Photo courtesy of the 36th Legislative District Office

Seattle housing: Affordable options too few for most

With the U.S. experiencing its highest period of income inequality since 1928, it makes sense that what constitutes a living wage has risen to the fore of our national debate.

From the Ballard News Tribune to The Seattle Times and the Wall Street Journal, stories about income inequality and housing troubles abound. Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that over the next five to seven years Seattle’s minimum wage will increase to $15 per hour is a significant story in a long list of recent revelations about wages. Some businesses, even those right in Ballard, are already opting for a higher minimum wage.

There are many factors to take into account when evaluating income inequality, and housing is one of them. Even with the highest minimum wage in the country, our state has tens of thousands of working families still struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their head – and the problem seems to be getting worse.
The Seattle Times recently reported the median price for a single-family home in King County reached $430,500 in April – an increase of 7.6 percent from a year ago. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined a household would need to earn $18.58 per hour – roughly twice our current minimum wage – in order to afford rent for a two bedroom apartment in Washington State. In the City of Seattle it is even higher, with a household needing to earn $21.60 per hour to afford a two bedroom apartment. This is simply not doable for many working families, or seniors on a fixed income.

Tenants in our area have made a stand against this, like those who formed the Lockhaven Tenants Union in Ballard after their new building owner told them to get out or their rent would be, in many cases, doubled. The Theodora Rescue Community tenants in Ravenna likewise have organized, trying to prevent their building – one of the few remaining low-income HUD buildings in Seattle – from being purchased by the same real estate company that bought Lockhaven.

Because of our concern for our constituents, several lawmakers, including Sen. David Frockt (D-46th L.D.) and I, introduced legislation last session that would have aided tenants. My bill, SB 6292 would have required longer periods of notice ahead of eviction or a rent increase, as well as provided for greater tenant relocation assistance for those, like the residents in Lockhaven, who are forced to move.

Another bill I cosponsored and was introduced by my colleague, Sen. David Frockt, SB 6291, would have provided tenants with a more cost effective screening process, allowing the use of a single screening form within the period of 30 days. Unfortunately, the Senate Republican Majority didn’t allow either bill to move forward, even though they had strong support in testimony on their hearings in the Senate Financial Institutions, Insurance & Housing Committee.

Something I am pleased did pass this year was SB 6450, introduced by Sen. Jamie Pedersen and cosponsored by me, that protects people who live in on-water dwellings in places like Lake Union. Legislation that was written three years ago unintentionally left houseboats out of the protections given to other on-water homes. This bill amends the Shoreline Protection Act to rectify the error and grant residents of existing houseboats necessary protection to stay in their homes. A companion bill was prime sponsored and championed by my 36th district seatmate Rep. Gael Tarleton in the House.

Measures like this one may seem small, but they make a significant impact on those who are affected by their passage or failure in Olympia. However, there is still a great deal of need in our state and much more to be done. Maya Angelou, the acclaimed and beloved poet, once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” I will continue to fight in order to pass more, and hopefully more far-reaching, legislation in the coming years that will allow everyone the opportunity to have that “safe place” to call home.

Your input and the sharing of your experiences regarding the housing situation in Seattle is invaluable, and I rely on you to tell me what would be the most helpful course of action moving forward. From now until January, I am back in my district office, and I encourage you to send an email, call to make an appointment, or stop by and let me know how you feel about this, or any issue, that is important to you.

By Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles

The 36th Legislative District Office contact information:
3131 Western Ave, Ste 421
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 281-6854