Pause, reboot, rewrite or delete? Council considers housing strategy options

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As the Edmonds City Council again heard from citizens opposed to the city’s current draft housing strategy, councilmembers Tuesday night made one thing perfectly clear: The strategy isn’t likely to be approved in its current or even amended form.

However, after about an hour of discussion, it’s unclear what the council will do next.

The year-long effort to develop a housing strategy — a requirement that was included by the council in 2015 a part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan — has recently drawn vocal citizen opposition. Some 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.

City Development Services Director Shane Hope announced Oct. 18 that based on public feedback, the city was going to pause the strategy and rework it. Some citizens, however, have called for a complete “reboot” of the process, using language favored by Council President Mike Nelson, who held two town hall meetings to listen to residents’ concerns. There were further citizen concerns expressed after Hope formed her own Citizens Housing Advisory Committee, which met last week with little notice to the public.

“Your voices are being heard,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said as she opened council discussion on where to go next with the strategy. She said that citizens’ reactions to the draft document were similar to those regarding a proposed tree ordinance, which was eventually was shelved in favor of an urban forest management plan.

“What we found with the tree ordinance was, once people get mad they do not get un-mad,” Buckshnis said.

To address the public outcry, Hope had originally proposed five options for the council, with a sixth option offered Tuesday evening by Councilmember Dave Teitzel. In addition, a seventh proposal was submitted by a group of citizens — including those from the Save Edmonds group opposing the current strategy — aimed at providing “a direction to begin a more detailed, open, collaborative process for drafting and adopting this critical policy direction for our city.”

Buckshnis said that based on citizens’ feedback, the council wouldn’t be considering the first two options — accepting the draft strategy as is or accepting it with amendments.

As for the remaining options, the third — that the city pause the strategy and do a major rewrite — is the one recommended by city staff. The fourth option is to reject the strategy altogether and remove it from the Housing Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The fifth option is to reboot the process, which could include the council appointing new members to the city’s existing housing task force that has been studying the issue, or creating its own task force, Buckshnis explained.

“There are so many different ways that we can turn the dials, that we can create whatever we want but what we want to make sure is that the citizens understand that we are listening to you and we are trying to attempt to move forward so that some of your frustrations and anger can be resolved,” she said.

Councilmember Tom Mesaros said there had been more public input regarding the housing strategy than any other issue in his more than four years on the city council, “and this is a good thing. I’m glad to see as much input as we’ve had,” he said.

Mesaros stated, however, that he didn’t believe the council was rushing the issue, as some residents had stated during the public comment period Tuesday night. The council is still reviewing the draft strategy, which has gone through many months of review, he said, adding “I think we are being patient and there is no end date as of yet.”

Councilmember Teitzel echoed Mesaros’ appreciation of citizen involvement in the issue, adding he would “far prefer to have passionate input from our community than apathy.”

Citing data that shows increasing housing prices and rents in Edmonds, Teitzel reminded the audience of the reasons why the city was pursuing the housing strategy in the first place. “This data shows people living or working in Edmonds are increasingly challenged to find affordable housing,” he said. “Many are being driven toward housing instability and some even into homelessness.”

While it’s tempting to take another year or two beyond 2019 to develop a housing strategy, Teitzel added, “the housing challenges and pressures on many of our fellow citizens will continue to mount.”

Teitzel said he believes his proposed option 6, which includes “a disciplined timeline” for completion of specific steps, will allow the council to work closely with the community to create a new housing strategy document by the end of 2019.

Council President Nelson criticized the city administration for forming “a handpicked group of people to develop a housing strategy,” followed by a draft report that resulted in “massive public concern and outcry and also lack of public involvement.” In response, he said, the city administration then selected a second group of people to get the housing strategy back off the ground, then hastily arranged a meeting last week that they didn’t inform the council or the public about until the day of the event.

“You have to wonder, is the public really going to be welcome,” Nelson said. Any attempt at developing a new strategy won’t work, he added, “unless it involves citizens and they are involved at the very beginning and that they are actually designing and creating and actually a part of it at the table.”

“I absolutely believe we have to have some type of housing strategy but we need to be smart about it, we need to take our time, we need to be deliberate and we need to include anyone,” Nelson concluded.

Councilmember Neil Tibbott said he has not been a fan of the existing housing strategy since it was proposed, noting it was a very repetitive and “cookie cutter” approach.

In addition, “as we moved forward to reviewing it with the public, it seemed like we were not adequately answering the questions people were continuing to bring up,” Tibbott said.

However, Tibbott said he would like to move forward with some version of a strategy that includes a narrowed focus, and that may very well be Teitzel’s proposal for option 6. While it may be a good idea to remove the housing strategy from the Comprehensive Plan, Tibbott said he is concerned about those citizens in the city who need housing solutions. He also said he believes it’s critical to “harness the momentum” created by citizens engaging in the housing strategy discussion.

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that she is most concerned about seniors on fixed incomes who can’t pay their property taxes, as well as veterans and disabled individuals. “We don’t have to meet the demands of the whole region,” Johnson said. “We have to do what’s best for the city of Edmonds.”

“I’d be willing to put this off and start in 2020,” Johnson added. “In my opinion, we have a lot of important work that needs to be done by the planning department.”

Buckshnis added that instead of doing any more work on the strategy, the city should prioritize efforts on its code rewrite to close loopholes for developers and address issues related to zoning.

She said she favors rejecting the strategy and removing it from the comprehensive plan, with the idea that it can be added back later if necessary.

“I honestly think we need a time out,” added Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. “We have lost the public’s trust in this process.”

Fraley-Monillas also suggested that the city look into the idea of rent control as a way to make housing more affordable.

Councilmember Tibbott replied that it was his understanding that rent control was not allowed in Washington state. Fraley-Monillas then asked City Attorrey Jeff Taraday for a formal ruling on the legality of rent control, and the city attorney said he would do so and report back to the council at a later date.

Taraday also said that to amend the comprehensive plan in 2019 to remove the housing element, the council would need to pass a resolution by the end of 2018 to place that proposal on the docket for next year.

In other action Tuesday night, the council:

– Heard 2019 budget presentations from city staff, including proposed 2019-2024 Capital Facilities Plan/Capital Improvement Program and revenue sources.

-Unanimously approved renewals of interlocal agreements with the Mill Creek Police Department for Domestic Violence Coordinator Services and the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management for region-wide coordinated emergency management services.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

16 Replies to “Pause, reboot, rewrite or delete? Council considers housing strategy options”

  1. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that she is most concerned about seniors on fixed incomes who can’t pay their property taxes, as well as veterans and disabled individuals. “We don’t have to meet the demands of the whole region,” Johnson said. “We have to do what’s best for the city of Edmonds.”

    It seems to me that any housing strategy is worthless if it does not address what’s stated by Councilmember Johnson.

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    1. It seems to me that that element of the Berk report was the most arrogant and insulting to our older neighbors. I certainly hope that the new addition to the housing group includes seniors who are looking for more options. There are existing means testing options for seniors who may need property tax support, this is not a city issue.

      I would also support bringing in experts, i.e. the Everett Housing Authority, on how to best support the housing needs for low income and people with disabilities.

      But this “strategy” fell far from that target.

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      1. The study talked about folks who are “cost burdened” If you do the math for those seniors who are cost burdened a very high percent of them cannot qualify for means testing for property tax relief.

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  2. Sadly, the reboot to include Edmonds residents this time around was a bit messy and nontransparent. It’s execution was flawed. As one of the people asked to be a part of this, I was disappointed to not know who else was being asked to participate until nearly the actual meeting date and that it wasn’t publicized. This led to me receiving several emails from people accusing me of being part of some “special interest” and that I aided in the creation of this covert group when information about this committee finally came to light. These accusations are false and unnecessary/hurtful.

    Whatever comes of this reboot or pause, please don’t take your frustrations out on those who were asked to participate. While i can only 100% speak for myself, I’m pretty sure others that were asked were not part of a secret conspiracy to bring this committee to fruition. Either way, it’s better to ask than to assume.

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  3. Alicia – A very good letter indeed. I have been in leadership positions at times, and always some people find it easier to engage in attacks than to engage in a useful exchange of ideas. Your dignified response gives hope that at least some people are able to rise above the shouting.

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  4. Alicia – I really appreciate your response. I completely agree with you that this latest effort has been problematic because of the lack of transparency, among other issues. Truly the delivery of this housing strategy has been flawed and lacks direction.

    If there is a direction for the past committee and the new enlarged committee, it hasn’t been well publicized. I think that Council has done a good job in enlarging the conversation, but the start has been restricted and closed.

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  5. Dear Alicia,
    This has been a poorly executed process for months now. As I stated last night, folks have reached a heighten state of anxiety, frustration and/or anger over the draft housing strategy. As part of the Planning Board, you witnessed the pubic outcry months ago and it certainly has not gotten any better. So, thank you for your insight on this new Advisory Task Force which was sort of quickly formed.

    The Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan has ample “strategies” and guidance for affordable housing, population growth, housing inventory, financial characteristic and stratification of housing based on a number of factors (and so on). I suggest citizens read it and ask Council to remove the requirement for the Housing Strategy in the Housing Element of the Comp Plan (#4) so that we can move forward and work on code review and rewrites. Further, with a clean slate, we can all focus on what we envision for the future of Edmonds in a very transparent and thoughtful process.

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  6. When I first got involved in this discussion it was from the viewpoint of how we as a community could help our less advantaged citizens and wanna be citizens retain or get a foothold in being a part of our community. I saw the community, where I have lived most of my life now, as a compassionate and inclusive population that would rationally look at the housing needs of the less fortunate in our midst and do what they could to include them in our Edmond’s life style. What I found at first (a couple years ago now) is that the basic attitude of the Mayor and Council is that WE are Edmonds and WE don’t have any housing issues. Housing and homelessness are only a problem in the less affluent towns near us. The Save Edmonds folks were really missing in action at the various public meetings and open houses that I attended early on. Now these folks are claiming they weren’t informed and a handful of “do goodys” have attempted to monopolize the process and hide important policy decisions from them. They accuse the Mayor and Shane Hope of being partners in this alleged attempt to deceive the public. Not sure about who is right. It probably just depends on one’s viewpoint. My take away from all of this is that I was wrong about Edmonds being a compassionate place where fairness in government is the norm. It’s just another resort type town where money talks and makes most of the decisions. Welcome to Carmel North. It’s now just my summer home and doesn’t mean all that much to me anymore. Just a neat place to hang out when the weather is nice. Waiting for the Save Edmonds group to demand we build a wall. Maybe they can get Woodway to pay for it.

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    1. I only wish it was “Carmel North”, maybe someday with a little help from climate change. “It’s now just my summer home and doesn’t mean all that much to me anymore.”,lucky you, it must be nice. Lots of virtue signaling going on here.

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    2. “just my summer home and doesn’t mean all that much to me anymore”

      May I make a suggestion ?
      Since Edmonds is only your summer home and you so obviously care about the homeless, why not let them live in your Edmonds house over the winter? This would not require any change in city policy, no more meetings no tax increases, no new housing to be built, and it would give the homeless a chance to live in [I assume] a quality house while they work to turn their lives around.
      It seems criminal to have that housing sit vacant over the winter in the middle of an affordable housing crisis.
      Heck, you could even stock up the house with food and medicine before you head south and leave us less wealthy Edmonds residents to face another cold grey winter.
      It sounds like just the kind of thing a compassionate man like yourself should be doing.

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  7. Diane has a point. However, I don’t think it goes far enough. The Comprehensive Plan, which includes the housing element, was unanimously approved by Council after significant public vetting via public hearings. At this time, though, it is apparent Edmonds citizens have concerns about the goals expressed in the Comprehensive Plan as approved by Council. Before code rewrite is undertaken by the Administration, we need to be sure the public is supportive of the housing goals expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Otherwise, codes will be potentially modified in a way contrary to our constituents’ wishes. In other words, this issue goes beyond whether or not the Comprehensive Plan should be revised to remove the requirement to develop a housing strategy. It goes to the fundamental issue of the housing goals our citizens desire for our city.

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  8. Actually Mr. Cooper, I have made the freezer in my home available for the storage of food to prepare for the cold weather shelter that some of the more compassionate folks in Edmonds run to help street people when the temperature goes below freezing. I’ve volunteered for years with an organization that helps the poor and I have volunteered helping cook and serve a free breakfast for the poor that also provides showers for people. There are still some pretty nice folks who live in our community who do lots of good things for the less fortunate among us. Under the right circumstances I probably would let someone stay in my home, for a time if they needed help. You can demean me personally or make fun of me all you want. I really don’t care what you think of me. I also pay my property taxes to help educate your children and grand children. Now get busy and Save Edmonds. That wall needs to be built. the Caravan is coming to infest Edmonds. Your town needs you.

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    1. Never had any kids of my own. Adopted one. So none your money comes my way.
      I am paying far far far more in taxes than I will ever take out. By millions of dollars by the time I die. So I submit that I am doing far more for the homeless than you are, since what I keep hearing is that they need more and more money.
      Have you ever stopped to think that you are nothing more than an enabler? That you are just making the problem worse for the rest of us?
      Like I said, if you and your friends would walk the walk and not just talk the talk there would not be any homeless problem. They could live in your house while you are gone.
      You also sound so bitter and sanctimonious. I wonder why?

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  9. Like I said, I care less what you think of me personally. I’m definitely not bitter, I’ve had a great life that includes lots of love and joy given and giving it back when I can. If that’s sanctimonious, then I’m guilty as charged. Deep down, I’m a “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” kind of guy. Good on you for adopting and have a great TG. God ( or whatever force you see as bigger than yourself) Bless you and your family. Clint

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  10. Here’s an “Affordable Housing Strategy:” cut government spending, and give us all a tax cut. That will make all housing more affordable. Simple.

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