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In Seattle visit, Cantwell touts tax credits as key to more affordable housing

The affordable apartments being built by the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square are expected to open in October.
Paula Wissel
The affordable apartments being built by the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square are expected to open in October.

One of the main ways affordable housing gets built in this country is through federal tax credits. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which was passed by Congress as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, has been responsible for nearly 90 percent of federally funded low-income housing built in the past three decades. Now, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to double the amount of money going to the tax credit program to the tune of $30 billion.Standing in front of apartments being built by the Chief Seattle Club in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, the Washington Democrat made the case for including affordable housing in the infrastructure bill. Cantwell has bipartisan support for the tax credits. But, she acknowledged, people don’t automatically think of housing when you say infrastructure.


“When you’re talking about these other things, people immediately agree roads and bridges and airports and even broadband. But people need to understand that the lack of housing infrastructure affects all of us,” she said.


Cantwell said it affects everyone because when people aren’t housed, communities end up spending more money on health care, police and social services. She also said that the $30 billion will stimulate many times that in construction and building jobs.


Cantwell toured the apartments under construction, along with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who sponsored the tax credit bill in the House. Derrick Belgarde, executive director of Chief Seattle Club, told them nearly 70 percent of the building costs came from federal tax credits.


“We couldn’t be standing here today without tax credits,” he said.  


Belgarde said it’s Chief Seattle Club’s first housing project. He said it’s necessary because Native Americans make up 1 percent of King County residents but 15 percent of the homeless population.


When the studio apartments open in October, 80 people who are "housing insecure" will move in, Belgarde said.


The name of the apartments is ?al?al, pronounced all all. It's a Lushootseed word for home.


5:23 p.m. July 8: This story was edited to correct the spelling of Derrick Belgarde's name.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.