Photo of Cabana Manor via Redfin
In the spirit of community, Seattle voted yes on several property-tax levies over the last few years to support the city’s most vulnerable citizens. Seattle said yes to levies to pay for more subsidized affordable housing, better public transportation and other improvements to make the city more livable for working-class residents.
Unfortunately, an ironic downside to these well-intended actions is emerging. According to a report by the Seattle Times, property-tax bills are soaring on Seattle’s older apartment buildings, where tenants can least afford to pay higher rents. Bob Weisenbach, a retired architect and landlord rents out a few of the last apartment buildings where a Seattle tenant can live for under $1,000. For one 20-unit building he owns, at 301 Summit Ave. E., the property-tax bill increased 27 percent this year. Over two years the surge was 36 percent. All told, the bill for this one building is $15,000 more than in previous years.
“That’s $750 more per unit,” Weisenbach told the Seattle Times.
In the same neighborhood, Seattle Times reporter Danny Westneat found two apartment buildings constructed in the mid-50s — one at 525 E. Roy, the other “Cabana Manor” at 712 Summit — that had insane property tax hikes of 57 percent over the past two years. Most every other apartment building he researched on Capitol Hill, especially the older ones, has seen tax boosts in the 25 percent to 40 percent range.
Weisenbach told the Seattle Times that both he, and probably most of his tenants, all voted for the various tax levies. But nobody predicted how hard it would come back on those least able to afford it — working-class tenants.
He may now be forced to raise the rents significantly to afford the taxes on his buildings. “I’m going to write each of my tenants a letter, explaining the extreme size of this year’s tax bill,” Weisenbach said. “I’m worried it may drive some of them out of the building, which probably means out of the neighborhood, or out of the city.”
Weisenbach’s 2017 property tax bill alone is higher by about $600 per unit — $50 per unit per month. By itself that’s a five percent increase on rent of $1,000. As Westneat points out, that wasn’t advertised during the political campaigns when they said this tax or that was “only $12 a month for the average homeowner.”
The irony of property tax levies aimed at helping working-class residents actually harming the last refuge of affordable housing is unfortunate. How this plays out in the years to come is yet to be seen.