Washblog

What do You Mean by "Affordable"? Affordable to Whom?

We need to ask for-profit developers what they mean by "affordable" when they make promises about a portion of their developments. Affordable to whom, exactly? To singles making over $42,000? Or to workers making $10 an hour? Or to elderly and disabled persons trying to live on $833 a month? Puget Sound, especially King County, has become a community of the haves and the have-nots. Thanks to Microsoft and other high-tech and bio-tech investors, we have more millionaires than almost any other community. We also have the highest minimum wage in the U.S. at $7.93. It will top $8 come January.  But that doesn't make our area affordable.  

At the current minimum wage, you'd earn $16,557 (if you got paid holidays and personal time off).  Allocating a standard 30% for rent, that's $414 a month for rent. I challenge you to find a habitable apartment in Seattle or Bellevue for $414 a month. You'd need to go to Burien, Kent or Auburn. Apartment rent now averages $1001 in King County.  

A "living wage" for a single adult would be at least $12.11. Or you'd need to work 1.5 jobs. How does that work for a single mom trying to make it off welfare? That's why we need subsidized housing, both for working poor people and for disabled and elderly people who can't work.

An average Seattle Housing Authority tenant receiving Social Security for disability lives on $10,000 and pays 30% of that for rent. That's like "earning" $4.81 an hour.  It's dismal--immoral, really. The Social Security disability rate needs to double or triple. No one can live on that without a lot of help.  

Housing for low-income elderly and disabled individuals must be built and operated with subsidies.  The number one advocacy goal for the Washington Low-Income Housing Association is to increase the Washington State Housing Trust Fund from $130 million to $200 million in 2008 and, ultimately, to $1 billion.

Much of the operating subsidy for low-income housing comes from the federal government, but that's shrinking, relative to inflation. HUD stopped building public housing in the Reagan administration, resulting in much of the the homelessness we see today. That level of political commitment has never been restored. Private charities cannot hope to fill the gap.

The Washington State homeownership rate ranks 42nd in the country.  Statewide, it's 64.6%, compared with the national average of 66%.   In King County, it's 59.8% and in Seattle, 48.4% (2000 census).  The majority of us are renters.

We have the healthiest real estate market in the country, due to our healthy economy. It continues to push home values further out of reach. The median house now costs $439,000 in Seattle and $415,000 in King County.  One-bedroom condos are also out of reach.  If a first-year teacher earns $35,000, homeownership is not an option. It would take two jobs to afford a one-bedroom condo costing over $200,000. New and rehabbed condos go for much more. Our teacher can pay just $875 a month for rent and utilities. That limits her to certain parts of the King County where rents are cheaper than Seattle or Bellevue.  

 If you follow public policy discussions on housing (un)affordability, you may hear developers talking about providing a percentage of "affordable" housing that is affordable to people earning 80% of the median income. Please, please--ask what that is.  If the median for a family of four in King County (one of the 100 wealthiest counties in the U.S.) is $71,900?  Where does that leave single renters if the median for singles is $53,157?  Where will your unmarried kids live?  Your elderly mom? With you?? Anyone working for $10 an hour, or $22,880 a year--the typical wage for many basic jobs, who can pay $572 for housing?

The real public policy discussion should begin at definitions.  What is the poverty level, if it takes at least twice the poverty level to live? (Most social services use this guideline for "needy.") You can see that Bush's complaint that the State Children's Health Insurance Program should be limited to "poor" children is specious, if the federal definition of poverty is half of what it should be. This is why families earning less than the median need help paying for medical costs, as well as housing.

This is why the Washington State Low-Income Housing Alliance is advocating to raise the State Housing Trust Fund from $130 million to $200,000 in 2008 and, ultimately, to $1 billion, to house the homeless and to help first-time homeowners.  

This is why we need to prioritize those in truly living in poverty, on $700 per month Social Security disability, to get those limited numbers of subsidized housing units that we can build and operate, with the subsidies currently available.  We also need to find incentives for building more rental housing for our workers, by creating tax breaks, land trusts, speedy permitting and more intensive land use, such as permitting "accessory dwelling units" in the basements or backyards throughout Seattle and the suburbs. Update: On Wednesday, October 10, the full House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 2895, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007. Calls are needed now through Wednesday in support of H.R. 2895. The bill would establish a national affordable housing trust fund. At least 75% of the new resources must produce or preserve housing affordable to extremely low income people. This would be the first new housing production program since 1990 and the only one focused on housing for households with the lowest incomes. This is also the first time a bill establishing a National Housing Trust Fund will be considered on the floor of Congress! Here's what to do: Call 877-210-5351 and ask to speak with your Representative's office, then ask to speak to the person who handles housing issues for your Congressperson. Give them this message: I urge Representative ___ to support passage of H.R. 2895, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007

< Political Graphics 101: 34th LD lit deconstructed | Douglas County is the only county in Washington State that does not have a weed board. >
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You might also want to consider submitting it to the Voice, a 12,000 circulation 12-16 page monthly community newspaper that goes to public housing residents and interested parties that has been published since 1981 by Neighborhood House.

The publication has an advisory board of 6-8 readers (some of whom joke that it should be called "The Voiceless" to reflect the status of low income folks in our society) that meets monthly and is seeking more input, feedback, and writing like what your wrote.

Back issues are stored on the SHA web site.

On another matter, if you are serious about promoting your views, you might want to enable sharing your information so people can contact you  directly and to have some idea of who you really are to establish your credibility.

KG

by Keith Gormezano on Sat Oct 06, 2007 at 06:48:02 AM PST

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