From the Development Services Director: Meeting housing needs in Edmonds

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Shane Hope

Edmonds, like most desirable cities, is short on affordable housing.

What do we mean by “affordable housing?” The term can apply to both housing that seems “affordable to the average person or family” and housing that is statistically affordable to households with incomes below a “certain percentage of the area median income.”

From a statistical perspective, a recent study showed that about 38 percent of all households in Edmonds are “cost-burdened,” meaning their housing costs (whether rent or ownership) made up more than thirty percent of their monthly incomes. We also know that some people, even with decent jobs, are unable to find housing in Edmonds due to costs.

Local citizens have expressed concerns about this. They want to see more housing options for people, including young adults, families, seniors, veterans and others who are less than affluent. Some of these citizens have started working on solutions. For example, a variety of church groups provide housing and services to support people in need. This is greatly appreciated by all who receive the help, as well as by their caring neighbors. Yet, this effort can meet only a small portion of the overall need.

Currently, a plan is being developed for the Highway 99 area. It has identified housing as one of the area’s needs. (Other needs, such as good transportation and economic development, are being planned too.) While the Edmonds Highway 99 area has terrific medical facilities and numerous strong businesses, in the future, some sites will be redeveloped or have new buildings tucked in. Some of them can include affordable housing. The housing would have easy bus access and be close to grocery stores, medical offices, and more. To view the draft plan online, go to www.edmondshwy99.org.

Of course, the city does not own property on Highway 99; its role would be to ensure good planning, appropriate codes, walkability, public safety and needed infrastructure. The Edmonds City Council will make a decision on adopting the plan this spring. With good planning, the area is likely to be attractive and convenient for hundreds of housing units, as well as businesses, over the next 20 years.

Also, the City of Edmonds can — and is — working with a variety of partners to encourage housing opportunities. Informal partners include faith-based and nonprofit organizations, as well as citizen committees, with whom the city coordinates. More formal partnerships include the Alliance for Housing Affordability (AHA), an entity in which the city is a full member and has an elected official who serves on the board. AHA is a fairly new governmental organization and provides technical assistance to more than a dozen cities and the county in our region. In the longer term, AHA may also provide a small amount of funding to help low-income or special needs projects that have the majority of funding committed but need a little bit more to be able to construct. While a number of cities in east King County have such a joint program, being a financial partner in the Snohomish County area is still a ways off.

One other important way that Edmonds is working to meet housing needs is the development of a housing strategy. The city council has authorized this work to begin and this spring will be the launch. The new effort will focus on pulling together a housing strategy that identifies current needs and suggests priorities, policies, partnerships, and actions for the city to consider. While Edmonds has a comprehensive plan that encourages housing at a very broad level, it does not get into details. The housing strategy would be a way to get more specific and prepare for action.

We may never have “enough” affordable housing. But with a combination of thoughtfulness and targeted actions, housing opportunities for a range of needs can be made better. The community of Edmonds cares about housing and is willing to work on affordable solutions.

— By Shane Hope
City of Edmonds Development Services Director

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