Let’s Endorse House Our Neighbors Initiative to Fund Social Housing (I-137)

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This piece is intended as the formal motivation for the resolution: Endorse House Our Neighbors Initiative to Fund Social Housing (I-137)

This piece is intended as the formal motivation for the resolution: Endorse House Our Neighbors Initiative to Fund Social Housing (I-137).

House our Neighbors (HON) is a coalition of housing advocates and organizations that began in 2021 as an effort to defeat business backed efforts to pass an amendment to the Seattle city charter enshrining sweeps of homeless encampments.  Fortunately, King County Superior Court struck the amendment from the ballot on legal grounds. 

With Seattle facing an unrelenting housing and homelessness crisis, the HON coalition decided to run an initiative to establish a model of social housing. The initiative, I-135, established a new Public Development Authority (PDA) to acquire, build, and manage housing in the City of Seattle.  The housing will be open to residents making less than 120% of the area median income, with residents paying no more than thirty percent of their income on housing, and prohibiting financial eviction.  All housing built and acquired will be permanently public, and governed by residents of the housing. New housing would be built to passive house standards with union labor. This campaign was successful, establishing the new Seattle Social Housing Public Development Authority (PDA) in February of 2023. 

SDSA joined the coalition and contributed significantly through efforts led by the Housing Justice Working Group (HJWG) by:

  • Collecting over 4000 signatures to qualify the initiative for a vote by Seattle voters.
  • Hosting over 40 signature gathering events.
  • Knocking on over 3500 doors during the get out the vote campaign.
  • Using public data to identify likely renters used to send texts to over 200,000 Seattle voters.
  • Contributed $3,000 to HON.

As HON’s policy and advocacy director, Tiffani McCoy, stated, “We recognize the vital need for solidarity across movements, and know that we couldn’t have accomplished this monumental win without the dynamic organizing of SDSA.”

Due to the limitations of the citizens initiative process in the State of Washington, the initiative did not include funding for the PDA to begin to acquire and build housing. HON determined that the optimal means for obtaining the funding is through a new  ballot initiative. The initiative will need 26,521 verified signatures of registered voters in order to secure a place on the ballot. Given validation rates, it will likely be necessary to gather at least 35,000 signatures.

HON’s ballot initiative includes a five percent excess compensation tax paid by employers who employ individuals whose income is greater than $1 million dollars/year. This would generate an expected revenue of $50 million annually for the developer, allowing PDA to build or acquire an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 units over 10 years. The construction of these units is expected to open the door to other future funding sources, including public bonds.

There are several reasons why SDSA should endorse this initiative:

  • There is a clearly recognized need for affordable housing that is not being met. Our endorsement while doing the work to get it passed is an opportunity for SDSA to deliver housing justice through the de-commodification of housing, and economic justice through the redistribution of wealth. This gives us a chance, as an organ of the Seattle working class, to take a stand on an issue the whole class regards as important.
  • Seattle’s social housing model is the first of its kind in the nation. It provides a welcome alternative to both the overpriced corporate cartel owned private housing market, and the current model of “affordable housing” that provides little actual housing while it segregates low income people in substandard units. This effort will provide us with opportunities to differentiate DSA’s brand of politics from that of the Democratic establishment’s insufficient response to the housing crisis. 
  • This will be a hard fought campaign that will be directly opposed by the reactionary business community, especially real estate interests and their lobbyists. SDSA will greatly increase its local profile if it takes a prominent role in the campaign, and will increase Seattle DSA’s profile amongst the working class. Participation provides opportunities for recruitment and a chance to further educate our members on the issue of housing.

The success or failure of the Seattle Social Housing Developer will depend on its funding, and our comrades across the nation are watching our progress.