Fearful Voters Reject Levy For Low-Income Housing

Concerned about higher taxes, the economy, layoffs at Boeing and the uncertainties of the presidential campaign, King County voters yesterday turned down a $150 million low-income-housing levy.

Unofficial results showed the eight-year levy failing with a "no" vote of more than 58 percent. The turnout was light. Only about 21 percent of the county's 759,000 voters went to the polls.

The levy would have provided about 2,400 units of housing for low-income families and for the homeless.

About $40 million would have been earmarked for social services designed to help low-income families overcome the health, educational, substance-abuse and child-care problems that have prevented many from finding their own homes.

In other issues, voters in the Burien area said yes to incorporation as a city. Tukwila residents voted to join the King County library district and an annexation to Des Moines was approved. In Edmonds, a levy to continue ambulance and medic service appears headed for overwhelming approval.

"I think it is understandable that with the economy like it is people are fearful they can't pay their property taxes," said County Councilwoman Audrey Gruger, a proponent of the housing measure. "Generally, people in King County are compassionate and care about people."

The levy would have been 17 cents on each $1,000 of valuation. The tax on a $100,000 house would have been about $17 a year; the levy would have been in effect from 1993 through 2000.

Gruger said there would be no effort to resubmit the proposition in the near future. The county already is planning to ask voters in November to approve spending up to $150 million on a new courthouse and jail to be built in south King County.

"We will wait until the economy turns around and people no longer fear they may have trouble paying property taxes," Gruger added.

Jay Reich, a Seattle attorney who chaired a citizens committee pushing the levy, said there were two reasons for its failure.

The first was a "weak and uncertain economy - you can point to Boeing and Frederick & Nelson," he said.

The second was "a real statement about property-tax pressures," Reich added. "We heard that loud and clear during the campaign . . . people are saying the property tax is overburdened."

The Citizens' Committee for Affordable Housing spent about $150,000 promoting the housing levy, but it wasn't enough to overcome the public's apparent concern for the state of the economy and a fear of higher taxes.

County Executive Tim Hill said he believes there is public support for providing housing for low-income families and the homeless.

He said the fact that there was only one countywide issue on the ballot and that the election was scheduled at an unusual time may have contributed to its defeat.

Some proponents had hoped that strong public support for school levies in February would carry over to the housing levy.

But, Reich noted, voters have been selective in recent years and also have rejected an open-space financing plan, major improvements to Seattle Center and the statewide Children's Initiative.

The $150 million would have provided matching funds to support housing efforts by other public and nonprofit agencies. The county and other agencies will continue to build and redevelop homes for low-income residents, but the pace will be much slower.

The county, for example, has a Housing Opportunity Fund that over about three years has helped provide several hundred low-income-housing units. It is financed with a small tax on real-estate transactions.

Seattle voters in 1986 approved a $50 million housing program; some of that money still is available for low-income projects.

The county has made the lobby of its administration building available for homeless for some time. It provides mattresses and closes off the lobby to offer some privacy.

Last night, bedding was being spread on the floor as election workers unloaded ballot boxes at the nearby loading dock and hauled them to the fifth floor.