Transforming Highway 99: Revitalized roadway could attract a range of housing options

An apartment complex proposed for Highway 99 and 234th Street Southwest in Edmonds.

Part 5 in our series on the planned transformation of Highway 99 through Edmonds. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

As planning continues for revitalizing the Edmonds stretch of Highway 99, the topic of housing — in particular, housing that is affordable to a range of income levels — dominates the discussion.

Zoning changes approved by the Edmonds City Council in the Highway 99 subarea last summer are aimed at encouraging a range of affordable multifamily housing options that can take advantage of the highway’s already-bustling transit corridor and a 75-foot maximum building height. Business development is also expected to increase in the area with the zoning changes.

Requirements for stepbacks and setbacks next to single-family zones are included in the Highway 99 subarea plan (Drawing courtesy City of Edmonds)

In response to concerns from residents of existing single-family neighborhoods near the highway, the subarea plan also establishes stepback and setback standards for multifamily and/or commercial buildings located adjacent to single-family zones.

One Highway 99 project already proposed as a result of the revised zoning: A 193-unit, five-story apartment complex on Highway 99 and 234th Street Southwest.

Many see Highway 99 development as an opportunity to enhance the mix of housing options available to those who want to live in Edmonds.

The term “affordable housing” means different things to different people. One definition is what planners call “workforce housing” — affordable to those making 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, to be considered affordable for most people, housing costs should be no more than 30 percent of household income. By zoning for taller buildings and encouraging transit-oriented development, the Highway 99 subarea plan is meant to promote a range of housing options, from workforce housing to market rate.

To ensure that Highway 99 redevelopment included affordable housing, the city council also agreed to designate it as a Multifamily Residential Targeted Area. Such a designation allows the city to implement the multifamily tax exemption program for developers who include 20 percent affordable housing units in future Highway 99 developments.

In a twist unique to Edmonds, the Highway 99 designation specifies that the 20 percent affordable housing designation be split at 10 percent each between units for low and moderate incomes. In addition, the designation will be based on the median family income for Snohomish County, which is a lower threshold than the definition included in the state statute.

The highway also is one of the few remaining parts of Edmonds that could accommodate future growth; the city projects that the Highway 99 corridor will need as many as 3,325 more housing units and 3,013 more jobs by 2035.

A coalition of organizations is working to develop affordable and low-income housing along the highway.

City of Edmonds Development Services Director Shane Hope directs long-range planning projects, including the Highway 99 subarea effort. “What we wanted to do as the city was set the stage for possibilities,” she said. “We think that there’s real demand for more affordable housing.”

The City’s Affordable Housing Task Force hopes to have a strategy released by mid-2018, which they will use to guide their decisions on affordable housing along Hwy 99 moving forward. (Read more on Hope’s thoughts on housing issues here.)

The city is also seeking partnerships with nonprofits that want to develop affordable housing, helping them reduce costs of development, such as waiving certain impact fees and modifying parking requirements.

Edmonds Lutheran Church

Already taking up that challenge is Edmonds Lutheran Church, which is located on 84th Avenue West just north of the Safeway Marketplace complex — and less than a block off Highway 99. The church is donating land to build low-income housing for up to 60 residents.

“The idea is to provide affordable housing for veterans, senior citizens, single mothers with children, and others,” said Edmonds Lutheran Church member Bill Anderson, a member of the mayor’s affordable housing task force. “We haven’t pinned it down yet but it’s in that kind of grouping. We actually have been talking about this space for over 40 years, for that purpose,” Anderson said.

Edmonds City Councilmember Neil Tibbott walked the grounds of Edmonds Lutheran with Shane Hope, Bill Anderson, and Pastor Julie Josund in 2016 to discuss the church’s dream of building affordable housing on site and how it might fit it with subarea plan that was developing. “We could see that what they had in mind was a perfect fit for the direction that we were taking with Highway 99,” Tibbott said.

A big benefit to future residents of the Edmonds Lutheran Church project is decent transportation that already exists. The Community Transit Swift buses offer frequent service between Shoreline’s Aurora Village Transit Center and Everett. The Highway 99 project includes improvements to sidewalks so that people can safety catch buses.

Church Pastor Julie Josund sees this ambitious project as their duty. “It’s sort of part of our DNA, it’s who were are as a group of Christian people who want to do the right thing, who are following the gospel, so that’s our motivation,” Josund said.

Ronald Commons in Shoreline. (Photo courtesy Ronald Commons)

They have a model to follow in Shoreline’s Ronald Commons adjacent to the Ronald United Methodist Church, which opened last year and is fully occupied. It’s managed by the Compass Housing Alliance, a Lutheran agency that develops and provides housing, shelter and support service to low-income people in the Puget Sound region.

A hallmark of Compass is linking housing with on-site support programs and case managers so residents can access services. It partners with a host of others including food banks, energy assistance and job training.

Ronald Commons even has a thriving P-Patch.

The grocery store-style food bank at Ronald Commons. (Photo courtesy Shoreline Area News)

Commons Program Manager Corinne McKisson has seen lives change. “You’ve got 60 families living in close quarters that prior to living here the only thing they really had in common for sure was housing instability,” McKisson said. “They have a different value and appreciation for the resource they have here because of the circumstances they’ve come from. There’s a lot of pride, a lot of ownership, a lot of people holding each other accountable.”

Josund has visited the Commons and agrees that linking housing with services is key. “It used to be, just put a poor person or the homeless in an apartment and everything would be good,” she said. “That’s not enough. We’ve learned that that doesn’t help.”

She hopes her church can follow in the Commons footsteps. “We’re trying to make the construction as affordable as possible with an emphasis on looking very nice so anybody would be happy to live there. Our plan is to build housing that’s beautiful.”

An example of a Blokables unit.

According to Josund, the church is working with Blokables, a Vancouver, Wash. –based firm that builds portable housing. The plan is to have a display model on church property in May. “We are hoping, and imagining, that this type of construction will be a game changer for low-income housing,” Josund said, adding that it is quicker, and cheaper than traditional construction.

“We are (hopefully) near the end of the permit process with the City of Edmonds to be allowed to place a demonstration model of a studio apartment on the church grounds,” Josund said. Phase 1 is to have an open house and tours open to the public to see the demonstration unit.

Phase 2 for the church, Josund said, is to build a 10- to 12-unit “village” of studio apartments at the north end of church property. “ The details and legalities are being worked out with the church and Compass Housing Alliance,” she said.

The vision for Phase 3, church officials said, is to build on the east side of the church lot a three-story facility with possibly 60 units that include not only studios but 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom units.

Following the model of on-site support programs at Shoreline’s Ronald Commons, Edmonds Lutheran is working closely with Lutheran Community Services and hopes to have social services on the Edmonds site.

Edmonds City Councilmember Tibbott said that the church project serves as a model for how other similar housing could come about as part of Highway 99 development.

“One of the thing that makes the Lutheran church parcel pencil out for subsidized housing is the fact that the church is donating the property,” Tibbott said. The city would be “very eager” to work with other organizations or individuals who are willing to do the same, he added.

“Part of connecting with the city is the opportunity to connect with all of the other partners that could help pull off a project,” said Tibbott, who until this year served as the city council’s representative to the Alliance for Housing Affordability. “One of the things that I’ve learned in affordable housing work is that it’s different than your typical market-rate housing. It usually requires multiple partners. There are five, six, seven, eight partners who kick in part of the cost to get a project off the ground, as opposed to market-rate housing which typically has a developer and a bank.”

Edmonds Lutheran Church officials say the most important aspect of their project is that it will offer permanent low-income housing to those who need it most.

“We take seriously the scripture that says ‘take care of the least of these,'” Josund said.

— Story by Connie McDougall with reporting from Thomas Fairchild


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