Housing strategy foes, supporters air opinions at Monday council meeting

While the official agenda for Monday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting centered around the city’s proposed 2019 budget, citizens packed the council chambers to discuss another topic: the city’s draft housing strategy.

Many of those speaking at Monday’s meeting — held a day earlier than normal to avoid conflicting with Election Day — encouraged the council and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling to throw out the existing draft and start from scratch. The year-long effort has recently drawn vocal opposition from some who fear that the strategy as written could lead to negative consequences for the city — from crime to overcrowding. Critics have also said that the city has not done enough to involve citizens in the planning effort, and that both the mayor-appointed task force and the city’s chosen consultant have not represented the city’s residents or its values.

The City of Edmonds announced two weeks ago that it will be “taking a pause” to rework its draft housing strategy. That will likely include the appointment of an entirely new task force, although such an announcement hasn’t yet been officially made.

City Council President Mike Nelson — who has held two town halls on the topic — says the city should go even further and “reboot” the entire process.

Dave Cooper

“I very strongly advocate for a reboot instead of a reset,” Edmonds resident Dave Cooper said Monday night to audience applause. “I think enough issues have been raised…that we should start over with input from the actual citizens of Edmonds, and less input from special interests.”

Driving the creation of a housing strategy is the City of Edmonds Comprehensive Plan, a city council-approved document that calls for Edmonds to develop a housing strategy by 2019. The Housing Strategy Task Force has been meeting regularly, and has retained the services of Berk Consulting to assist. The first draft was presented at an open house in May, followed by a city council presentation in July and another public meeting in late August. Then, in early September, the city sent out an announcement stating it will start reviewing workshop notes and figuring out next steps for the process.

Nelson has suggested amending the comprehensive plan to push back the deadline for creating the housing strategy to the year 2020.

Testifying before the council Monday night, Edmonds resident Rebecca Anderson said she’d like to see “a new process for the housing strategy moving forward.” She also urged elected officials to be stewards for the city’s residents and protect Edmonds’ quality of life. “I typically have people say, ‘I love Edmonds,'” when I tell them where I live. Will they say that in the future?” she asked.

But several local residents who have worked for years on housing issues pleaded with elected officials to make sure that any redo of the strategy doesn’t leave behind those Edmonds residents who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“I realize that many of you are afraid that we are going to turn into something horrible if we have fair housing for people,” said Edmonds resident Carolyn Harris, who co-founded the Edmonds Housing Instability Coalition. “But fair housing just means that everyone who works here, can live here.”

This includes people who are struggling to pay their rent because they are on fixed incomes or who are facing steep rent increases, she said.

Donna Murphy

Donna Murphy of Edmonds said that “affordable housing is not synonymous with low-income housing, nor is it synonymous with homelessness.” Plans that incorporate affordable housing strategies “allow young vibrant families, older aging-in-place seniors to continue to build and strengthen and invest in the Edmonds community.”

Murphy urged the council to “utilize the research outlined in the housing strategy that supports what’s best for the most — not just the loudest voices in town.”

At the end of the public comment period, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling noted that the housing strategy wasn’t on the evening’s agenda, but that the council would be talking about it next week.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council:

– Unanimously approved the refinancing of bonds for the Edmonds Public Facilities District, which oversees the Edmonds Center for the Arts, via a loan from First Financial Northwest Bank. Under the plan, the current loan would be reduced from an average rate of 4.24 percent to a fixed rate of 3 percent. The agreement also requires the city to purchase a Certificate of Deposit from First Financial that will be used as collateral for the new loan. The refinance will save the Public Facilities District more than $51,000 annually, Finance Director Scott James told the council.

-Unanimously approved $15,000 from 2018 city council contingency funds to pay for 2019 water quality quarterly testing of local streams that will be performed by Edmonds-Woodway High School’s Students Saving Salmon Club.

– Continued to hear a range of 2019 budget presentations from various staff departments. Among the highlights: Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan is requesting $153,497 to fund a school resource officer and patrol vehicle for Scriber Lake High School, in a cost-sharing arrangement with the Edmonds School District. Compaan is also asking for $74,700 to replace the department’s supply of tasers, which are 10-plus years old, and $25,000 to cover costs associated with basic law enforcement academy training of new police recruits. In addition, the police chief is requesting $49,900 to purchase an electronic ticketing system for parking tickets, which are currently hand written.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. As a former Edmonds “almost-native” (lived in Edmonds from age 2-57, in 1947-2002!), who will always think of Edmonds as home, I was very glad to see affordable housing being discussed by city residents! My spouse and I moved to the Palm Springs, California area about 15 years ago, and now regret it profoundly.
    After years of heat and dust and periodic drought and fires, plus the generally alien atmosphere of the California desert, we would like very much to move back up there; however, we hear horror stories about the costs of housing. We are seniors on fixed incomes, and need to be mindful of all costs.
    I would appreciate being able to communicate (perhaps even by phone!) with someone up there to discuss how we could best plan a move, and whether it is realistic at all to think of Edmonds. We have been considering the I-5 corridor further north, or even the Olympic Peninsula, but if I had my “druthers”, I’d come home to Edmonds.

  2. “Edmonds resident Carolyn Harris, who co-founded the Edmonds Housing Instability Coalition. “But fair housing just means that everyone who works here, can live here.””

    What is “fair” about forcing one group of Edmonds residents [older retirees like myself who have worked for 45 years to be able to live in Edmonds] to subsidise other groups who want to live in Edmonds but have not worked and saved long enough to be able to pay their own fair share into Edmonds?
    What is “fair” about claiming that any young family who wants to move into Edmonds has a right to force others to pay higher taxes for additional local expenses for schools, police, fire, EMS, parks, traffic infrastructure, etc?
    I can’t think of anyone my age [63] who thought that they had a “right” to live in Edmonds right after they got their first job and moved out of their parents homes, or after they got married and had their first child, even if they already worked in Edmonds.
    We all worked and saved and commuted into Edmonds for meals and parks without any belief that those already living in Edmonds had any obligation to help us pay for it.
    Why does that have to change now, at the expense of those in Edmonds who have already paid more than their fair share to make Edmonds the “Jewel of Puget Sound”?

    1. I have no dog in this fight in terms of next steps, but I would like to offer by way of personal experience that my husband and I bought our first home in Edmonds — not in the Bowl, but by Lake Ballinger — 30 years ago, when we were in our late 20s via a VA repo of a three-bedroom rambler that we remodeled over time, doing most of the work ourselves. Neither of us had much money and we were grateful for the opportunity to start and raise our family here. I’m not sure that opportunity exists anymore for a young family of modest means given the rising cost of living/housing.

  3. What some Edmonds folks want is NO Housing Strategy plan unless it meets their definition of what a livable Edmonds represents. From my relatively long term perspective of living in Edmonds, I’d say the small community charm factor of Edmonds is already greatly diminished from what it was even 20 years ago. Edmonds is rapidly becoming a “Carmel by the Sea” community based on greater wealth pushing out lesser wealth. It won’t be long until you have to be seriously wealthy just to live in a modest home in Edmonds (think Kirkland for example). My feeling on the housing strategy is that the 5000+ growth prediction will come to pass whether there is a strategy or not so why not have some sort of a plan. Starting over is just a red herring to postpone as long as possible any meaningful strategy for growth that isn’t dictated by preservation of Edmonds for the “right” kind of people. Notice the use of the term “our values” in the article above. “Our values” is a pretty broad term in my opinion. Good luck my wonderful old Edmonds town.

  4. With regards to a “Edmonds housing plan”:

    There is a huge difference between “affordable housing” and “subsidized low income housing”.
    I support the first and disagree with the second.

    An affordable housing plan would allow for new housing stock to be built for lower construction costs, thus lower prices and more affordability [think of more apartments, more townhomes, smaller lots, and condos in selected parts of the City like the SR 99 corridor]. This would supply first time buyers with a toehold in Edmonds, which could be leveraged into a larger single family home in the future. It would more than meet any requirements for Edmonds under the Growth Management Act.
    “Affordability” could also mean lower property taxes for all residents, which would allow older retirees to stay in their Edmonds homes as well as lower prices for new residents who want to purchase a home in Edmonds .
    I support this type of housing plan.

    On the other hand, “Subsidized low income housing” by its very name means taking money from one group and giving to another group. This plan would pick winners and losers [those who have to pay into the system and those who would receive money from the system]. The group receiving the benefits without having to pay the full cost of those benefits will inevitably ask for more even benefits in the future. Those paying into the system will have to cover those benefits with higher taxes and user fees.
    Seattle and San Francisco have already been down this road and it has been a spectacular failure for the existing residents.
    I am opposed to this type of housing plan for Edmonds.
    This is why I support a reboot of the Housing Task Force.

    1. Dave, it is unclear how we could lower property taxes for all? I guess we could change the way we pay for schools or some other services and shift toward either a user fee basis or some form of income tax and replace the current property tax. Today’s method of providing property tax relief to low income seniors is just another form of subsidy. We either have to lower the price of the services govt provides or find some other way to pay for those services?

      1. “Dave, it is unclear how we could lower property taxes for all?”

        We would have to downsize city government because of the lower tax revenues. That would be up to the voters to decide. Either across the board cuts or elimination of some expenses.
        I am not saying I support this approach to increasing housing affordability in Edmonds.
        It is just that there is no way you can get something for nothing. Anything the city choses to do is going to involve trade offs. Increased services will mean increased taxes, decreased taxes will lead to less services. No is no free lunch here.
        In the end I think everyone should pay their fair share and not expect someone else to cover their expenses.

        1. Dave, your points are interesting and valid. When we created the Strategic Action Plan several years about there were a number of items the relate to Good Government that gained overwhelming public support. At or near the top of the list was for Edmonds to move toward “Budgeting by Priorities”. At the heart of these principles is the idea that citizens have a more direct say on how we prioritize using our tax dollars. Other cities who have implemented the concepts of “BP” have found more complete public support for how they spend their money. We could do the same and your comments are right along those lines. Keep us thinking about how make our community better by being more responsive to it’s citizens.

  5. Well, since we are on the subject of one group supposedly having to subsidize another group how about property taxes to support schools. I have personally never fathered a child that had to be educated, yet I do have to pay a rather large chunk of change every year to support education of other people’s children. I see it as a cost of living in a civil well educated society. Not fair to me, perhaps, but fare to the greater good. As I’ve pointed out in previous comments, we are all supporting “them”, “the others”, “not our kind of people” in the Courts, Jails and Emergency Medical facilities with very little value received for our money. Someone rebutted my figure of around 100,000yr. a year for cost of incarceration with the figure of $50,000/yr. Even at that low ball figure, society would still be big money ahead to give that person $25,000/yr. for food and lodging and perhaps the chance to be a tax paying citizen at some point. Why not study what Seattle and San Francisco have supposedly done wrong and try to do it right in our community. As far as lower income housing in the I-5 corridor, that is already in the plan being considered so why throw that out. As far as the Government picking winners and losers, that happens all the time. We give Boeing a big tax break so they will create jobs. They win. Someone has to pick up the tax tab for Boeing so my property taxes go up and thus I loose. Government is now and always will be in the business of picking winners and losers.

    1. I was the guy who cited data from the state on the cost to house prisoners. At the time of the data I saw the cost was $46,000. Thus the comment made at that time to suggest the number to be around $50k. Your comment “society would still be big money ahead to give that person $25,000/yr. for food and lodging and perhaps the chance to be a tax paying citizen at some point.” is an interesting concept. In my mind it all starts with education. We spend around $17k/year on K-12. We know if we provide preschool experience, kids do better. We also can see during the K-12 years those kids who can benefit from some “added help”. Doing the above would probably reduce the number of kids who grow up and find their way to our prison system. So the challenge would be to identify those who on the wrong path and provide them what is necessary to make them successful and become a taxpayer. Not easy to do but together we may be able to come up with some ideas to better achieve those goals.

  6. One issue folks seem to forget is that the influx of residents into Edmonds is happening because housing is more expensive closer in to Seattle. Edmonds is ‘affordable’ right now, to a certain group of folks with the necessary income. Edmonds is an attractive place to live because it’s cheaper, i.e., more affordable, than Greenlake, Ballard, or even some areas of Shoreline. People want to move here because of easy access to the freeway (to get to Seattle) and it’s reputation. As demand further goes up, so will prices. It’s inevitable.

  7. “Government is now and always will be in the business of picking winners and losers.”

    Which throws the door wide open for government corruption. Groups that can afford to buy government get the subsidies. Everyone else pays.
    I am philosophically opposed to all subsidies. I generally do not support subsidies for Boeing, for Weyerhaeuser, for anyone or anything. So the bar for me to support a subsidy is very very high [not impossible, but very high].
    I am in favor of all costs being paid by the end user. This would raise prices on quite a few products, since the true cost can often be passed off onto the environment. It might eliminate some products completely, because no one would be willing to buy them at their true cost.
    Seems like a small price to pay.

  8. Providing subsidies for anything is always problematic. It distorts the marketplace and allows too may special user groups to lobby and get subsidies. While many may agree with the subisdies we have for various things in Edmonds it is not always easy to find out the extent of the various subsidies. Edmonds Center for the Arts, Wade James Theater/Driftwood players, the port subsidy of the boat launch with tax payer money, Sno Isle Library, to name a few. We have a built in distortion the “user pays” when we pay for things based on property tax. What would be better govt is to have a way to fully understand what is being subsidized and how we make the decision to do so. Open govt can go a long way to allow the public to know and to input to the process. Hiding the subsidy is not in the best interest of good govt.

    1. To expand on your comment “Open govt can go a long way to allow the public to know and to input the process”…with regards to crafting a Housing Strategy, I just found this link on the Edmonds Housing Strategy that we now have a citizens housing advisory committee…


      The meeting is tonight and open to the public,

      Anyone know when this happened? Was this information sent out to the residents who signed up to receive information about the Housing Strategy?

      1. Thanks for the head up Rebecca, I am on the notification list and received an email today and buried in the language is this statement. “To replace the initial Draft Housing Strategy that was issued in July for public review, the city staff is working to develop a significantly revised draft for a new round of public review. I’m asking a small committee of Edmonds residents with diverse viewpoints to provide advice on this effort. Other public input will be invited and considered too.” No agenda is posted so it is unclear if public input will be allowed. Good Government is and Open Government. This is not as “open” folks would want. An the process to get information seems to fall along the lines that “Helen Hunt” is key contact.

        1. I was unable to attend the meeting which was posted as open to the public even thou it was not publicized. I hope that anyone who did attend can share their thoughts about what happened. This again, doesn’t seem like an open process. Would love to see another process used for the Housing Strategy.

  9. By definition, taxation is the redistribution of wealth. That is what Government does, it takes money from the individual to pay for things that the individual cannot efficiently provide for him/her self. The idea that one’s philosophy has any thing to do with any of this is mere fantasy and wishful thinking. We end up in endless debate and even killing each other over “philosophy” of government and the use of taxes. The reason the railroads control many things in this country (including getting across the street in Edmonds) is because the Government , rightly or wrongly, gave away millions of acres of land to rich people who paid little or no taxes at the time, so they could build themselves a railroad. Government graft or providing for the common good? Who knows, take your pick. In terms of housing, some folks in our society can cope and afford to provide for themselves and some can’t. The way I see it, we either help them survive for the common good or we eventually find them living in tents in Yost Park and City Park. Philosophy and grumbling about corrupt and closed government ain’t going to solve any of this.

    1. Government does collect taxes and builds programs to “redistribute wealth”. No matter what we call it happens. In America we pride ourselves of trying to do things more efficiently and effectively. ” Building a better mouse trap”, has created wealth for the many individuals and companies. When it comes to “redistribution” we could probably figure out far more efficient ways to do the task than our current methods. The overhead cost for collecting taxes, designing programs, and them administering those programs could be greatly reduced if we put our creative skills to the task.

  10. Rationalizing bad local government. Blaming the Rich. Socialist solutions or else it’s going to be people living and defecating in the city parks. Sounds like the Seattle model. How’s that working?

  11. I read the flyer for a meeting that was put out by people who evidently believe that only certain types of people belong here. We all share this small planet together. I was shocked and dismayed to see and read that flyer……………..It is clearly about a community of people that wish to exclude. Great nations take care and offer a hand up to their most vulnerable. It is bad enough that this day and age, we live in a city that is SEGREGATED. …….I say, WHO?? do you think you are? Again, we all share this small planet together. Where is your humanity?

  12. The Supreme Court had to reaffirm the 1968 Fair Housing Act in 2015 because of development and real estate segration across the United States. Shame on us. Moving progress back 50 years. Shame on us. The United States has always been a “beacon of light” not darkness. We move forward in this 200+ year old democracy, not backwards. We show our humanity, not our ignorance – We put people ahead of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. It’s what it means to be civilized. We ALL share this small planet. Nobody excluded!

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