Letter to the editor: Time to survey residents on housing strategy

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Editor:
Edmonds has embarked upon a designated “housing strategy” process that has the potential to transform targeted neighborhoods, as well as impacting the quality of life for much of Edmonds. This process has been presented with the underlying theory that thousands of non-residents will require housing in Edmonds, but many will be unable to pay for it. Overshadowing this process has been a pre-determined moral imperative narrative that Edmonds is required to transform some of its residential areas by not only dramatically increasing the availability of multi-family housing units for all these newcomers, but that Edmonds taxpayers should also be required to provide taxpayer-subsidized housing for those financially unable to reside in Edmonds.
The potential transformation of areas in Edmonds from a pleasant quiet town to urban center may not be the ultimate outcome desired by most Edmonds residents. Many residents settled in Edmonds because they valued lower residential density, single-family neighborhoods, less traffic, minimal noise and pollution, more privacy, lack of oversized buildings and a small-town quality of life. While never promoted as a positive option in the housing strategy process, limitation or outright rejection of any increased developmental density for Edmonds other than what is statutorily required is an important, positive and legitimate virtue and goal for many Edmonds residents in an increasingly densified Puget Sound area. Opposing the current housing strategy doesn’t make those residents bad or uncaring individuals, just individuals who are worried and concerned about their community, their homes, and increased housing expenses due in large part to escalating real estate taxes.
Many Edmonds residents contemplating those excessive and escalating property taxes, are unable or unwilling to have those taxes increase once again to provide subsidized housing for others. Many Edmonds homeowners are also unwilling to sacrifice their single-family residential areas to promote increased development and density. Informed residents understand that much of the current housing situation, particularly housing shortages and excessive taxation are in part the result of prior government policies on numerous jurisdictional levels that have been enacted.
That research was conducted 10 years ago; certainly those impacts have escalated since that time.
An increasing number of residents don’t believe they should sacrifice even more as a result of past government actions. They understand that attempting to resolve housing issues impacted by past government policies by supporting new government activities in this legislative area will only exacerbate matters for the majority of Edmonds residents, while the underlying issues of excessive taxes, regulations and restrictive land use policies that contribute to excessive housing costs are ignored.

They also intuitively understand that upzoning significant areas of Edmonds, and instituting an aggressive subsidized housing program, would not resolve current housing issues and concerns for a vast majority of both Edmonds residents as well as those non-residents who wish to reside in Edmonds. It will only increase financial difficulties and decrease the quality of life for a increased number of  Edmonds residents that will be negatively impacted by these policies.

The public is constantly informed that their involvement and opinion is not only welcomed, but is crucial to this process. In practice, the number of individuals that have been or will be involved in this process, by attending educational events, hearings and other related activities, are but a minuscule percentage of the Edmonds population. Those individuals — both passionate supporters and detractors of this housing strategy — are in no way representative of the Edmonds community. It is imperative that elected representatives who will have the power to implement housing strategies that may impose a transformation to Edmonds have access to accurate information as to the opinions of the majority of their constituents regarding these crucial housing issues.
A true scientific and accurate survey can be developed and implemented within the housing strategy process to provide that accurate information as to the amount and type of growth that most Edmonds residents truly desire. A scientific survey that actually attempts to accurately gauge public sentiment on this matter should be a high priority and an integral part of any housing strategy process.
That survey should include the following:
– The desirability or negative reaction and responses from Edmonds residents regarding proposed increased housing density and development with its accompanying impact upon noise, traffic, pollution, parking issues, loss of trees and other vegetation, loss of privacy and the impact of increasingly taller and larger buildings including accessory dwelling units adjacent to or near single-family residences.
– Positive or negative reactions and responses to proposed increased property taxes and/or decreased city services undertaken by Edmonds residents in order to promote subsidized housing for others.
It is imperative that residents be surveyed and tabulated as to their support for residential density and subsidize housing specifically for their neighborhood, as well as their street. The Five Corners residential area may be radically transformed by the addition of thousands of new residents through the construction of market rate and subsidized housing if current city studies are implemented. Other residential areas are not slated for any increase in housing density at this time. Support by many housing advocates for a variety of housing programs throughout the United States dramatically dissipates when those enthusiasts are informed that the housing will appear in their neighborhood, on their street, or adjacent to their single-family residence. The old adage “charity begins at home” is often jettisoned in favor of “charity begins (and ends) with the other person’s home” when it comes to public support of these types of housing policies and practices,
The survey results from property owners and those who rent should be differentiated when tabulated. Tenants in many jurisdictions are more inclined to support subsidized housing programs, as many tenants expect to personally benefit from a newly created program, whereas property owners will only experience increased property taxes. Many tenants are not aware that increased property taxes may increase their rent, as those costs are not itemized in their rent increase. If a neighborhood in any city is dramatically transformed by increased residential density, a tenant can simply relocate to a more desirable area with minimal financial loss. Not so for a property owner, who may be financially impacted if that high density and subsidized development is located in their formerly single-family neighborhood, and he or she decides to sell.
Future housing activities can and will have a significant impact on the character of the city of Edmonds. The decisions to be determined in the near future will lay the groundwork for the kind of environment the citizens of Edmonds will reside in. Will the city retain its special small-town character, or will residential areas (possibly yours) be transformed into yet another anonymous, bland and uniform area of high density apartments and townhouses lacking charm and character as is increasingly prevalent in many redeveloped Seattle residential areas? Should Edmonds property owners, a large percentage of them seniors who are already facing financial difficulty according to the city of Edmonds’ own research, be burdened by increased property taxes to benefit a limited lucky number of subsidized housing recipients? These decisions should be reached with the support of the majority of Edmonds residents, and accurate information is required to do so.
These are important decisions, and accurate information can be provided to all those involved in this process with a scientific survey. Are there resources to implement this survey? Assuredly financing can be obtained for this important process in a jurisdiction that is willing to appropriate approximately $40,000 for a new sign. This matter is too crucial an issue and will impact too many residents to be decided without accurate information as to what the citizens of Edmonds actually desire for their community and neighborhoods.
Eric Soll
Edmonds

15 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Time to survey residents on housing strategy”

  1. Eric, I am a 60+ year resident of Edmonds and would be happy to fill out any survey on this topic. I’m quite certain you won’t like my answers.

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  2. I like the idea of a survey and lean to agreement with your premise. You have clearly put a lot of thought into the future of our community. (Side note: too many words for a Saturday morning!)

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  3. Eric – Thank you for shedding light on this highly controversial topic. Markets should dictate the cost of living. Government control never works. Ever! Keep up the good fight. My wife and I would happy to participate in any survey that is presented.

    Bob Wilke
    Edmonds

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  4. Thank you, Eric, for your brilliant letter. I hope our mayor and city council read this and acquise to the wishes of the vast majority of Edmonds taxpayers.
    As an aside, we had our second gun related murder in Edmonds just this month, this time at the Senior Center.
    I am not so convinced that increased density is going be of much benefit to our older, retired and more vulnerable citizens, so count me in with those opposed the current housing strategy.

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  5. Subsidies mean taking our money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. We’d get higher taxes, which makes all housing LESS affordable. Seriously, how is that an “affordable housing strategy?” The name of this strategy is a falsehood, and that’s never a good start. The City should discard this “affordable housing strategy” until after the next City Council election, when the voters get to weigh in on this bad idea.

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  6. Taxes ( property, income, sales etc.) are the price we pay to live in a civil society. If you really think no taxation is the answer to everything, try moving to Somalia or some other lawless society. You would probably need some really good weapons and a big bank account to pay for protection just to survive. The bulk of our current property taxes are spent on the court system, the school system and road repair – common needs for everyone in the society. I agree that our taxes are way too high, particularly our property taxes. Since our state political system , for whatever reasons, resists income taxes and has milked the sales tax approach to death as a result, the only game left is the property tax which has been going up exponentially of late. Exacerbating the problem is the propensity of the state to forgive large corporations (think Boeing) huge rebates to supposedly attract and keep jobs in the area. As long as soaking the property owner is our main answer to taxation in general, subsidizing housing is a theoretical drop in the bucket of what’s coming for the Edmond’s property owner, housing strategy be damned. A federal trillion dollar plus wealth redistribution to the least needy of our society is the icing on the cake. If you want to keep living in Edmonds you will definitely be paying to play.

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    1. Very true. But I think it is very reasonable to question how governments [city, county, state, and federal] spend the money instead of writing blank checks and watching the money disappear.
      It would be nice to know that we are getting a reasonable return on our tax dollars and not have to worry about government taking the money and making things worse.
      Furthermore, I think citizen oversight is a crucial part of a democracy, and I am glad to see ordinary citizens trying to stay on top of government.

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  7. Eric, your letter is clear and to the point. I have been making similar overtures with regard to this very poorly thought out “strategy “. Our residents moved here for quality of life. Why? Because they can afford it through hard work not subsidies. Subsidizing those that can not afford to live here will only degrade our quality of life. This country was built on capitalism not socialism. Free markets vs government assistance. Cities should not be required to provide subsidies. This is a federal government issue. We need to ask ourselves “are we willing to pay higher taxes in order for lower income people to enjoy our lifestyle?”

    I agree with your survey idea, but would prefer to see it become an initiative and go to a vote of the people.

    Thank you
    Jim C a 20 year Edmonds resident and north Seattle native.

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  8. Future Edmonds will look like the new monstrosity being built next to Bartells…

    Hint: it is NOT an improvement!!!

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    1. Would be glad to participate in survey. Or a vote. Council should spend some money trying to keep us all informed by newsletters or some other kind of communication. Have lived here 30 years. Think that gives me some rights to what happens here. Property taxes are more and more painful!

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  9. Eric, Thanks for writing a great discussion on Affordable Housing. These comments are designed to add information to the discussion and not in any way take away for the good work you have done.

    Creating the Strategic Action Plan starting in 2011 there was significant public input. More that 2500 people were involved and a survey using twice the sample size needed for a +/-5% accuracy the public did say they wanted more affordable housing. City web site under the Economic Development Commission show the entire SAP and the details for Affordable Housing is under item 3a12. Pg 49. While the question at that time was more general it was an expression of the publics interest in developing for AFH. Looking at the cities Comprehensive Plan also reveals some details that can be helpful for the discussion of AFH and population growth targets to meet the GMA recommendations.

    Just looking at the population figures shows we are already on a pace to exceed the growth suggested by the GMA. Changing policies that ad to the current growth rate will allow us to overachieve that goal. I would guess that any survey that tries to gather citizen input would likely NOT want to set into motion policies that add more people than the current target.

    Looking at the other strategies in the current draft has ideas to help folks who already live here and strategies that could attract more people from outside Edmonds. I would guess a new poll would favor taking care of current Edmonds residents before changes which could add to our population.

    Housing of any sort requires dirt and 2x4s. Edmonds dirt is more expensive than most of our nearby neighbors. My home was build in 1976 and the dirt has appreciated 33 fold while my 2x4s have appreciated less that 8 fold. So to create more affordable housing in Edmonds required greater incentives or more subsidizes that our nearby neighbors. All subsidies tamper with the normal economic land use models and those subsidies would need to be greater for Edmonds to bring about the changes in the draft plan.

    So if we are already on a pace to grow faster than necessary then we may want to concentrate our efforts, incentives, and subsidies to helping achieve the goals in the draft plan the relate to our current citizens. We are unlikely willing or able to achieve all the goals in the draft plan so what would the public be willing to support if a new survey were done? The loudest conversations to date have opposed most of the strategies but little has been said that opposes taking care of our aging population. Lets start there and do the numbers to see what that might mean on achieving our population target.

    Thanks again Eric for a great discussion on the issue now maybe we can all work on some of the solutions.

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