Seattle may be the first city to utilize the state Legislature’s House Bill 1406, which allows cities to retain and use a portion of their sales tax for affordable housing, which is expected to aid the city’s homeless population.

“Instead of sending that money to Olympia, we can keep it right here and put it to work,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan at a July 24 press conference. “If we act boldly, we can be the first city in Washington state to take advantage of this new tool. It will provide us the ability to invest more than $50 million to support and build permanent housing units for people experiencing homelessness.”

Durkan and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda plan to take legislation to Seattle City Council that would enable the city to make use of House Bill 1406.

Mosqueda said in a news release from the mayor’s office that this plan is especially crucial due to the vast population of individuals experiencing homelessness and call Seattle home.

“The 2019 Point-in-Time Count found that there were 11,199 people experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County—and that’s a conservative estimate,” Mosqueda said. “Seattle is losing lives and we’re losing neighbors as a result of this crisis. We know what works to solve homelessness: permanent supportive housing.”

Mosqueda went on to say that bonding against the retained sales-tax dollars will ensure that permanent supportive housing can move forward sooner rather than later.

Retaining sales tax revenue for affordable housing is just one part of Durkan’s new Seattle Housing Now plan.

Another part of the plan targets people who make too much for low-income housing but not enough to live in Seattle, Durkan said.

Specifically, Durkan said she plans to renew and improve the Multifamily Tax Exemption program, which has already made 4,400 affordable homes available, and is expected to create 1,300 more during the next three years.

“It works by giving a tax exemption to builders, who set aside about 20 to 25 percent of the homes in their buildings as income- and rent-restricted units,” she said. “That means we have more affordable apartments and that more Seattleites of different income can live in the same buildings and neighborhoods all across the city.”

All of this is important, Durkan said, because the average rent for an apartment in Seattle increased by 44 percent from 2010 to 2018.

In particular, she said that households of color are disproportionately affected by this crisis. Along with other low- or middle-income families, households of color deserve to live where they work instead of being pushed out to cities like Renton or Kent, she said.

“We need more affordable housing in every part of this city, and we need it as quickly as we can get it,” Durkan said.

The mayor also put forward the idea of selling the Mercer Mega Block in South Lake Union as a means of generating revenue for a series of affordable-house related measures. Housing advocates have pushed for the surplus property to be used for social housing.

Some of these ideas, which the mayor will flesh out in weeks to come, include using the revenue generated from the sale to create more affordable housing; to buy property and use it to develop future affordable housing sites that have access to city transit; to offer low-interest loans for individuals who want to construct backyard cottages or in-law apartments; and to invest in affordable-homeownership opportunities for the city’s low- and middle-income population.

“We must have a sense of urgency,” Durkan said. “We have a plan to use new tools and seize new opportunities. We will do it together working with community-based organizations, the city council and people throughout this city, because that’s what we need to make a difference. We have a generational opportunity before us to actually bend that arc so more people can afford to live in Seattle.”