Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4) joined Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (D-WA 10th District) and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA 6th District) at the Housing Hilltop Groundbreaking Ceremony, Friday, Jan. 20.
Housing Hilltop is an affordable housing project from the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) that will bring 231 affordable housing units to Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood. In addition, the project includes 13,000 square feet of commercial retail space, including a 10,000-square-foot performing arts and community gathering space.
"I always say what's good for Tacoma is good for Pierce County, and this is great for Tacoma," said Mello in his remarks at the ceremony. "This is the model to bring to scale to address our county's affordable housing crisis."
Housing Hilltop is THA’s largest affordable housing project since the New Salishan development. New Salishan was a project to revitalize the Salishan neighborhood with affordable housing units in combination of rental and owner-occupied structures.
THA says it hopes to complete the Housing Hilltop project in late 2024. The project is supported by $1.9 million from the city of Tacoma, as well as $1.17 million in federal funds from Pierce County's American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
"The community is behind efforts like this," said Mello. "That's why I've championed a new revenue stream that will generate $20 million a year to help fund projects just like this one. For one penny on a $10 purchase, we can bring this funding to Pierce County so more people can have access to an affordable, safe and stable place to call home."
At the Council's second to last meeting of 2022, held on Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Council voted to continue discussions on the countywide one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase for affordable housing and related services. The motion to continue was made by Councilmember Dave Morell (District 1). The vote is now set for the Council's Tuesday, March 7 meeting.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness estimates Pierce County spends approximately $40 million a year to operate the homeless crisis response system and needs to spend an additional $117 million a year to fully fund the system in the next five years. In addition, the county’s Housing Action Strategy, which was adopted in November 2022, also found Pierce County must build at least 50,600 housing units at 50% of Area Medium Income (AMI) or less by 2044, and over half of these units must be affordable to households earning 30% AMI or less. According to the strategy, the private market is not able to build housing for this population without significant public subsidy.
"A key piece of this legislation is the revenue can be used to help support people who are at a chronic risk of becoming homeless,” said Mello at the time it was voted for continuance. “We need this approach. To end homelessness, we have to prevent it from happening in the first place."
Mello believes affordable housing projects like Housing Hilltop is part of the solution, and funds generated from a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase could be used on other projects across the county.
You can learn more about Housing Hilltop here. To learn more about the one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase for affordable housing and related services, visit the state's RCW website that shares information about the legislation.