City wants transit-oriented Housing Levy
Even in tough times, Seattleites passed a Housing Levy renewal last fall that will provide $145 million in funding for low-income housing over the next seven years. But the ink on voters’ ballots is hardly dried and already there is a small division among Seattle’s nonprofit housing developers over how to target the money.
Over the seven years, the city’s Office of Housing will use the levy to fund the purchase or construction of 1,670 low-cost rental units. The levy will also provide operating funds for another 220 very low-income units, down payment assistance for 180 first-time home buyers and $6.5 million in loans to help nonprofits buy land. The question now is where: the low-income areas that the city has asked nonprofit developers to focus on in the past, or—a new twist for the housing levy—around transit stations?
Many of the low-income housing operators who showed up at a Nov. 30 meeting on what will be in the new levy’s Administrative and Finance Plan, a document that will guide the first two years of levy spending, said the Office of Housing was on track in focusing the new levy on transit-oriented development. Others disagreed.
Proponents of TOD, as it’s called, aim to make the most of public transit dollars, in part by planning denser housing around light-rail stations—a goal that sparked controversy earlier this year when neighborhood activists opposed a state bill mandating transit-oriented development. As the city works to finalize the levy’s plan by February, the Office of Housing’s Rick Hooper told the group, “We should be looking at ways to focus on transit-oriented development at key stations and nodes.”
But Tony To, executive director of HomeSight, a Rainier Valley nonprofit that develops condos and helps low-income people buy homes, said that the land around most transit stations is highly sought after and much too pricey for nonprofits. “You’re going to end up diverting funding from more low-income housing to fund this great idea, but it’s got to come with more tools” to finance the land, he said. “Otherwise, it’s a bunch of crap.”
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