More than 75 citizens turned out Monday evening to learn the details of the new plan to meet what the Edmonds Task Force is calling a “housing affordability crisis.”
Appointed by Mayor Dave Earling in July 2017, the Housing Strategy Task Force is charged with developing strategies to effectively take on the issues of homelessness and housing tailored to the specifics of our community.
“Many groups around the region are working on housing and homelessness issues,” Earling noted when he announced the appointments in 2017. “We need our own approach, one that recognizes good examples from others but is tailored to our community, our people, our needs.”
Under Edmonds’ Comprehensive Plan, the city is required to develop a housing strategy by 2019, but given the severity of the current situation it was decided to push this up to 2018.
The task force has been meeting monthly to work on this, and has retained the services of Berk Consulting to assist in developing a plan. The first draft was presented at Monday’s open house.
The event was hosted by Edmonds Development Services Director Shane Hope, who welcomed the audience and gave a quick overview of the rationale for the project and progress to date.
“Tonight kicks off the public process,” she began. “The current proposal is a discussion draft only, and is the first step on the road to addressing the homelessness and the housing affordability crisis in our community. Steps to come include initial review by the Planning Board later this month, and then developing a formal draft strategy to present to the Planning Board in mid-June. We hope to be able to go to council sometime in the July-August timeframe.”
Kevin Ramsey of Berk Consulting then took the podium to present the draft plan (see the full presentation here).
Addressing the causes of Edmonds’ sky-high housing costs, Ramsey explained that it is a case of too many people chasing too few housing units.
“Growth in jobs and population has simply outpaced the production of new housing close to job centers like Edmonds,” he explained. “This results in a widening gap between housing costs and what is affordable to low-, moderate-, and even middle-income households.”
In Edmonds, Ramsey said, nearly 6,000 households are “cost burdened,” (meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing) or ‘severely cost burdened” (those who spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing).
“More than 4,000 of these cost-burdened households are low-income, and there is a severe shortage of subsidized housing in Edmonds to meet this need,” he said. “Also note that a significant number of cost burdened households have yearly incomes greater than $100,000.”
Other dimensions of the problem include the fact that many of Edmonds’ low-income workers are commuting long distances from homes in more affordable communities, with more than 1000 commuting an hour or more to get here, and that the current housing stock offers limited options to people in this position.
“Seventy percent of Edmonds households have one to two people living in them,” he said. “They would be best served by smaller living units, but most housing in our community has 3 bedrooms or more. In addition to workers needing homes they can afford, this situation is putting many older empty nesters in a crunch, leaving them with very limited choices to downsize.”
Ramsey went on to explain that the plan proposes six strategies to address this crisis:
- Increase the supply of multi-family housing characterized by smaller units and higher density. Possible avenues to accomplish this include focusing on transit corridors, and streamlining the permitting process (he describes the current process as a “disincentive”).
- Expand housing diversity to address the lack of housing units in the middle between an apartment and a large home. Possible strategies include encouraging accessory dwelling units (e.g., backyard cottages), and in-home mother-in-law apartments.
- Increase the supply of subsidized housing to address the needs of our low-income population. Ways to accomplish this include incentives to developers to provide subsidized units in larger buildings that would be made available to low-income tenants.
- Reduce homelessness, the first step of which is recognizing that the homeless crisis is more than just housing. But housing is the first step to establish the necessary firm basis that allows people to then seek help for the deeper causes of homelessness such as addiction, unemployment and other social issues. Ramsey cited innovative programs to create tiny housing units such as the current efforts underway at Edmonds Lutheran Church. (See My Edmonds News article here.
- Support the aging population by recognizing that needs change as you age. Many want to age in place, but this means a greater need for other support services such as transportation. Encouraging group homes is another possible avenue.
- Protection for low-income tenants would help them from being displaced as rents rise. This could be accomplished through a mix of anti-discrimination requirements and statues, rent controls and subsidies.
With the formal presentation concluded, Shane Hope took over the podium to field questions and answers.
Questions included whether the effort takes in the entire city including Lake Ballinger and Highway 99, or does it mainly concentrate on the Bowl (answer: the entire city), and does it address the question of shared housing (answer: yes, it does).
Task force member Bill Anderson, who is also a member of Edmonds Lutheran Church, spoke about the church’s current work with Compass Homes to create up to 60 tiny homes on the church’s 1.5-acre parking lot. He said these pre-fab homes will vary from studio to three-bedroom units, and the first demo should be up and available in three to five weeks. Learn more here.
On a relatively fast track, the plan is scheduled to go to the Planning Board for discussion on May 23, be presented to the Planning Board for final recommendation to Council on June 13, and considered by the council for adoption in July or August.
The full Housing Strategy Draft Plan is available here. For more information on the task force, including schedule, timelines and how to get involved, go to the Edmonds Housing Strategy web page here.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel