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