Seattle voters create new Social Housing Developer with initiative’s passage

Welcome to the Friday, February 24, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Seattle voters approve Initiative 135, creating the Social Housing Developer
  2. State supreme courts issued 233 opinions last week
  3. #FridayTrivia: How many of the 192 top state executive officials hold law degrees?

Seattle voters approve Initiative 135, creating the Social Housing Developer

Let’s take a look at a recent local ballot measure approved in Seattle. On Feb. 14, Seattle voters approved Initiative 135 with 57% of the vote. 

This citizen-initiated measure creates the Seattle Social Housing Developer, a public development organization that will own, develop, and maintain what the initiative describes as social housing.

Initiative sponsors said the goal of social housing is to provide publicly-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 will be available to those with incomes up to 120% of the area median income of $120,907. Rent is limited to 30% of the household income. Applications do not include references, co-signers, background checks, or application fees. Tenants will be selected using a lottery-based system.

As a public corporation, the Seattle Social Housing Developer will be able to issue bonds, receive federal funds and grants, and collect revenue from its services.

State Rep. Frank Chopp (D), Seattle School Board Director Brandon Hersey, and Tye Reed—a co-chair of House our Neighbors, the initiative’s sponsor—wrote the voter guide statement supporting Initiative 135, saying, “We are facing an unrelenting housing and homelessness crisis in Seattle … [W]e need more affordable housing and the tools we have to build it are not enough.”

Three advocates associated with existing local housing non-profits and advocacy groups—John Fox, David Bloom, and Alice Woldt—wrote the official statement opposing the measure, saying, “Creating another agency to compete for scarce housing dollars that costs several million to set it up before one housing unit is produced doesn’t make sense.”

We’ve so far identified 52 other local measures to be voted on this year. The next major election date is March 7, with local ballot measures to be decided in California, Florida, and Vermont.

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State supreme courts issued 233 opinions last week

State supreme courts issued 233 opinions between Feb. 13 and 19. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court led the field with 77 opinions issued, followed by North Dakota with 20 and Kentucky with 18.

Last week’s 233 opinions account for 27% of the year-to-date total of 1,067. Pennsylvania, again, leads with 290 opinions issued since Jan. 1, followed by Texas with 69 and Delaware with 61.

Supreme courts in most states (37) have issued fewer than 25 opinions since the start of the year, and those in Michigan, North Carolina, and Utah have yet to issue any opinions so far.

Some of the state supreme court opinions issued this year include those in:

  • Kentucky, where the court upheld the state’s effective abortion ban while lawsuits against the ban continue;
  • Minnesota, where the court sent a case regarding a COVID-related executive order that had previously been dismissed back to an appellate court, saying it was still justiciable even though the order had expired; and,
  • Vermont, where the court upheld a statute allowing noncitizens who are legal U.S. residents to vote in Montpelier’s local elections

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 39% of all opinions issued in 2021, 40% in 2022, and, to date, 45% in 2023.

There are a few reasons for Pennsylvania’s outsized number of opinions each year. In most states, concurring and dissenting opinions are filed alongside the court’s majority opinion, but in Pennsylvania, the court publishes those opinions separately. Additionally, when deciding whether a case can be appealed, the court logs these decisions as standalone, typically single-page, orders.

Every state and the District of Columbia have at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. Supreme courts do not hear trials of cases. Instead, they hear appeals of decisions made in lower courts. The number of justices on each state supreme court ranges between five and nine.

In 2020, we conducted a study identifying the partisan balance on every state supreme court. You can find that research here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report found here.

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#FridayTrivia: How many of the 192 top state executive officials hold law degrees?

In Wednesday’s Brew, we discussed the 192 top state executive officials and their educational backgrounds. These top officials represent the nation’s governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general, and secretaries of state. Based on our research, just about every official (184) holds a bachelor’s degree, but the numbers vary for advanced degrees beyond that point.

How many of the 192 top state executive officials hold law degrees?

  1. 58 (30%)
  2. 112 (58%)
  3. 71 (37%)
  4. 93 (48%)