And that's that. Fifteen (15) sections of HALA. 15 sections that those saying all of HALA should be scrapped are saying we shouldn't do. Preservation? NOPE. Source of Income Discrimination? That's fiiiiiine. Portable Screening? Pffft! Just get a real job and buy a house already! 

Of course, I don't think that is the case. In fact, I like to think that the overwhelming majority of Seattle would be on board with all of these (with some consternation around the PTE). And that concludes today's installation in the #HALA series. I'll pick back up next week! Thank you both for reading!