The Seattle Times
By: Harry Hoffman
June 20, 2011
Seattle's Multifamily Tax Exemption is a tool to help increase the amount of affordable housing within the city, writes guest columnist Harry Hoffman. The program should continue to help people earning low or moderate wages live near their jobs and civic amenities.
EVERYONE deserves access to a home they can afford.
People who work in Seattle providing vital services for low or moderate wages should be able to live near their jobs and the civic amenities of transit, parks and education. The traditional pattern of "drive until you qualify" (or can find cheap enough rent) is no longer a viable option as transportation and environmental impacts become clear.
Seattle's Multifamily Tax Exemption program is one important tool to increase the amount of truly affordable housing within the city, meeting the housing needs of families in neighborhoods throughout Seattle, reducing their transportation costs and carbon footprints and helping to fulfill the affordable-housing goals in Seattle's Comprehensive Plan.
The state Legislature designed the exemption program as an economic-development tool to stimulate development in urban centers and meet Growth Management Act planning goals, creating desirable and convenient residential units in target neighborhoods that concentrate housing, manage growth and curb sprawl.
Unlike many other cities, which use this tax exemption option to subsidize entirely market-rate developments without any rent restrictions, Seattle's program requires a degree of affordable-housing development. To be eligible to participate in the Seattle program, at least 20 percent of the project's units must be leased to tenants with lower incomes.
The Seattle Times editorial on this topic ["City housing tax break needs to be reined in," Opinion, June 9] focused solely on the use of the tax exemption by for-profit developers. Since its inception, the city's program has been especially valuable to local nonprofits developing units for individuals earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area median income (from $38,550 to $58,000 per year for a family of three).
Nonprofits have used the exemption to create 565 units in Seattle and will continue to access the program for the public good. Those projects were ineligible for the state's low-income housing property-tax exemption program and thus benefit greatly from Seattle's exemptions, allowing nonprofit owners to effectively maintain building operations over multiple decades.
The program has also acted as an incentive to private developers to build affordable units in market-rate buildings that would be otherwise unaffordable to working families and individuals.
As a result, the Multifamily Tax Exemption helps to integrate affordable housing in high-growth neighborhoods alongside and within market-rate developments, ensuring that affordable units remain rent-restricted in robust and thriving areas throughout the city.
The program should be continued to serve as one important tool to equitably meet the housing needs of working people in the city.
Harry Hoffman is executive director of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County. The Housing Development Consortium is the professional association for the King County affordable-housing community and its many supporters.