Middle Income Group Overlooked In Seattle Affordable Housing Struggle

Jul 23, 2014

A Seattle high-rise apartment building.
A Seattle high-rise apartment building.
Credit Flickr Photo/Andrew Smith (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is looking for affordable housing solutions – for a population that may be overlooked.

Speaking with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds, O’Brien said that systems are in place for those making around 30 percent of the area median wage, but not for those between 60 to 100 percent of the median (for a single person that’s between $37,000 and $50,000 a year).

“Someone who is making $40,000 doesn’t qualify for those very low-income housing, but still can’t afford market-rate housing,” he said.

Not that the poor shouldn’t still get help. O’Brien said most of the city’s resources should got toward the lower income bracket, and that there should be a stair-step approach. Otherwise, there is a gap between the low income and the market rate.

"If you start at that low income, you can never grow out of that and still be in the city," he said. "Continuity of housing options is what I think will make a healthy city and a healthy community."

John Fox, a coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, a low-income housing group, believes the focus should stay on those who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We aren’t addressing enough resources at those people at the bottom,” Fox said. “To direct our attention where there’s a surplus of units makes no sense when there’s such a shortfall and a growing need at the bottom.”

O’Brien said he agrees with this statement – that the market is already producing one bedroom and studios to match the needs of the median income. However, he said there aren’t enough family-sized units in the city for those making workforce wages.

One idea he proposed is to offer a greater subsidy for affordable housing units that are three- or four-bedrooms, and a lesser subsidy for single units, to builders in Seattle. Developers could also take advantage of incentive zoning where they would be allowed higher buildings in exchange for providing affordable housing.

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.