Take Action: Vote yes on I-135: Social housing for a diversity of incomes will give everyone an opportunity to thrive

The following was written by Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza and Shalimar Gonzales, CEO of Solid Ground. It was originally published in The Seattle Times on Friday, January 20, 2023.

Every day, our organizations hear from people across Seattle facing the same crisis: Ever-increasing housing costs that rise far faster than wages, leaving families desperately looking for a new place they can afford. They might spend a night in the car while they look, but then a night becomes a week, a week becomes a month, and so another family is exposed to the trauma of homelessness — a trauma now shared by more than 40,000 people in King County each year.  

This is what happens when a city’s skyrocketing population and job growth collides with a private housing market that hasn’t been able to keep pacepushing rents up 50% in metro Seattle over just the last decade. But it doesn’t have to be like this.  

Starting next week, Seattle voters will be asked to consider a grassroots ballot initiative called Initiative 135 that would create a new public agency, the Seattle Social Housing Developer, to buy, build and maintain a new kind of permanently affordable housing across the city. By law, these energy-efficient, union-built, city-owned homes would be available to people with a wide range of incomes, from people with no income at all to folks who are fully employed with good jobs but still struggling with the cost of housing in Seattle. That includes educators, health care staff, child-care providers and the front-line human service workers that are so vital to organizations like ours. Rent would be based on income: People who earn more would pay more, but nobody would pay more than 30% of their income on housing. 

Instead of concentrating and isolating low incomes renters — as public housing projects have often done in the past — these self-governed properties would be home to a healthy diversity of incomes, giving everyone a better opportunity to thrive. What’s more, the flexible income requirements would allow residents to pursue better-paying jobs without losing their housing, giving more people an opportunity to escape poverty and build a better future for themselves. 

Now, you might be thinking, “Sounds great, but aren’t there already a bunch of organizations building affordable housing? Why do we need another?” The answer is yes, there are, and their work continues to be vital in our effort to close Seattle’s staggering shortage of affordable homes — which is why we need to renew the Seattle Housing Levy this fall. But we also know that everything we’re doing now is still not enough. In fact, it has been estimated that King County needs to spend an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion per year to make up for years of housing underproduction.

The Social Housing Developer proposed by I-135 would be able to chip away at that deficit without taking resources from existing affordable housing programs because it would be funded primarily through municipal bonds that would be repaid in part through rental income. And this would be an investment that keeps on giving: Once the bonds on each project are paid off, the rental income generated by each building can be used to pay for the development of additional properties. 

This kind of affordable housing production would be completely new to Seattle, but it has been used successfully for decades all around the world, in places like New Zealand, Austria and Uruguay. In Montgomery County, a fast-growing suburb of Washington, D.C., an agency similar to the Seattle Social Housing Developer recently created a revolving $50 million housing production fund that is expected to produce nearly 8,800 units of housing. We can do the same in Seattle. 

Critics of I-135 have argued that we should focus all our resources on building homes for our lowest-income neighbors. But the truth is we can — and must — do both things at the same time: Build more housing for people with no income at all as well as for those who work full time but still can’t afford the astronomical cost of housing in Seattle. As it is, nearly 46,000 households in Seattle are spending more than half of their income on housing, leaving little left for other basic living costs. 

Building more affordable housing in our city isn’t just the right thing to do; it is literally the only way we can hope to end our homelessness crisis. If we don’t find ways to build new affordable homes more quickly, we will continue to see more of our neighbors priced out of the private housing market and pulled into homelessness every year. Please vote yes on I-135 and help us build a better future for Seattle.  

Estela Ortega is the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, an organization that works to build unity across all racial and economic sectors, to organize, empower and defend our most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Shalimar Gonzales is the CEO of Solid Ground, a community action agency that works to solve poverty by meeting basic needs, nurturing success and dismantling barriers that keep our communities from thriving.

Read another article about Initiative 135 at PubliCola here.

2022 Employee & Volunteer Recognition

Our staff and volunteers work so hard to provide all 43 of our programs and services. Please join us in acknowledging and celebrating their service and dedication!

Executive Director’s Award – Hilda Magaña

Employee of the Year, Seattle – Tania Zárate

Employee of the Year, Federal Way – Maria Casarez

Spirit Award – Laura Aban

Volunteer of the Year Seattle – Yadira Alvarez

Volunteer of the Year Federal Way – Moises Marchan

Equipo del Año – AARP

Service Awards

25 Years of Service

Maria Rico

Maria Teresa Garcia Fitz

Sandra Medina Silva

20 Years of Service

Ricardo Solis

Maria de Jesus Ramirez

Cristina Jimenez

15 Years of Service

Jessica Harris Herrera

Maricela Arguello

Belem Mendoza Ruiz

5 Years of Service

Veronica Gallardo
Wing Yiu Yuen

Mirtha Gonzalez
Yaoping Yang

Rosa Isela Perez
Ayda Majeed Ramadhan

3 Years of Service

Victor Cerdeneta
Mandela Gardner
Heidi Hammes
Iris Navarro Diaz de Leon
Yenny Dzul
Deicy Pérez Sánchez
Hayley Berra

Safiullah Mirzaee
Janeth Angeles
Jim Cantú
Olga Cortes
Estela Rodriguez
Pedro Ruiz
Paolo Arellano

Daniela Lizárraga
Karen Calvo
Maria Jasso Torres
Adulfa Gomez
Vilma Villalobos
Camila Puelpan

Frontline Worker Awards

This year, we are celebrating the staff that since March 20th, 2020, with sacrifice, bravery, and at great personal risk, became a frontline worker exhibiting the highest degree of selflessness. We are forever grateful to their essential service! ¡Mil Gracias, por su sacrificio!

Laura Aban
Maria Luisa Aguilera
Rosalina Alvarez
Janeth Angeles
Fidencio Angeles
Norma Aparicio
Maricela Arguello
Graciela Ayala
Iran Barba
Lissette Barraza
Rafael Barron
Jose Belloso
Citlali Beltran
Jasmin Calderon
Perla Campbell
Angie Chen
Jully Chu
Olga Cortes
Elpidio Cortez Montiel
Maria de Jesus Ramirez

Martha Diaz
Ceyla Diaz Peñaloza
Rocio Espiritu
Hiromi Fermin
Teresa Fitz
Veronica Gallardo
Teresa Garcia
Raquel Garcia
Heydi Garcia
Claudibet Garcia
Flor Gomez
Angela Gomez
Adulfa Gomez
Mirtha Gonzalez
Jessica Gonzalez
Javier Gonzalez
Jessica Harris Herrera
Bertha Hernandez
Xingmei Huang
Baiyang Huang
Maria Jasso

Cristina Jimenez
Kira Lancian
Jason Li
Jiali Lin
Elizabeth Lopez
Hilda Magana
Sandra Medina
Juana Mendoza
Belem Mendoza Ruiz
Hortencia Mercado
Favian Mogollan
Janet Monroy
Maria Paguada
Claudia Pay Pay
Rosa Perez
Cecilia Perez
Franz Perez
Bernadette Polinar
Audelia Quintero
Ayda Ramadhan
Diana Ramirez

Ana Ramirez
Heyda Raymundo
Mari Rico
Alejandra Rico-Diaz
Jenny Rivera
Rocio Ruiz
Pedro Ruiz
Vianey Sanchez
Ricardo Solis
Xiaying Tan
Janet Torres
Consuelo Trujillo
Vilma Villalobos
Wendy Yang
Erxing Yang
Tania Zarate
Susie Zhang
Theresa Zhao
Sandra Zuñiga

2023 Día de los Reyes Recap

Gracias to everyone that came out to celebrate with us at our Día de los Reyes events!

Mil gracias to the students, teachers, and parents of our José Martí Child Development Centers for their traditional performance of the procession of los Tres Reyes Magos! Gracias also to all our small business vendors who were selling such amazing products.

History & Significance of Día de los Reyes

January 6th marks a symbolic celebration among the Mexican culture and various areas around the globe as we celebrate Día de Los Reyes also known as Three Kings’ Day. The holiday represents the day the Three Wise Men: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, representing Arabia, the Orient, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel, and elephant, bringing gold, incense and myrrh to the baby Jesus after following what is known as the Christmas star to the town of Bethlehem.

In honor of the Three Kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, children in Latin America, and around the world celebrate by exchanging gifts. As tradition, children leave out their shoes on the night of January 5th for the Three Kings and the next morning they awake to find gifts for them. Another common tradition during Día de Los Reyes is to bake or purchase and serve Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. The Rosca is shaped like a wreath and decorated with candied fruit, and the most important part, baked with a small baby Jesus doll inside. Whoever gets the piece of the Rosca with the doll has to have a celebration on Día de la Candelaria in February. In the Mexican culture, the host will serve tamales, and a Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado.

El 6 de Enero marca una celebración simbólica entre la cultura Mexicana y varias partes del mundo, ya que celebramos el Día de Reyes, también conocido como el Día de los Reyes Magos. La celebración representa el día en que los Tres Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar y Baltasar, que representan Arabia, el Oriente y África, llegaron a caballo, camello y elefante, trayendo oro, incienso y mirra al niño Jesús después de seguir lo que se conoce como la estrella de Belén.

En honor a los Reyes Magos que traen regalos al niño Jesús, los niños en Latinoamérica y en todo el mundo celebran intercambiando regalos. Como tradición, los niños dejan sus zapatos afuera la noche del 5 de Enero para los Reyes Magos y la mañana siguiente se despiertan para encontrar regalos para ellos. Otra tradición común en el Día de Los Reyes es hacer o comprar y servir una Rosca de Reyes. La Rosca tiene forma de corona y está decorada con fruta seca, y la parte más importante, horneada con un pequeño muñeco Jesús en su interior. Quien corte la pieza de la Rosca con el muñeco tiene que tener una celebración el Día de la Candelaria en Febrero. En la cultura Mexicana, el anfitrión sirve tamales y un chocolate caliente o champurrado.