By Marc Stiles
For some Muslims, it can be hard to buy a house, and Mayor Ed Murrayplans to do something about it.
On Monday, Murray's housing committee released its recommendationsfor ways the city can increase housing in the city. Most ideas were what you'd expect, including increasing the city's housing levy and implementing new rules and regulations to foster development of market-rate and lower-income housing.
One suggestion would help followers of Sharia law buy houses. That's virtually impossible now because Sharia law prohibits payment of interest on loans. The 28-member committee recommended the city convene lenders and community leaders to explore options for increasing access to Sharia-compliant loan products.
More and more lenders are offering Sharia-compliant financing, according to a USA Today report. The sector has grown to more than $1.6 trillion in assets worldwide over the past three decades, and analysts see potential for continued growth as the number of Muslims in the United States and Europe grows.
It's unclear how many Muslims in Seattle would benefit from Murray's plan. The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) estimates more than 30,000 Muslims live in the greater Seattle area, and Chapter Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari on Tuesday said it's "fairly common" for some not to seek loans.
Based on what he called "rough anecdotal evidence," Bukhari estimated a couple hundred people aren't borrowing money for houses due to their religion. He said this includes even high-wage earners, such as the more than 1,000 Muslims who work for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MFST) and more than 500 Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) employees.
They could easily qualify for home loans but opt not to apply "simply because they don't want to pay interest," Bukhari said.
Murray will send legislation based on the committee's ideas to the City Council for consideration. During a press conference, he said he wants to help Muslims.
"We will work to develop new tools for Muslims who are prevented from using conventional mortgage products due to their religious beliefs," Murray said.