The City of Edmonds released its Edmonds Housing Strategy /Discussion Draft Report, dated 5/16/2018. It was produced by a task force appointed by the mayor of Edmonds to make recommendations focusing on: “increasing the city’s affordable housing and meeting diverse needs.”
The draft report offers a cornucopia of strategies to resolve any and all housing issues for lower-income Edmonds residents, non- residential employees employed in Edmonds, as well as the homeless from Edmonds and beyond.
Undisclosed in the draft report are various governmental policies that have had a major impact on the price of all housing that have generated these concerns about “affordable” housing. Ten years ago it was estimated that governmental regulations had increased the cost of a Seattle residence by $200,000.
Economists such as Thomas Sowell have analyzed the systematic correlation between development restrictions and housing prices:
“A study of the dates that mark the take off of home prices in various communities across the country found that those times “in which housing markets became unaffordable closely followed the approval of state growth-management laws or restrictive local plans”. An international study of urban areas around the world with “severely unaffordable” housing likewise found that 23 out of 26 such areas had strong “smart growth” policies. The consequences contrast painfully with the self-congratulatory phrase. As a former governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand put it, in another international study of home prices “the affordability of housing is overwhelmingly a function of just one thing, the extent to which governments place artificial restrictions on the supply of residential land,”
Thomas Sowell, The Housing Boom And Bust. Pg 13,
The imposition of additional property tax increases, higher utility rates and taxes, as well as other regulations over the past decade have further increased the cost of housing for all residents. It is ironic that if some or a majority of the recommendations from the draft report are adopted, Edmonds residents will be required to subsidize the cost of increased housing for others fueled in part by past governmental policies.
The draft report suggests various strategies to provide “affordable” housing for lower-income Edmonds and non-Edmonds residents including:
-Increasing “affordable” housing options by promoting the construction of cottages, townhouses, accessory dwelling units and duplexes in single family residential areas.
-Provide tax relief to developers that dedicate a percentage of their units for “affordable housing.”
-Promote Inclusion and density bonus programs for those developing housing in single family neighborhoods.
-Lower or waive permitting and other fees for “affordable” housing.
-Expedite the permit process for “affordable” housing.
Implementing a city wide levy initiative to pay for affordable housing.
-Provide funds from the general fund to pay for “affordable” housing.
-Promote a sales tax initiative to pay for “affordable” housing.
Designate selected “targeted” single family neighborhoods for significant multi unit development through “upzoning.”
-Reduce off street parking requirements for multi unit development projects.
The recommendations, if implemented, would increase costs to Edmonds residents, delay services to the average homeowner as well as developers of non-“affordable” housing, and have a severe impact on those single-family neighborhoods that are the focus of “affordable” housing development.
The draft report asserts that almost 6,000 households in Edmonds are residentially “cost burdened” (pg 6). As demonstrated by this commentator in a prior article, applying any traditional “cost burdened” analysis to housing issues without further review presents serious methodological flaws.
The draft report focuses on Edmonds employees:
“87 percent of all workers in Edmonds live outside of Edmonds”,
“60 percent of all jobs in Edmonds pay less than $40,000 a year……” .
“Over one quarter of all jobs in Edmonds pay less than $15,000 a year….”.
(pg. 8 draft report).
The draft report concludes that:
“the most effective ways to meet the needs of very low-income workers is increasing production of subsidized income restricted affordable housing.” (pg 8 draft report).
“Even in cases where market rents are somewhat higher than the affordability level for lower income workers, many of these workers could save a great deal of money in transportation costs if they had the opportunity to live closer to their workplace”. (pg 32 draft report)
The statistics provided for employee incomes do not provide further analysis of the salaries of other family members, or other investment income and/or assets.
Calculating the information provided by the draft report, approximately 5,000 Edmonds employees earn $40,000 or less. The draft report appears to recommend that for some of those 5,000 non-residential employees, subsidized housing should be provided by Edmonds taxpayers to offset commuting expenses.
That commuting is both time consuming and expensive for all employees is a financial reality facing all employees regardless of where they reside. Furthermore, it is the rare employee that is employed in her or his residential community. Numerous Edmonds residents are required to commute long distances at significant expense, but will not obtain any financial assistance from the communities they commute to.
Absent from the discussion regarding commuting is any acknowledgement that various policies, taxes and transportation policies implemented by various government entities have transformed the commute into a lengthy and expensive proposition. Not only is the state gasoline tax the third highest in the country, but there has been dramatic increases in car tab registration fees, sales taxes and other taxes and fees associated with purchasing, operating and maintaining a vehicle. Snohomish County has neglected expanding its road capacity to accommodate the massive increase of population. Rather, attention has been focused on developing a public bus system that currently is so inadequate as to not be a viable option for most employees commuting to Edmonds. And as the major roads become more congested, a lone commuter may have to pay additional fees to access the left lane of local freeways that may be the only lane that isn’t moving at a crawl.
The draft report also states that approximately 2,500 Edmonds employees earn less than $15,000 a year. Full-time employment at the current state minimum wage will earn an employee $23,920 per year ($11.5 x 40 x 52). A vast majority of employees earn more than the minimum wage. The $15,000 threshold is for part-time employment (25 hours or less per week) and again does not calculate assets or other investment income of either the employee, or employment income of other family members.
Pg 20 @ 3.11 draft report, explores the specific housing requirements for artists. And for emphasis, it is addressed once again on pg 36.
“The City of Edmonds Arts And Culture 2017 Economic Impact Study recommends that the City “integrate arts and culture’s contribution to the economy in new and exciting community economic development efforts. One way it can do this is to consider actions to support the housing needs of artists living in Edmonds. Artists typically have incomes far below the level needed to afford the market rate housing in Edmonds. They also often have unique housing needs that could be addressed through new kinds of live in formats that allow for studios or gallery space on the ground floor of artist housing.”
Many would advocate that it is not the responsibility of overburdened taxpayers to provide subsidized housing for artists in any community. As there are apparently almost 6,000 residentially “cost-burdened” Edmonds residents, subsidized housing may not be a top priority for those residentially “cost burdened” individuals to support those who voluntarily enter a profession where the remuneration is “far below the level needed to afford the market rate housing in Edmonds.”
An issue presented in this draft report is whether single-family neighborhoods should be radically transformed into higher-density residential areas to accommodate additional individuals who may want to reside in Edmonds. An equally important issue is if Edmonds taxpayers should be burdened with the additional financial responsibility of subsidizing housing expenses for others who can’t afford residential accommodations in what is decidedly an upper-middle class residential community.
These issues are often presented with the underlying assumption that for residents in cities such as Edmonds, there is a community-wide moral imperative to subsidize and to radically transform their neighborhoods to accommodate anyone and everyone who wishes to relocate to their area. Edmonds is not an isolated community located in the middle of nowhere. Edmonds is a desirable upper-middle class residential suburban community, home to approximately 1 percent of the population of Puget Sound. Edmonds is adjacent to less-expensive communities that provide residential choices for households of all incomes and requirements.
Most individuals who purchased a single-family residence in Edmonds did so as they aspired to a quiet upper-middle class suburban lifestyle. Many residents have made significant personal sacrifices, often voluntarily allowing themselves to become “cost burdened” so they can reside in Edmonds. Small lot houses, accessory dwelling units, cottage houses, “tiny houses” and other mechanisms that dramatically increase density is not what residents bargained for when they made considerable financial sacrifices to reside in Edmonds’ single-family neighborhoods. Single-family residential owners are never polled or questioned if they are in favor of these radical changes to their neighborhoods. Any suggested increased density, height and bulk of multi-family units or the introduction of “tiny house” villages in single-family neighborhoods would be met by overwhelmingly negative resistance.
Most residents vehemently disagree with that perspective, but are often dismissed as being uncaring, selfish and closed-minded NIMBYites. As with most social movements, it is often those who won’t suffer any direct personal financial or aesthetic impacts who are often the most strenuous advocates for the cause at hand.
Any actions undertaken by the City of Edmonds to provide subsidized “affordable” housing will only benefit a minimal number of individuals or families who are fortunate enough to obtain a subsidized unit. There are simply not enough tax revenues, tax credits, willing developers, developmental land and subservient single-family neighborhoods to accommodate even a small percentage of all the perceived “need.”
Seattle voters recently passed a $100 million dollar housing initiative that will generate less than 1,000 “affordable” housing units. The remaining “cost-burdened” Seattle residents will obtain no benefit from that initiative, but will be negatively impacted by higher taxes and fees, which translate into higher home ownership or rental expense.
Operating subsidized housing is an expensive and a continuing process that requires intensive bureaucratic organization and ongoing attention. Residents often remain for years or even decades, obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidized housing benefits. Subsidized housing often becomes a disincentive for those who wish to improve their economic situation as improving one’s financial position often requires abandoning one’s subsidized benefits. Fraud and abuse in the subsidized housing market industry — ranging from hiding income, having additional unreported persons residing in the household, subletting part or all of the subsidized unit to non residents — is never acknowledged, although it is an ongoing issue with most housing authorities.
Rarely noted are the additional city services that will be required by demanding or dysfunctional tenants whose additional expense must be borne by taxpayers.
Furthermore, the fact that many subsidized housing units are and will be occupied by mothers who have had children out of wedlock is never acknowledged. Poor lifestyle choices such as having children outside of marriage is a recipe for years of poverty. The most effective housing and anti-poverty program that jurisdictions can implement is to convince a few of the approximate 40 percent of females that will have children out of wedlock to finish high school, don’t do drugs or drink to excess, marry a responsible individual before having any children, and wed someone who will be emotionally and financially responsible for the child or children in the event the relationship doesn’t persevere.
Thomas Sowell in the Housing Boom and Bust on page 123 accurately describes these types of proposed resolutions to issues in any given community:
“More generally, what is called a “solution” in politics is often simply a patch put over problems caused by previous political “solutions,” which in turn were patches put over other political “solutions” before that. What never seems to get through to many politicians, or to supporters of political interventions in markets, is that policies have repercussions far beyond the particular goals of those policies.”
The draft report outlines a series of policy suggestions to address the homeless issue including:
-Reduce barriers to tiny houses and single room occupancy housing.
-‘Safe Parking Lot Use”.
-Transitional housing (particularly for women and children).
-“Coordinated services” within permanent “supportive” housing.
-Pg 21 paragraph 4.2 of the Draft Report: Provide housing for homeless individuals that ” attend to the necessities like food and shelter without preconditions such as sobriety, treatment or service requirements. (Emphasis added)
Seattle homeless agencies are unable to persuade numerous street people to abandon the streets for available shelter space because agency rules must be adhered to including refraining from drinking and drug activity. Others are too mentally impaired to be able to initiate appropriate actions to implement positive steps to address their condition. Others simply are not interested in paying for accommodations and as a result voluntarily reside in their vehicles or even on the streets.
Recently a Seattle court ruled that a man’s truck was his home. Able to reside in his vehicle without concerns about parking restrictions, the individual stated in the last sentence of The Seattle Times story:
“The high cost of living has put him off finding another apartment. ‘I don’t really like to pay rent anymore,’ he said.”
Other homeless also avoid paying rent as explained by the following homeless individual, according to this Fox News report:
“Residents of the mega tent “mansion” homeless encampment near Seattle’s famed Space Needle are bragging about the practicality of their new digs, taunting local politicians: “If you can live on the street and not pay rent, why would you pay rent?”
Others appreciated the camaraderie of camping together in Seattle’s city parks as explained, in this Crosscut article, by one homeless individual reluctant to be relocated to a shelter:
“But it’s not so easy, sometimes. “Shelter space, sure it’s there, but there’s not a sense of family,” said Blackwood, one of the Ravenna Woods residents.”
And another rationale, in this story, for refusal to access available housing opportunities:
“Another aspect of the homeless crisis, Sean points out is the culture and family among the homeless. Solutions don’t consider those bonds. Sean has been offered housing in the past, but he feels he can’t leave his people on the street.”
Seattle is plagued with over 400 separate homeless encampments and tents located throughout the city, including adjacent to and under the freeways, in parks, neighborhoods and tourist areas. There is trash and filth everywhere, and citizens have to both dodge and smell urine and other human waste on the sidewalks. Other individuals do not sleep in encampments, but wherever they can find a quiet place including the doorways of businesses and public areas. Used needles are randomly scattered in parks and other areas, putting all, including children, at risk.
The homeless engage in aggressive panhandling and harass citizens throughout the downtown area, as well as populating virtually every freeway off ramp and major intersections where they beg for money. Seattle has become so notorious for its aggressive homeless population that travel websites warn of the homeless problem to potential Seattle visitors:
Seattle has one of the highest property crime rates in the nation as the homeless break into cars and residences to obtain stolen property to subsidize their drug and alcohol consumption. Residential areas that contain homeless encampments, including “tiny villages,” report greater home and car burglaries, as well as a general decline of a sense of neighborhood safety.
Many areas including parks and waterfront areas have been transformed into both open-air drug markets and user-friendly drug zones.
Due to their self-destructive lifestyles, the homeless have extensive continuous interactions with first responders, which often result in taxpayer-subsidized trips to local hospitals.
There are no uniform national or regional policies or integrated operational procedures that have been developed to deal with the homeless issue such as mandatory treatment requirements or effective enforcement of vagrancy laws. Most jurisdictions attempt to resolve the issue by funding a variety of private and public agencies that promulgate a patchwork set of often contradictory rules and regulations. Until there is a uniform approach to both the treatment of the homeless and vagrancy on a regional, or even national level, the homeless will migrate to those jurisdictions where there are more services and benefits, coupled with minimal requirements of sobriety or treatment. This is why in part certain major cities have become such a magnet for the homeless while other jurisdictions don’t grapple with the same issues.
The City of Edmonds has currently allocated a quarter of a million dollars to address the needs of the homeless. Any increase of funding and increased level of services will only attract more non residential homeless from Seattle and beyond. As there are only so many tax dollars, increased funding for homeless issues must come from either increased revenues or decreased services in other areas. Edmonds is proposing to embark down the homeless policy path pioneered by Seattle over the past 10 years without success. It is not a matter of lacking compassion. It is an acknowledgement that it is pointless to allocate scarce city resources in a manner that will probably not result in any long-term successful resolution of a problem that can only be resolved at a coordinated regional or national level. Compassion and good intentions are truly meaningless if the end result creates more extensive problems for the community.
This draft report is only a series of recommendations. None of it has been implemented — yet. Edmonds doesn’t have to be transformed into another Seattle, both in terms of increased density, overcrowding, and as a destination for the homeless. This draft report was generated without meaningful participation or input from residents representing the interests of the majority of Edmonds single-family homeowners. Most Edmonds residents desire their neighborhoods to retain their essential safe suburban single-family character, and to maintain the downtown area and waterfront as a pleasant family friendly destination. A majority of Edmonds residents are simply not interested in applying their hard-earned income to support policies and programs that in all probability will be ineffective, and put their residential neighborhoods and city center at risk.
This report will be presented at a Planning Commission hearing for review on June 13 before it is forwarded to the city council, where it will be considered for implementation. Written statements will be accepted before the hearing, and public statements will be allowed at the hearing. The city council will schedule a hearing on this matter sometime in the summer or fall.
If single-family homeowners of Edmonds wish to maintain both their neighborhood as a pleasant single-family residential area, as well as ensuring that Edmonds avoids the multitude of problems that Seattle has inflicted upon itself with its misguided efforts to resolve its intractable homeless problem, you as a concerned Edmonds homeowner must act.
You can’t rely on the “other guy” to do it for you. If there is little or no opposition to this report, many of its recommendations may be implemented, as your silence will be interpreted as tacit support for this draft report. But if 100, 200 or even more residents of Edmonds write critical letters to the planning board and city council, participate at planning and city council hearings, write letters to the local newspapers, and express concerns to both their neighbors as well as their local representatives, then perhaps, most of this proposed policy regarding both “affordable housing” and the “homeless” will be rejected as policy that won’t resolve anything other than increasing taxes and costs to residents and reducing the quality of life in Edmonds.