What's this Edmonds housing strategy really about? | Mayor's Corner

By Dave Earling | Jul 06, 2018

Like so many communities in this booming region, Edmonds is considering a housing strategy to address increasing concerns about the lack of affordable housing in our city for a wide range of income levels.

Because rumors are circulating, let's take a look at what the strategy actually contains.

Key facts:

• A draft Edmonds Housing Strategy has been prepared that addresses the needs of people from all walks of life, especially working families and seniors.

• The draft strategy is specific to Edmonds and the challenges faced in our community. It is not modeled on a particular approach taken by another jurisdiction, such as Seattle; our problems are different and demand Edmonds-specific solutions.

• The draft housing strategy calls for the City to consider allowing more options for senior living; market-rate multifamily housing, particularly in transit corridors; condos and townhomes; detached accessory dwelling units (typically, a "backyard cottage" or guest house, which is an accessory to the main house but with its own kitchen and bathroom); and some appropriate locations for smaller lots for single-family housing.

The strategy also calls for:

• Providing incentives to increase the supply of income-restricted housing, for example, through nonprofit community land trusts that provide home ownership opportunities.

• Providing protections for existing low-income tenants, for example, through safety inspection programs.

The draft strategy is 32 pages. One-and-a-half pages are devoted to the issue of homelessness, including temporary homelessness. This complex issue is not dealt with at length in the current draft strategy because:

• The strategy's main focus is on housing more generally; and

• The City Council has committed separate funding to study homelessness and publicly discuss what would make sense for the City to do. This separate homelessness study won't be ready until fall.

It is important to remember the challenges faced by people seeking housing in Edmonds. The cost of housing in our region has so outstripped any increases in wages that many working people and families cannot afford to live in Edmonds. For example:

• A home health aide in Edmonds earns around $26,000 per year. At this income, she or he could afford a monthly rent of $840. The average rent for a studio apartment is over $1,000, and studios are in very short supply here.

• A family of four with one parent employed as an experienced elementary school teacher has an average income of about $62,000. At this level, the family could afford up to $1,500 in monthly rent. The average 3-bedroom apartment in Edmonds rents for almost $1,700 per month. Meanwhile, home ownership options are generally far out of reach for this family.

It's also important to note that:

• Even many existing homeowners in Edmonds, who were fortunate enough to have bought when prices were much lower, would not be able to afford their homes today. Young families face a tougher housing environment than ever.

• Homeowners who no longer want to keep their big house or yard, but still want to stay in Edmonds – maybe in a nice condo – have few options.

• The primary focus of the draft housing strategy is on housing for people who are working or retired.

• The draft strategy is not a finished product yet. It will be considered by the Planning Board and, after any changes, will be sent to the City Council for further consideration.

• Any actual programs, codes or budget amendments to address housing needs would take place after the strategy is approved. This phase would include fleshing out more detailed expectations. For example, if detached accessory housing is to be allowed in the future, a code amendment would be needed first. The proposed code amendment would address details of parking requirements and other standards and would undergo a public process before being finalized.

The draft Edmonds Housing Strategy can be read in its entirety at www.edmondshousingstrategy.org. The link also has information about the work to date and upcoming scheduled meetings.

The City welcomes public input. Tentative dates for next meetings are July 11 for the Planning Board and July 24 for the City Council. Each meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Alternatively, written comments can be emailed to brad.shipley@edmondswa.gov.


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