Guest Editorial: City Employees Need Social Housing

Image via City of Seattle.

By Karen Estevenin, Executive Director, PROTEC17

Collective action is the heart of the labor movement. As a public sector union, PROTEC17 members work together to improve conditions at our own workplaces. What is often lost in the public understanding of unions is how we also strive to improve the communities where we live.

The inadequate and shrinking supply of affordable housing in our region has become a crisis. That’s why our union, along with a number of coalition partners, is supporting Initiative I-135, which would create a public developer to build and acquire permanently affordable social housing in Seattle.

During the 2010s, Seattle saw some of the highest rent increases in the country, with an average rent increase of more than 90 percent. Between 2021 and 2022 alone, rent increases approached 20 percent per year between 2021 and 2022. The current median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle is $1,895, an amount that prices many Seattleites out of their own neighborhoods.

PROTEC17 represents the largest number of union workers at the City of Seattle. Through mobilization, negotiating strong contracts, and workplace wins, union members’ ability to create positive change undoubtedly fosters a better workplace and livelihood for themselves and their colleagues. However, with the rising cost of living and housing in Seattle, it is increasingly difficult to raise city employees’ compensation to fit the realities of living in Seattle. The simple fact is that too many city employees cannot afford to live in the very city they support, shape, and serve.

It is in this context that I-135, the social housing initiative, offers a proactive, transparent, and inclusive pathway to the development of truly affordable housing in the city of Seattle. I-135 does this by creating a Public Development Authority that will enable the city of Seattle to acquire properties, renovate existing housing, and build affordable homes, removing the pressure for profits and allowing more collective and collaborative management. The authority itself will be directed by a public oversight board composed of renters, union members, experts in affordable and green development, as well as City Council and Mayoral appointees. It is collective action in action and as an ongoing model.

Housing created by the authority would include units to fit a mix of household sizes, as well as units that are affordable to a cross section of tenants—from those with extremely low incomes to those making up to 120% of Seattle’s median income. If passed, the tools provided by I-135 will be a critical component to restoring and maintaining living communities that cross incomes, ages, and backgrounds.

For these reasons, and many more, a broad range of community, labor, and small business partners have come together to support I-135.  Join us in this collective action and vote YES on I-135. Let’s give our city the opportunity to create affordable housing by and for the people.

Karen Estevenin is the executive director of PROTEC17, a member-powered labor union representing nearly 10,000 public employee professionals across the Pacific Northwest. PROTEC17 members work in city, county, and state government, public health, and beyond to support the programs and services that our communities rely on everyday.

3 thoughts on “Guest Editorial: City Employees Need Social Housing”

  1. Is there an individual out there or a program who brings together approximately 10 people who are renters that pay too much so that they can buy an apartment building and make it a co-op together?

    The approximately 10 families are now in control of their lives and destiny. Who brings renters together to become owners so they can help other renters? Is this done anywhere in our United States?

    1. There likely are commercial brokers who could facilitate this. I think this is more common on the east coast, due to the greater number of small/medium-sized multifamily buildings. It’s probably difficult/rare also due to the challenges around lining up blanket financing for everyone in the building, since some individuals may not be considered loanworthy…

  2. Seattle City employees are among the highest paid public employees in the state, and are funded by tax dollars. We should all be thankful for their public service. Their pay scales, benefit packages, terms & conditions of employment are negotiated through the collective bargaining process.

    Pay scale increases are always on the table at contract time, and increased living costs are always part of the discussion. Once negotiated, the increases are distributed directly, efficiently and equitably to all employees in their paychecks.

    “Social Housing” is a social engineering experiment that creates another bureaucracy, and another tax burden on property owners.

    If the union wants to help its members, they should do it at the bargaining table.

    Vote No on I-135

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