‘This is our problem’: It’s time for Edmonds to address affordable housing, speakers say

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    Moderator Mark Smith takes questions from the audience during the low-income housing forum, which drew an estimated 100 people to the Edmonds Library Plaza Room Monday night.

    Despite what many people believe, affordable housing and homelessness are issues that affect Edmonds. That was the message delivered by speakers during a well-attended forum on low-income housing at the Edmonds Library’s Plaza Room Monday night.

    Typically, homelessness is equated with communities like Everett and Lynnwood, along with surrounding rural areas where tent encampments are visible, said Mark Smith, executive director of Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County, adding that “we rarely think of that as an Edmonds sort of problem.”

    However, Smith added, there is little doubt that Edmonds needs low-income housing in the city. “I can tell you it is an Edmonds sort of problem,” he said. “Down here in the Edmonds Bowl, you don’t see homelessness, you don’t see a lot of poor people, mentally ill, drug addicts, single mothers with children on the street fleeing domestic violence,” he said. “You do see them on Aurora and in areas of Edmonds that aren’t down here in the Bowl. It’s a problem that stretches countywide.”

    Smith was the moderator for “Who Needs Low Income Housing in Edmonds? What’s Next?” The event was presented — in cooperation with the City of Edmonds — by the Edmonds Housing Instability Coalition (EHIC), a group of Edmonds citizens dedicated to bringing awareness of the need for low-income housing in Edmonds.

    Dorothy Trinen of the Edmonds Housing Instability Coalition.

    EHIC’s Dorothy Trinen began the evening by introducing the panelists for the event — representatives from three organizations that provide low-income housing and services in the local area: Chris Collier, Executive Director for the Alliance for Housing Affordability of Snohomish County, Mary Anne Dillon-Bryant, Regional Director for the YWCA Snohomish County, and Elizabeth Kohl, Director of Social Services at Housing Hope.

    The first question posed to the panel was: “What do you want the citizens of Edmonds to learn about low-income housing needs here in Edmonds?” Collier responded that people need to know that “It’s a supply-and-demand issue. A lot of people are moving to Snohomish County and King County and the number of housing units are not increasing in kind.”

    A rising housing demand, without a significant increase in supply, has led to steep hikes in rental prices. From 2015 to 2017, the price of a two-bedroom, one-bath rental in Edmonds increased from $975 a month to $1225 per month. This increase has pushed over 46 percent of Edmonds renters into a situation where they pay more than 30 percent —  often much more than 30 percent — of their monthly income for rent.

    Collier said this is a dangerous situation. “When you get to that point, you have to start making choices about basic needs — food, transportation, health care, to say nothing about saving for kid’s college or retirement,” he said. “If you miss a paycheck due to sickness or a family emergency you can get in a really bad situation very quickly, and end up homeless.”

    The solution, Collier said, is more housing supply. “You have a choice, he said. “Maintain the status quo — and make Edmonds more unaffordable for your kids, and yourselves as you get older, or increase the housing supply in places that make sense.”

    Collier identified several ways that Edmonds can increase the low-income housing in the area.

    • Focus on transit oriented development — build more units around transit centers and lines like Highway 99. This also reduces the number of cars on the road and helps with traffic.
    • Give multi-family tax exemptions or fee waivers to developers who reserve 20 percent of their units for low-income individuals or families.
    • Have more accessory dwelling units, such as mother-in-law apartments.
    • Allow smaller lots to support more lower-cost starter homes.
    • Increase affordable home ownership programs.
    “The cost of housing has outpaced the job market,” says the YWCA’s Mary Anne Dillon-Bryant, center, with fellow panelists Chris Collier, left, and Elizabeth Cole.

    Helping people earn higher wages so they can afford housing is another solution. Mary Anne Dillon-Bryant from the YWCA said that for a person with two children to afford rent for a two-bedroom apartment, they need to be working 3.5 full-time minimum wage jobs, or have job where they make $29.25 per hour. “The cost of housing has outpaced the job market,” she said.

    Focusing her remarks in this area, Housing Hope Social Services Director Elizabeth Kohl said it’s critical to “Help people get employed and better education so they can afford the market as housing costs go up.” Kohl told the story of one of her employees who was living on the streets with her boyfriend and baby. She received help from programs at Housing Hope and now works for the organization. However, even though the employee and her husband both work full-time, “they still can’t afford market rate housing,” said Kohl, noting that the woman grew up in Edmonds, but can’t afford to live in Edmonds. She is going back to school, hoping to make more money so someday she can live unsubsidized, Kohl said.

    But while education clearly is important, Mark Smith said that there will always be a need for subsidized housing. “There are some people who are never going to get back into the work force. Do we find them housing or do we let them die on the streets?” he asked. Smith pointed out that these are not just chronic alcoholics and drug users, but include the frail elderly — people 62 or older with a disabling condition — and other groups.

    Much of the focus during an audience question-and-answer session was on Highway 99. Edmonds City Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said the Highway 99 area is “the key for us as a city for affordable housing. It’s transit-oriented development. It’s got stores and medical personnel nearby. It’s a great place for us to do something different and actually get people housed in a thoughtful manner.” Fraley-Monillas also pointed out that rents will be much more affordable on Highway 99 than in other parts of Edmonds.

    Mary Anne Dillon-Bryant seconded the benefits of locating low-income housing around a major transit corridor like Highway 99. “A lot of the families we work with benefit from being on a major bus line, major arterial,” she said. “Families can get around easier to get to the doctor and their jobs. It’s easier for a family who may not have a car.”

    Bill Anderson, representing Edmonds Lutheran Church, located a block from Highway 99, said that the church is working with the Edmonds City Council, COMPASS Housing Alliance, and Lutheran Social Services to develop housing on the “east acre” of the property. Anderson asked citizens to talk to the mayor and the Edmonds City Council about rezoning the Aurora corridor for higher density, so the project can build 50 or 60 housing units, instead of the 20 or 30 units allowed by current zoning.

    Another topic of discussion was finding funding for affordable housing and programs, and that with less federal funding, state and local governments and communities must carry more of the load. This will be a challenge for communities like Edmonds, but Elizabeth Kohl observed that the city and its residents are “going to pay for it one way or another.”

    “If people don’t have housing they are more likely to commit crime,” she said. “You are going to pay police officers and for jail time. They are also going to end up in hospitals a lot more often. Do you want to invest in criminal justice system and pay more for medical, or do you want to build housing to stabilize people so they aren’t creating those issues for you?”

    Chris Collier closed the evening with a final thought about the issue of housing affordability and the people who are affected by unaffordable homes and become homeless. “This is us,” Collier said. “This is not the other. This is not someone from somewhere else. This is someone who grew up in our community and became homeless in our community because our community is no longer livable.”

    Explaining that he wasn’t speaking just of Edmonds, but the entire West Coast, Collier asked the audience to remember that “this is our problem — it’s not someone else’s problem, and it’s up to us to do something about it and to consider how much we want to do about it.”

    More information about the Edmonds Housing Instability Coalition can be found on their Facebook page.

    — Story and photos by Michael McAuliffe

    Michael McAuliffe can be reached at www.mtmcauliffe.com

     

     

    19 COMMENTS

    1. An excellent article! I, too, grew up in Edmonds, log before we had this issue in such abundance. And, as a not-wealthy retiree, who has considered living in my old hometown someday again, I can jot do so. If my husband were to die, and I only had the Social Security he now gets without my paltry sum each month, I would be even worse off.

      I have worked in social services in my past career. I saw first-hand how homelessness affects people. I have, in my past been today’s version of homeless, as well. Only for short periods of time, when I was more or less rescued by close friends, until I could find my own inexpensive-to-rent apartments. This while working in social services, often helping others like myself, who were trying their best to find homes. Empathy for everyone in this situation is one thing that can help a great deal. Do not pretend that there is no homelessness just because it is nearly invisible.

      Edmonds: find healthy ways to help everyone who needs the help. Make your city a caring one for all.

    2. A good start would be to follow the lead of Seattle, and initiate a $ 15.00 per hour minimum wage within the city limits of Edmonds.

    3. The speakers showed that it would be necessary to have an income based on nearly $30 an hour to afford some of our current housing stock. New approaches will be necessary to reduce the costs.

      Discussion after the presentation with the leaders confirmed that the need is to create a supply of housing units costing $1000 per month. The challenge is to find ways to help developers build such units. If we put on our thinking caps we could create ideas that will help achieve this goal. Here are some initial thoughts on how to reduce the development costs.

      Density helps and is most often mentioned in the form of increased height. The goal is to spread land costs over more units. Other ways to increase density is micro units. Zoning to allow micro homes in back yards or more units on a parcel would be another way to increase density and reduce cost per square foot.

      Design can go help to increase density. Sharing with other people would help reduce costs. Apartment dwellers share yard, pools, club house etc. Senior housing sometimes shares eating spaces, TV rooms and recreation space. On the extreme end of sharing would be a dorm concept or rooming house. Maybe designs that share kitchens and other common space could reduce the cost by sharing.

      On site vs off site construction is yet another way to reduce costs. Updated design and construction techniques to improve the look and feel of offsite construction can go a long way to reduce costs.

      To reduce the costs for developers we could eliminate permit fees, and mitigation fees for things like parks. We could also eliminate excise and other taxes to help reduce costs.

      Most ideas require some tradeoffs but without fresh thinking we are unlikely to find reasonable solutions. We should look at what other communities have done and see want can be adapted for us.

    4. Darrol,
      You make good points. In particular, we need to revisit our policies around Accessory Dwelling Units to enable homeowners to make available for rent mother in law units, tiny homes in backyards, etc. to expand the stock of housing available to residents of low to moderate incomes. This will be a focus of the housing element of the Edmonds Comprehensive Plan we will soon be working on. Also, Seattle is in the process of implementing low income housing options, some of which may work for our community. Finally, transit-oriented development along Highway 99 and at Westgate holds the promise of enhancing the availability of affordable housing.

      • I worry that we will not really do the creative thinking necessary to come up with the best solutions and that we will do what may be easy to get through the political process. We need to think carefully about the best solutions and not just the easy ones.

        • The Best idea would be to move out of the area. It’s over priced and not going to change. Get out while you still can.

      • Good ideas. Please be transparent in your process, so that I can follow along and support it, also others can offer workable suggestions or express needs that aren’t considered. KUDOS, Edmonds City Council and Planning Committee!! Pre-Planning with all-inclusion …that will facilitate acceptance and transition…a good thing! It’s exciting to look to the future, get ready for the BEST that will provide livability for all ~ in the long run we can smooth out the rough spots that develop if we’ve used foresight. More support makes progress easier. I BUY-IN, but not blindly!

    5. If fees are eliminated for developers we are going to have diminished services or even higher property taxes.
      We may be able to have more-affordable (less costly) housing in Edmonds, but we will not achieve affordable housing for low-wage earners. It is simply not feasible to have affordable housing in all communities, because of the relatively very high cost of land and demand exceeding supply.

      • We can, by keeping development density in the corridors. This will attract people to the accessibility of the traffic corridors. I believe our council can find attractive workable solutions. Ron, I appreciate your years of community service and know you can contribute positively with your knowledge and integrity. Nothing is cheap, but we can do our best to make it affordable. I don’t understand why landlords are fearful of guaranteed rents from Section 8. Tenants are mandated to abide by strict rules (stricter than what landlords can require), or they lose their ability to have housing subsidy. I challenge our Edmonds realtors & development people to put their expertise and creativity to work contributing workable solutions that will be attractive to developers to come to Edmonds! Come on BRING the money in! Thanks, Ron, your input is essential. Now let’s get moving in the same direction!

    6. Yes fees may go down but the tax base will go up. Will they offset? We need to think about the solutions, consider the financial aspects, and then decide what we want to do. I can think of a number of ways to reduce the cost per family unit. The trick is to find a way to spread the cost of the land over more units in a way to make the units affordable. The $1000 per month benchmark can be achieved if we thing creatively. The goal by the presenters was to add to the inventory of affordable housing. There are no single answers to these complex issues but if we think creatively we may find some solutions that help. The real question in my mind is do we as a community want to do it or do we want to just stay status quo?

    7. I agree with Mr. Haug on his points, particularly the creative aspect of new construction techniques, leveraging our transit corridors, and allowing for higher density along those specific routes. Our tax base currently gets a zero sum game from all of the workers that we import into Edmonds, so the net effect of giving incentives to developers, in my opinion, for low income and affordable housing, would be minimal. We would no longer import those resources, they would spend in Edmonds, relax in Edmonds, and be taxed in Edmonds. Preserving Edmonds, and the small coastal town that it represents, is a key part of any development. Part of preserving Edmonds comes from insuring that corridors like Highway 99 are an attractive, vibrant, and accessible part of our community, not a barrier or divide from our community. Driving through Shoreline, one can see attractive and affordable development throughout the 99 corridor, and much of it is affordable or low income housing. Working with land owners, developers, the County, and residents should allow us to present some alternatives that meet multiple goals, and preserve the ultimate goal, of keeping Edmonds a vibrant, diverse, inclusive, and economically sustainable community that people can live, work, and raise their families in. I also agree with his point about the status quo, but add another caveat, it is expensive and generally impossible to not change. The world is changing, constantly, and we need to adapt to those demands. Does that mean we get rid of Edmonds history and feel altogether? Of course not, but it does mean we have to take a fresh look at the ideas that are presented, and be willing to accept some change. We can let buildings sit vacant, let hotels and motels become the only affordable housing option or alternative, and ignore the homelessness along a vital corridor in our community, or we can come to an agreement that it is worthwhile, and in all of our interests, to utilize that space in a more positive way.

    8. Mr. Bennett has a number of good points to consider. Change will happen and we can be part of it or just let it happen and cheer or complain later. This article talks about the need to provide housing that is less expensive that we have in our inventory today. The challenge is to find ways to do just that. Council member Teitzel outlined the opportunity we have as the Hwy 99 planning proceeds. Council is scheduled to approve a plan June 20th with only one public hearing on June 6th. Other sessions by Council that will review the progress will be completed in May.

      Whatever we do along Hwy 99 will be one of the biggest land use changes our City has every undertaken. Discussions I have seen and heard with Staff and Council present suggest little new thinking or alternatives are being considered to drive the costs down so cheaper housing can be added to our inventory. The incentives being contemplated will do little to increase the supply of lower cost housing.

      Mr. Bennett pointed out some really good reasons we should have more affordable housing, but it is hard to see what is being planned or even discussed by the City on this issue. Every council member I have heard mentions it but it is hard to see what we plan to do to increase the supply.

    9. We are Seattle’s “affordable” housing. There is a bubble in the real estate markets in this area right now. That too can change. Rather that the City calling private homes their “housing stock” it is more correct, and more respectful, to call it their tax base. As property values rise, so does the revenue to the City. This City says it wants affordable housing but has no problem raising water and sewer rates to an unconscionable level. Edmonds is dependent on property taxes and the fees and taxes it puts on every aspect of life in Edmonds. Those taxes and fees will not go down when the bubble bursts ( as they always do). Mr. Gatjens in a very good post shows how the City prioritizes its projects ( the Meadowdale playfields increases and the cost over run to the City) Affordable housing includes more than looking at the base cost but must look also at the expense of living in Edmonds. Give aways to developers simply will make it more expensive to live here not less. Change happens. Edmonds is a bedroom community of Seattle. And has been for a very long time. Maybe looking at Edmonds as such would be more realistic.

    10. City of Edmonds property taxes for 2017 amount to only 17% of total property taxes. Of that 17%, only the EMS portion – about one-quarter of the 17% – rises and falls as property values rise and fall.

    11. It is true that Edmonds and other real estate north of Seattle has always been a bedroom community. Seattle workers wanted to live in the north and how they have to because of the Seattle pricing. While Seattle values may go up and down the overall trend will be up not down. Any downward movement will be temporary.

      Our underground infrastructure is old and needs a plan to replace in a timely, cost effective way. Waiting for emergency to occur and then repair it is far more costly than a periodic plan to replace the old stuff over time. A stable funding source that can fund a plan for replacement. Council voted to put those costs directly on the user. Call it a tax or whatever but it is A way to fund infrastructure replacement. The only other way to create a stable funding source would be to have some form of tax tied to property values. A tax that goes to the general fund won’t work well. It is too likely to be raided for other purposes. Look at the history of how we take care of our roads. So we could create a real estate based tax like EMS and Library. How we pay for things is the issue.

      But if we are Seattle’s bedroom community for those who cannot afford to live there where is the bedroom community for Edmonds for those who work here who cannot afford to live here? The land value is cheaper in other parts of South Snohomish County so maybe we rely on those locations to be the Bedroom for Edmonds.

      My point earlier was to put on our thinking caps and see if we can work on the problem locally. In the end we are not likely to think much about solutions but we will do a few things, toot our horns, and claim we accomplished it. But lets think about what we want to do and then try to figure out the best way to get it done. Creating some form of cross subsidy may not be the best solution.

    12. I love the open and respectful dialog here regarding this issue.

      I could be mistaken, but when I follow the discussion stream it appears a lot of talk is down in the weeds.

      What are the established goals of any specific initiatives in the works?
      a) Establish some level of affordable housing to unaffordable housing ratio for the city limits of Edmonds?
      b) Cleanup/Update the Hwy 99 corridor?
      c) Make the best use of available development property to benefit all citizens of Edmonds, regardless of the classification of living in affordable or unaffordable housing?

      Trying to have a discussions about affordable housing and livable wages without fully stating the intended goals of establishing anything of this type seems premature. As these would be dramatic changes and have wide ranging effects.

      To be honest, I don’t want Edmonds to be anything close to the clown show called Seattle City Government. Those of us in Edmonds living in unaffordable housing have followed the American dream to own a slice of this dream. Hard work, financial discipline and due diligence leads to making my Edmonds home quite affordable.

      Thanks.

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