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Real Change committee files initiative to form social housing in Seattle

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“Social housing,” a concept popular in Europe, is being proposed for Seattle by House Our Neighbors (HON), a political committee of Real Change. The group filed an initiative late last month to create a Seattle Social Housing Developer.

In announcing the initiative, HON said signature gathering would “begin soon.” It first needs to be reviewed and approved by the city clerk’s office. An estimated 27,000 valid signatures are needed for the initiative to appear on the fall ballot.

House Our Neighbors (HON) describes social housing as “publicly owned, permanently affordable, cross-class housing, removed from market forces and speculation. It is built with the express aim of housing people equitably and affordably, not producing a profit. Under public control and oversight, social housing is sustainable and remains affordable in perpetuity.”

HON says establishment of a publicly owned developer would mean “Seattle would have a powerful new tool to create publicly owned, permanently affordable housing throughout the city to combat homelessness, displacement and poverty, and to create a city where all can live and thrive.”

If approved, the measure would create a public developer governed by a 13-member board. Seven of the board members would be renter-residents from the housing units, with the remaining six members to be appointed professionals with varying housing and government backgrounds.

Building upon existing models in Europe, HON’s plan is to create housing for people making from zero to 120% of median income, with no renter paying more than 30% of their income. Rent would be based on each building’s operational, maintenance and loan costs.

Among countries in Europe, some of the larger social housing agencies are in the Netherlands (80,000 units at Vestia), France (Paris Habitat with 124,000 units), Germany (SAGA with 130,000 units), Scotland (Wheatley Group with 40,000 to 60,000 units) and Italy (ATC Piemonte Centrale with 33,000 units). Other examples are found in Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, and Denmark.

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