Commentary: A housing conversation

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What image pops into your mind when you hear “affordable housing”?

Is it of a large complex of run-down apartments occupied by the poor and unemployed who rely on government subsidies for their housing? If so, we encourage you to consider a more accurate picture of what affordable housing really is.

First, affordable housing is not only located in large apartment buildings and not necessarily subsidized. It can be a market-rate duplex or modest apartments over a commercial first floor, or even a detached single-family residence. These all can be “affordable” if you don’t have to make above-average income to live there.

Second, the people who need affordable housing aren’t just the chronically poor and unemployed. They are the college graduate working 40 hours a week as a dental assistant or pharmacy technician. They are people who you meet and interact with every day like the barista you just got coffee from, the grocery store clerk stocking the shelves, and the staff at the daycare or elementary school where you dropped your children off at this morning. All these people, working full time at good jobs in your community, would benefit from living in affordable housing if they could find it.

In Snohomish County in 2016, one in five renters paid more than half of their monthly income on rent. Those households live paycheck to paycheck and risk eviction or foreclosure if the unexpected happens, such as a car accident, death in the family, illness, or loss of a job. Having housing that is affordable in our region not only aids those who are already homeless, it also prevents more families from becoming homeless.

Rent in Snohomish County rose by 35 percent from 2013-2017 because in that same approximate time period “only” 10,500 new housing units were built while about 16,000 new households called Snohomish County home. When demand exceeds supply prices go up.

Seeking solutions, many Snohomish County cities, Snohomish County, and the Housing Authority of Snohomish County go together in 2013 to create the Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA).  AHA allows its members to work cooperatively to understand local housing issues, share resources, and seek regional solutions.  Member cities are Arlington, Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Snohomish, Stanwood, and Woodway.

We’re writing because we want to encourage everyone, resident, local leader and elected official alike, to address this growing issue as a matter of personal interest, as it affects all of us. The ideas and tools to improve housing affordability are out there. What we need now is to have the conversation about what solution is right for our communities — at the kitchen table, coffee shop, and city council meeting. Once you have started the conversation, it is critical to tell your elected leaders what you think; to give them the guidance and permission to take the necessary steps to make your community a livable, vibrant place for you, your friends, and your family, no matter how much their job pays.

Alliance for Housing Affordability Chair, Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson

Alliance for Housing Affordability Program Manager Chris Collier

12 Replies to “Commentary: A housing conversation”

  1. Doctors used to bloodlett patients thinking it made people feel better but they just got more sick. Helping caused harm. LBJ’s Great Society focused on helping poor and it just made the poor poorer. The Projects were what Affordable Housing used to be called, and building Projects is how Donald Trump’ s family made their fortune. Healthcare used to be cheap in the 70’s. College used to be cheap in the 70’s. Housing used to be cheap in the 70’s. The more help we get from planners, the more expensive these things get. George Bush campaigned on “every American family owning their own home” and every level of government from the Fed to the municipalities has been f***ing with the market. Frankly we can’t afford housing to get more affordable.

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    1. Move to where you can afford to live? What if you work in Lynnwood, have small children and make $13.00 an hour? The same thing I hear is, “If you don’t have a good job, quit and find a better one”. Blame the renter/employee.

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  2. My rent at Edmonds Highlands Apts increased 20%, eff July 2018. This takes 100% of my income and eats up my budget for monthly health ins premiums, renters ins, car ins, car tabs, AAA road ins. These are necessary & required for my health and security, as well as required by law. Also, I no longer have $ to save for an emergency. This profit greed is disgraceful ..the tax assessor needs to stop these increases ..our legislators need to give renters a property tax income deduction .. STOP! STOP! STOP!

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    1. I would submit that every time you vote for a property tax increase as a renter, you should be aware that the owner of the property is going to pass on that increase to you, the renter. They have to pay their bills too.

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  3. We make more housing that is affordable if we change some of the rules we play by. We need to consider more duplexes mixed with single family as one example. I have seen that in places like Pennsylvania. I agree that grass roots planning is the best way to get more housing without causing problems in established neighborhoods.
    Good local rules made with lots of citizen input is the way to go.

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    1. I agree mixed housing. In Shell creek Park built years ago now they have duplexes and very interesting architecturally diverse homes. It is one of the most Friendly places to live -or as I do walk there starting at Yost park I walk to Pineridge Park crossing the street in the tunnel under Main Street. It works to have duplexes, condos and houses all together. Thank you for theyou for your letter. Carolynne

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    2. Why should we change “some of the rules we play by”? We have all been “playing” by those rules for many years. Why should we change them now? We don’t want to be like Pennsylvania. We want to hold on to the rules and codes that made Edmonds what it is today, not change the rules because some want to import more homeless into Edmonds.

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  4. Affordable housing is housing people can rent or buy with their own money. When progressives talk about “affordable housing,” they mean projects that cost 200-300% as much to build as private sector units, paid for with taxpayers’ money. Don’t let the City soften us up to steal a bunch of our money by talking about “affordable housing.” REAL affordable housing is created with deregulation of the land use code and tax cuts.

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  5. Solution to affordable housing, move to where you can afford to live:

    Lakewood,SeaTac,Burien,Orting,Spanaway,Roy,Sultan,Stanwood,Acme,Silverdale,Bremerton,
    Tumwater,Mount Vernon,Pasco,Forks,Chehalis,Colfax,Aberdeen,Morton,Soap Lake,Royal City,
    Pomeroy,Wapato,Washougal,Union Gap,Longview,McCleary,George….etc

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  6. EVERYTHING government officials address gets worse. Pick an issue and I will prove that statement correct. Love the comment on deregulation.

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  7. A growing issue in affordable housing is not being discussed. Years ago people bought homes as long term residences. The homes were bought as a base for raising a family or starting retirement years. Increasingly today, homes are bought as short term investments meant to bring relatively quick and high profits. Flipping homes has become the sole source of income for a growing number of people across the country. The repeated short term ownership is increasingly pricing homes out of reach for groups that could have otherwise afforded to buy into a neighborhood. I understand that it is impossible to prevent this type of mercenary home buying, or to prevent developers from swooping into a neighborhood, buying a home, subdividing the lot, and building multiple houses, each costing more than the price paid for the original home. I simply wish to make the point that it is not always the fault of increasing numbers of individuals in a less advantaged financial position that is the cause of a shortage of affordable housing.

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    1. Homes that are flipped are often “fixers” that are bought, improved, then sold higher because of demand. Maybe we should build very poorly constructed or half built houses that are soon enough falling apart, creating more “fixers” to help with affordability. We can also tax Pensioners highly so they can’t afford to do repairs, creating more rundown and decaying housing, hence helping individuals in a less advantaged financial position afford a house.

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