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HDC Annual Luncheon Remarks – Announcement of 2023 Housing Levy 

Thank you, Patience, for that introduction, and good afternoon and congrats on 35 years Housing Development Consortium! 

It’s fitting that one of the key themes in today’s event is partnership and collaboration. 

Because that’s exactly the kind of One Seattle approach we need if we’re going to make transformative progress on our region’s affordable housing crisis. 

I remember as a kid living with my parents in a duplex on 16th and Cherry Street. When the phone rang, we had what was called a party line. For those who don’t know what that is, it meant you shared the line with your neighbor. 

And I remember the joy my working parents – a construction line worker and a secretary – felt when they purchased their first home for $6000 on 24th and Olive in the Central District. 

Times have changed. 

Whether you’re looking for a place to stay, where the average rent in Seattle is $2600 for a two-bedroom apartment, considering becoming a homeowner and looking at an over $100,000 down payment, or seeing the worst outcomes of our housing crisis – people living unsheltered on our streets, you don’t have to be an expert to recognize this issue has worsened. 

Seattle should be a place where everyone can afford to live – a teacher, barista, student, hospitality worker, senior or young family – we want you in our city. 

As I took office, I instructed my team to look at every possible way to increase housing production. We founded a Housing Subcabinet, eliminated design review on affordable housing projects, and just proposed new legislation balancing tree protection and equitable canopy restoration with needed housing development. 

And, in our budget, we funded the single largest investment in affordable housing of its kind – $250 million dollars. 

The housing crisis can’t be solved in one single year or in one single budget cycle. It can’t be solved by one city or one county alone. 

But, if we all come together with shared commitment, we can make a difference. 

That’s our Housing Levy – the City’s proven solution for delivering thousands of affordable housing options and the single most important housing policy our team will advance this year. 

And when I say our team, I don’t just mean my administration, I mean every person in this room. 

A number of you served on our Technical Advisory Committee – subject matter experts, housing leaders, service providers, representatives for workers and for businesses – helping design the levy with our Office of Housing. 

My guidance was simple: We have to go big. We have to be bold. And we have to put something on the ballot that allows our Seattle communities to be part of the solution. An ambitious – and achievable – plan that meets the moment and scale of the housing crisis and does more than ever to prevent homelessness. 

So that’s why today, I am announcing our proposal for a $970 million dollar Housing Levy. 

Let me say that again: $970 million dollars. 

That’s a bold investment that reflects our City’s combined urgency and understanding of the challenge in front of us – more than tripling the size of the levy because that’s what the need is. 

Everyone in this room knows that housing is about more than bricks and steel – it’s about people. As one of my favorite R&B artists Luther Vandross sang, ‘a house is not a home.’ 

That’s why I’d like to tell you the story of Maria, a resident of the historic Bush Hotel, a levy-funded affordable apartment building in the Chinatown-International District.  

Maria was born in the Philippines and lived in California before moving to Seattle. She started working at Nikkei Manor, a senior living community in the C-ID, and loved the neighborhood so much that she decided she wanted to live there too. Fortunately, Maria was able to find an affordable home at the Bush Hotel, where she has lived now for over a decade.  

Maria volunteers around the neighborhood and enjoys meeting elders. 

The fact is there are over 16,000 neighbors and families like Maria living in levy supported housing right now. 16,000 families with a safe place to grow, learn, rest, and play. When I call the housing levy a proven solution – that’s why.  

And, it’s why we’ll be investing $750 million toward developing over 3,000 new affordable homes – both rental and homeownership – in this levy. 3,000 new affordable homes. 

The Housing Levy addresses the crisis of homelessness from multiple angles. Everyone deserves housing – and a tent outdoors, without proper sanitation, heat, and running water, is not a safe place for anyone to call home. 

Frankly, we know the best way to address homelessness is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. That’s why our proposal increases this resource 250%, an investment of $30 million to keep people in their homes and off the streets. 

My administration is committed to getting people into safe, stable homes with access to services and a pathway to recovery. We all know the workers providing these critical services are among the hardest working – and most under resourced – in our communities. 

Take Ladedria Stallworth, for example. Ladedria is a residential counselor who has worked at DESC in Seattle for ten years, supporting those living in permanent supportive housing. She lives in Lakewood and commutes by bus because of how expensive it is in Seattle. 

At the Lyon Building Downtown, she administers life-saving Narcan and CPR to patients. In fact, she once did this during her lunch break, when she happened to walk by a person in crisis, and because she carries Narcan in her keychain, was able to administer it. 

Every day, Ladedria helps vulnerable clients from the street, collaborating with firefighters and police to create community and connection. 

Ladedria is strong and resilient and says she likes taking the bus – but to recruit and retain workers to staff critical social service programs in Seattle, we must advance policies and ensure adequate wages that allow these workers to live in the community they serve. 

We can’t afford to lose workers like Ladedria. That’s why our proposal invests $34 million in a worker stabilization fund – real resources dedicated to raising wages and doing our part to support the people who help our neighbors most in need. 

This is a first-of-its-kind program. No prior levy has made such an explicit commitment to support workers. 

We designed this proposal to work hand-in-hand with other local tools, like the Jumpstart Payroll Expense Tax, and countywide tools, like the Critical Care Services levy and the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy. Collectively, we can drive systemwide changes to tackle the region’s housing and homelessness crisis head-on. 

The last thing I’ll say is that the levy allows us to address this issue with a focus on equity. 

To look at the displacement pressures that have impacted too many longstanding neighbors and communities of color, along with the lack of access to generational wealth opportunities. 

Housing is an equity building tool – full stop. 

Take Levi, Nicole, and their children Briella and Bodhi for example. They recently moved into Copper Pines, a Habitat for Humanity development in Loyal Heights. Levi, a proud member of the Chippewa Cree tribe, grew up without stable housing and always wanted to give his kids a better life. 

Working in the hospitality and service industry, Levi and Nicole saved for years to afford a house, only to be constantly outbid on homes by those with more resources at hand.  

Until they were selected for Copper Pines in North Seattle – which is levy funded affordable housing, and meant they could provide a stable home for their kids without worrying about moving again if rent went up or the landlord sold the house. 

Levi is the first in his family to own his own home. There are hundreds more who will have that opportunity through our proposal for a $51 million investment in affordable homeownership. 

The time is now to go big – to meet the moment– to forget small ball and swing for the fences. The choices we make today are going to impact housing affordability for generations to come. 

This Housing Levy is the tool we can count on to make a difference – not just by building units, but by giving people a place to call home. 

Working together, I am confident we can deliver this monumental generational investment, and then put those dollars into practice to drive change and create affordability. 970 million dollars, over 3000 homes, countless Seattle families who can love and enjoy this city like we all do. 

Advancing this levy proposal to Council is one critical step – it’ll take everyone in this room to make sure we get it through this process and referred to the November ballot. 

Then it will be time to roll up our sleeves and talk to ALL of our Seattle neighbors – telling them the stories of Maria, Ladedria, Levi and Nicole, and YOUR story – why you are committed to making Seattle an affordable and inclusive city for all, and how the Housing Levy is our proven tool to get it done.  

Let’s get to work. One Seattle