Congressional lawmakers, local leaders push for federal dollars for affordable housing

By:  Suzanne Phan
Source: KOMO News

Government leaders say the lack of affordable housing has become a major crisis locally and nationally. Now, they want everyone to support new legislation that could mean millions of dollars coast to coast for struggling cities.

“More than 90% of the affordable housing that gets built gets built with the housing tax credit. So, unless we increase the amount of credit available, we are not going to be solving this problem no matter how hard our local communities work,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Local mayors from Everett, Seattle and Tacoma joined lawmakers Thursday to push for funding from the federal government to create more affordable housing at a time when the economy is heating up and rent prices and housing prices are skyrocketing across the region.

“Roughly 50% of all renters and homeowners in Tacoma are ‘housing-burdened.’ That means they are paying more than 30% of their income to keep a roof over their heads,” said Mayor of Tacoma, Victoria Woodards.

"Our state is currently facing an affordable housing crisis. In our state, roughly 223,000 households pay more than half of their income on rent," said Rep. Suzan DelBene.

In June, Cantwell and DelBene introduced the Affordable Housing Improvement Credit Act of 2019. The legislation has gotten support from both Democrats and Republicans.

The bill would mean a 50% increase in the tax credits offered to developers for building low-income housing nationwide.

“We want to see that 50% increase on top of the $3 billion we received last year,” said Cantwell. “This 50% increase would help us build more than 550,000 units nationwide and has you heard, more than 9,700 units here in Washington State over the next 10 years. And that is in addition to the 3,500 units that would be built at the same time.”

In the Seattle region, that additional federal funding would make a big difference.

“A 50% increase would add 400-500 apartments more each year than what we are doing now,” said Paul Lambros, CEO of Plymouth Housing, affordable housing in Seattle.

Supporters say the Cantwell-DelBene bill would also provide 11,000 jobs. It would provide affordable housing in rural communities and in extremely low-income communities.

And, it would create also housing specifically for veterans.

Plymouth Housing has helped many people with disabilities or drug issues get off the streets and get the support they need.

“Plymouth Housing is security for me, and for many others,” said Searetha Simons. She faced one setback after another. But in 2013, Plymouth Housing gave her hope and a new start.

“Anyone can end up homeless,” said Simons. ”My drug court counselor introduced me to Plymouth Housing. And it’s just been a change from there.”

Plymouth Housing has helped her son too, who was homeless for a while.

“They got him stable. He’s stable (now) with his mind and his medication.”

Simons has been off the streets for 6 years now, and she has part-time job.

“I have a job working for an organization of prostitution survivors,” said Simons.

She also co-facilitates an art group in the King County Jail. She said that’s her way of giving back. Simons said affordable housing is something everyone needs.

“People deserve to have a house. People deserve to have a home” said Simons. “It means a lot.”