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Mayor Jenny Durkan’s first executive order addresses housing affordability

The order aims for faster relief for low-income households

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Soon after taking office on Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed two executive orders: one affirming the city’s existing Race and Social Justice Initiative, and another beginning to implement her plan for addressing housing affordability.

The housing order has three parts, but the gist is this: Get low-income households assistance with rent and utilities more quickly.

The first part directs four city departments to collaborate to provide relief for households on the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) waiting list without preferential status—that is, they’d be unlikely to ever receive assistance otherwise. The second directs the Office of Housing and SHA to work to find more housing for placement, working with developers of both eligible properties and those under construction. The third starts a process of streamlining benefits to cost-burdened households.

These strategies are aimed at households making 30 to 50 percent area median income. What that means depends on family size, but for a single person, that’s $20,200 to $33,600 per year.

The executive order starts to put a key part of Durkan’s housing platform into motion. In what she called her “Affordable Seattle Agenda,” Durkan pledged to clear approximately 350 households on the Seattle Housing Authority waiting list in the second week of her administration and establish a rent voucher pilot program soon after.

The order doesn’t quite address the initial two-week goal—it dictates that those households be contacted about utility discounts and other city programs by December 22. (If eligible, those households will be fast-tracked for benefits.) But it does mandate a rapid timeline for creating the first phase of a housing assistance pilot. The order asks for a proposal and strategy by January 12.

The rent voucher program initially imagined by the Durkan campaign had an estimated cost of $13 million for the first year. The executive order doesn’t outline a specific policy, though, much less a specific cost.

In a statement, Durkan said the executive order is “just one tool for addressing our affordability crisis.”

Throughout her campaign, Durkan also advocated building microhousing communities for the homeless and expanding tax exemptions for affordable housing. While initially Durkan slammed her opponent Cary Moon for pushing for a speculation tax, her housing platform advocates “explor[ing] taxing speculative real estate practices that displace low-income communities and communities of color.”