Who gets to live in Edmonds?

City’s housing strategy hopes to find solutions
By Brian Soergel | Jun 07, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel

Who should be able to live in Edmonds?

With housing prices and rents seemingly increasing by the hour, is it up to city leaders to look for sensible housing solutions, or is the answer to do nothing and let supply and demand have its way?

These questions, and more, are part of a city housing strategy prepared to recommend ways to address pressing housing issues. The strategy will be the subject of a Planning Board public hearing 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at the Edmonds Public Safety Complex, 250 Fifth Avenue N.

Why is it needed?

If you were an elementary school teacher supporting a family of four and earning the average salary of $62,000 per year, what housing could you find in Edmonds?

Remember: With that income, you could afford monthly rent and utilities of about $1,550, but the average rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Edmonds – if you can find it – is almost $1,700 per month, not including utilities.

Housing has become harder to attain than ever.

“Housing that's affordable for a wide range of people is an important challenge to our community's continued success,” Planning Board Chairman Nathan Monroe said. The draft housing strategy is posted at www.edmondshousingstrategy.org. An early version of it was discussed at a public open house May 21.

“There are needs of real people, including people who currently live here experiencing the pressure on them being able to stay in our community,” said Development Services Director Shane Hope, the city’s lead on housing issues.

“It is very challenging. There are people – some of us are nieces, nephews and grown children – who would love to live in our community. It makes sense that they should be able to live close to their families and friends. Then we have people who work in the community, and it’s a real struggle for them (to live here) if they’re not making a lot of money.”

After the hearing, the Planning Board may have one or more additional meetings to consider the draft strategy and make a recommendation to City Council. The draft housing strategy will continue through the public process and is likely to come before City Council again later this summer.

If the City Council adopts the strategy, including any changes, the city will begin to more specifically explore or implement key ideas in the strategy. Additional public process – and much more detail – would come at this follow-up stage.

But there is one clear thought and end goal the city has in mind – Edmonds needs more homes of all shapes and sizes. The Puget Sound Regional Council reports that the city is projected to add about 5,500 people by 2035 – its population now stands at about 42,000. More housing means more people, of all backgrounds and incomes, can continue to live here.

According to the city’s Housing Strategy Task Force – appointed by Mayor Dave Earling in August and including faith-based and nonprofit organizations, as well as citizen committees – nearly 6,000 households in Edmonds are cost-burdened. Nearly 11,000 people work in Edmonds, and about 60 percent of those jobs pay less than $40,000 a year. Average rents can be unaffordable to these workers.

What housing stock the city has is not aligned with housing needs, the task force reports. Over 70 percent of households have only one or two members, and only 11 percent of housing units have 1 bedroom or a studio.

“To some extent,” Hope said, “I think our community has to decide: Do we want to be an exclusive community that makes it difficult for other people to live here? Difficult for those who don’t have the fortune of having been able to buy a house in a less-expensive time, or who have a significant income or investment that makes it possible for them to live here?

“Do we want to be an exclusive community? Or do we want to provide at least some opportunities for additional people to live here?”

Hope stresses that the city is trying to find a balance. It’s not looking at wholesale changes.

Part of that balance includes increasing the supply of market-rate multifamily housing while also increasing the supply of subsidized affordable housing, potentially providing city money to support an affordable housing project for those at 30 percent or below of area median income.

The balance includes incentive zoning, where developers are given tax breaks for providing a percentage of “affordable” rental units along with those priced at market. This includes the new 91-unit apartment complex now under construction west of Bartell Drugs in Westgate, as well as those planned on Highway 99.

The multifamily strategy centers on providing housing for a larger number of people in a limited land area. It also plans for condos. On the table as well is allowing for more housing options in some single-family areas, as well as encouraging accessory dwelling units and backyard cottages. Accessory dwelling units are currently banned in Edmonds.

In addition, the housing strategy seeks to provide protection to low-income tenants by potentially creating requirements to provide fair housing information, as well as creating anti-discrimination requirements for tenants.

Noticeably absent is any mention of rent control.

“That’s an example of something we’ve chosen not to address,” Hope said. “But if the public wants it, it could be considered.”

Hope said she realizes the city has limited control of the housing situation in Edmonds.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Does any local government have the ability to influence something in regard to housing? Yes, but it’s a limited amount, because the city does not own property, other than public facilities, generally. The city cannot mandate what income levels need to be provided for. But can it allow for opportunities within its authority? Yes.

“There’s a range of needs, and we’re thoughtfully trying to address housing choices that people want to make, while being reasonable in the community. Ultimately, people will have to be responsive to the fact that there are a range of needs beyond their own situation.”

 

 

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