Voters in Seattle approve Initiative 135, creating the Social Housing Developer

On Feb. 14, voters in Seattle, Washington, approved Initiative 135, a citizen-initiated measure to create the Seattle Social Housing Developer, a public development organization that will own, develop, and maintain what the initiative describes as social housing.

As of Feb. 21, election results showed the initiative received 57.1% of the vote.

According to Initiative 135, the goal of social housing is to provide public-owned apartments that are “removed from market forces and speculation” and built “with the express aim of housing people equitably and affordably … to remain affordable in perpetuity.”

Under Initiative 135, the public developer’s housing units would be available to those with a mix of income ranges from 0% to 120% of the area median income (which was $120,907 as of 2022). Rent would be limited to 30% of household income. Applications would not include prior rental references, co-signers, background checks, or application fees. Tenants would be selected using a lottery-based system.

The Seattle Social Housing Developer, being a public corporation, would have the authority to issue bonds, receive federal funds and grants, and collect revenue from its services.

House Our Neighbors! (HON), also known as Yes on I-135, sponsored the initiative. HON stated, “Social Housing is publicly owned forever, permanently affordable, and creates cross-class communities and resident leadership. In countries around the world, such as Singapore, Austria, France, Uruguay and Canada, housing is a public good. Unlike in the United States, governments, not the private sector, are directing the housing market. By creating a community-controlled Social Housing Developer to buy and build housing that will be available to those across the income spectrum, Seattle will have another critical tool to address the suffering, displacement, and inequity that defines our housing landscape.”

The measure received endorsements from State Sens. Joe Nguyen (D) and Rebecca Saldana (D) and State Reps. Frank Chopp (D) and Nicole Macri (D). The Green Party of Seattle and the Working Families Party of Washington also endorsed the proposal.

The Housing Development Consortium, a non-profit organization that aims to “build, sustain, and inspire a diverse network committed to producing, preserving, and increasing equitable access to affordable homes” released a statement on Initiative 135, writing, “The primary constraint on our ability to scale proven affordable housing models is the limited public resources available to fund affordable housing. … we are concerned [the initiative] distracts funds and energy away from what our community should be focusing on – scaling up affordable housing for low-income people. We do not need another government entity to build housing when there are already insufficient resources to fund existing entities.”

As of Feb. 2023, the Seattle Housing Authority, an independent public corporation, provides housing and rental assistance to 17,945 households. The SHA owns and operates 8,530 apartments and homes in Seattle. Around 85% of SHA housing is for households with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income (about $36,270). Funding for the Seattle Housing Authority comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), rent revenue, and public and private grants. The Social Housing Developer would not replace the Seattle Housing Authority.

On Feb. 20, House our Neighbors tweeted, “Today, we sent an email to every

Seattle City Council member alerting them of the clear mandate from Seattle voters for social housing as outlined in I-135. Once I-135 is certified, the 60-day clock starts ticking for the initial board to be appointed. Board members must have a commitment to the goals of social housing. The City shall provide SSHD limited in-kind assistance as necessary for the first 18 months of startup, including but not limited to office space, staffing, supplies, insurance & bonding, & legal services.”