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Originally published September 19, 2014 at 5:12 PM | Page modified September 22, 2014 at 11:47 AM

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Editorial: Seattle Housing Authority rent proposal needs work

City residents in need of low-income housing deserve better than the Seattle Housing Authority’s plan to encourage more self-sufficiency among its tenants by charging higher rents.

Seattle Times Editorial

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There should be no immigrants in public housing while Citizens are homeless, or priced by rents into poverty. MORE
This is good proposal and the SHA should go for it. I work with free-housing recipients on a daily basis and I can tell... MORE
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THE Seattle Housing Authority should be praised for trying to serve more city residents in need of subsidized housing. But its proposed switch — from charging 30 percent of income, to a system of fixed rents that increase more than 500 percent over seven years — is not the way to do it.

The Stepping Forward proposal aims to serve some of the 9,000 households that are on a waiting list to move into units managed by the Housing Authority. It says the program would encourage adults already in about 4,600 of its units to take advantage of the economic upturn and find better-paying jobs. Seniors and those with disabilities would be exempt.

The hikes would eventually bring in an estimated $13 million annually to fund tenant workforce development, provide rent subsidies to 600 more households and address the authority’s capital maintenance backlog.

Housing authority officials also argue that Stepping Forward is consistent with their mission statement of promoting self-sufficiency among tenants.

But the assumption that better-paying, low-skilled jobs can be found rings false at a time when working-class wage stagnation and income inequality are among the region’s top concerns.

Seattle’s coming $15 minimum wage might aid Stepping Forward, but it could also cause layoffs leaving some Housing Authority tenants jobless.

Stepping Forward also doesn’t account for the next recession, or for residents who would be unable to pay higher rates and who, by rule, would be denied accommodation in other housing authorities because they owe back rent. Seattle Housing Authority Executive Director Andrew Lofton says a hardship policy “for just those kinds of circumstances” is intended, but he has no details for how it would work.

Housing advocates, low-income residents and even Mayor Ed Murray have all faulted the plan for pushing residents out of subsidized housing instead of helping more get in.

Murray’s disapproval is particularly resonant. He will make appointments to four of seven Housing Authority commission slots becoming vacant or up for renewal this year.

And since Housing Authority officials don’t intend to seek commission approval for Stepping Forward until early next year, the mayor can effectively reject the plan.

Still, the Housing Authority should continue to explore how to house more people and how to promote self-sufficiency.

But those in need of low-income housing would be better served if the Housing Authority engaged in a more inclusive planning process.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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