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What's a 'housing benefit district' and why do people want them around light rail stations?

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As new light rail stations are built in communities outside Seattle, advocates see a way to fund and build a lot more affordable housing.

In her law career, Faith Pettis has helped put together financing for tens of thousands of affordable housing units across Washington state. But she says current funding sources are inadequate to meet the demand that’s coming to the region.

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The Puget Sound area alone needs to add 800,000 new homes by 2050 to accommodate growth.

The idea Pettis and other housing advocates are rallying behind would allow cities to create something called “housing benefit districts.”

“We need to do something big and to do something different, and this is that idea," Pettis said.

Housing benefit districts would let cities build entirely new communities around light rail stations, with plenty of affordable housing. State Rep. Cindy Ryu (D -Shoreline) plans to support the idea in the legislature this spring. Other lawmakers say they need to learn more before they take a side.

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Still, some experts say such benefit districts are needed if Washington wants to meet its goal of building one million new homes by the year 2044.

Shoreline Mayor Keith Scully is another proponent of the idea.

"It essentially uses tax money," Scully said. "It says we’re going to subsidize housing for the lower income folks, from the upper income folks. It’s that simple ... it's more complicated than that in the structure, but that’s the basis of it.”

Opening up the possibility of housing benefit districts is just one idea that advocates are pushing for. Lawmakers have a few thoughts, too. Check out KUOW's series The Ripple Effect, which opens up the issue of Washington's housing woes, and potential solutions to them.

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