Militant Journalism

Social housing initiative wins big in Seattle

Seattle saw a historic Valentine’s Day as Initiative 135, Seattle’s social housing campaign, passed with flying colors by voters in a special election on Feb. 14. Organizers with House Our Neighbors, the coalition that initiated the campaign, declared victory on Feb. 16 with 54% approval at 25% of ballots counted. As of Feb. 17, the lead increased to 57% approval with 33% of ballots counted. Voters have spoken loud and clear: It’s time for the city of Seattle to address the housing crisis! 

The aim of I-135 is to increase the availability of affordable housing in Seattle through the creation of social housing. The city has seen a rapid increase in housing costs in recent years, with rent and home prices skyrocketing, making it increasingly difficult for low- and middle-income residents to afford to live in the city. This has led to a growing number of people experiencing homelessness, with many living in tents, cars, or other makeshift shelters. Seattle’s current policies and resources are not sufficient to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. Despite a housing boom of privately-developed housing, there is still a shortage of affordable housing. The passage of I-135 introduces the creation of social housing, which is municipally provided, not-for profit, rental housing. Social housing is permanently affordable, with rent prices set at a level that is affordable for both low- and middle-income residents. 

From the House our Neighbors website, I-135:

Establishes a Public Developer which will create publicly owned, social housing for those making 0-120% Area Median Income

Requires City Start-up Support for the first 18 months including in-kind staff and office space

Creates a Process for Public Lands to undergo a city feasibility study to determine housing need and whether the land should be transferred to the developer before considering the sale of said lands

House Our Neighbors

The I-135 charter specifies that the housing should include a mixture of income levels, charge no more than 30% of a renter’s monthly income in rent, be built with union labor, and include community resources such as day care and communal kitchens. 

House Our Neighbors is a political committee of Real Change newspaper, a paper sold by homeless vendors. The group first came together to oppose CA-29, a charter amendment proposed by the now-defunct anti-homeless organization Compassion Seattle in 2021. That amendment would have been in actuality anything but compassionate, mandating “sweeps” of public spaces while neglecting to provide the funding or strategy necessary to create permanently affordable housing and services. I-135 includes detailed strategies to address the concerns associated with public housing; FAQs and the text of the initiative can be found on the House Our Neighbors website. Their website also lists in full the dozens of endorsing organizations, unions, businesses and individuals. These endorsers include the democratically self-operated Nickelsville homeless camps, Seattle King County NAACP, Tenants Union of Washington State, Transit Riders Union, Washington Poor People’s Campaign and Cancel the Rent Coalition. 

Many of the endorsing organizations and others, including the Seattle Party for Socialism and Liberation, joined in the campaign efforts for I-135. PSL members participated both in petitioning to get the initiative on the ballot and in going door-to-door and tabling at events to get the word out. Reception was overall very positive, with many people expressing their excitement to finally have the opportunity to vote on something with the potential to make a meaningful improvement to the housing crisis Seattle has been facing for years. “It’s about time” was a common sentiment, reflected in the resounding victory of the initiative. 

Since declaring victory, the front page of the House Our Neighbors website says in large text, “WE WON!!!” followed by a link to the election results. HON posted Wednesday to Instagram: “IT’S OFFICIAL! Social Housing is coming to #Seattle! The power of a people’s movement, right there!”

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