Single-family residential neighborhoods, once the gold standard for aspiring homeowners, are under siege throughout America. There are an array of social service agencies, academic and professional organizations as well as business interests that tirelessly advocate for the reduction or total elimination of single-family residential areas in order to promote density. They profess to understand best how others, especially those who reside in single-family residential areas, should live. These organizations and businesses have various ideological and financial axes to grind and have no compunction to grind them at the expense of single-family residential owners.
Single-family homeowners have no national, regional or local organizations that advocate on their behalf. There are no advocacy organizations testifying on behalf of the benefits of single-family residential neighborhoods at governmental hearings. Outspoken defenders of single-family residential neighborhoods are rarely appointed to government housing advisory committees and task forces. There are no op-ed articles in local or national media outlets penned by well-funded organized advocacy groups promoting the benefits of single-family home ownership.
Those local efforts must fall upon individual single-family residents to be actively engaged, organize and advocate against the onslaught of proposed residential density and subsidized housing schemes.
Single-family homeowners who reside in Edmonds must familiarize themselves with this entire process and all its moving parts. They must review and become familiar with documents. studies and recommendations that will impact the housing debate. They must be informed of the activities of the city council, the planning board and other related entities such as the newly appointed Citizen’s Housing Advisory Committee that will have an impact on this process. They must personally lobby city councilmembers and the mayor to defend single-family residential areas, and to oppose all development in areas that will negatively impact adjacent single family residential areas. The bottom line is that if homeowners wish to prevent Edmonds from becoming radically transformed, they must strive to prevent unacceptable development projects that will ruin the essential character of Edmonds. There is simply no one else who will do it.
Single-family homeowners must also urge local politicians to reject subsidized housing schemes that increase taxes for financially overburdened Edmonds residents. As documented by the city’s own statistics, approximately 40% of Edmonds residents are themselves ” housing cost burdened,” and hardly in a financial position to provide housing assistance to a few chosen subsidized individuals
Single-family homeowners must forward letters and emails to the planning board and city council defending single family and adjoining neighborhoods in Edmonds from the negative impacts of development. They must become involved in the activities of the Edmonds housing advisory task force if presented opportunities to do so. They must attend public hearings held by these entities and testify on behalf of single-family neighborhoods. Some may find it intimidating to advocate on behalf of their cause in public. The natural hesitancy to speak at these forums must be overcome even if one’s initial presentation does not rise to the level of inspiring Shakespearian oratory. One becomes more comfortable testifying in public with experience, and it is crucial that as many single-family homeowners who wish to preserve their neighborhoods as well as the Edmonds way of life, be recognized and heard. It is the message that is crucial — not how beautifully or skillfully it is delivered. Attending a meeting or hearing without speaking or testifying has the same impact as having never been present.
One must alert other single-family home owners with similar concerns. It is an unfortunate reality that many single-family homeowners who are concerned about this process have little or no knowledge of what is actually transpiring until it is too late to act.
That can be accomplished by personal one-on-one communication, or through local media such as My Edmonds News. One must always be mindful that there are an array of highly-organized advocacy and business entities promoting increased density and subsidized housing agendas at every level of government both locally and nationally. Appropriate action to provide a counterweight to those organizational lobbying efforts must come from single-family homeowners themselves, as it will not emanate from elsewhere.
Early and intense activism is mandatory. Opposition to many proposed schemes are often dismissed by politicians as too late in the legislative process. That tardiness is often provided as justification to continue the promotion of projects even in the face of significant opposition.
Furthermore, many politicians will interpret silent acquiescence to proposed increased residential density and subsidized housing programs as tacit support for those activities.
Be assured that if there was not early, vocal and written opposition to the original Housing Strategy Task Force report presented to the Edmonds City Council, many of its recommendations would have been implemented. Edmonds would be well on its way to being transformed into a city very much like Seattle both in terms of density, affordable housing schemes and its approach to the homeless issue in the manner in which Seattle has “resolved” their issues, by spending hundreds of millions of dollars with minimal positive impact.
A critical oversight by those concerned with local housing issues is to ignore the periodic process of amending the city’s comprehensive plan. Any subsequent rezoning request by developers must generally conform to the current comprehensive plan. Opposition to requested zoning modifications that comply with an updated comprehensive plan are almost inevitably subject to fail. The time to oppose undesirable residential density schemes is in their embryonic stage when they are first proposed as part of the process to amend or update the comprehensive plan. There are distressed homeowners in the South Snohomish County area, as well as throughout Puget Sound that have learned this lesson the hard way. Many had no concept that their neighborhoods could and would be transformed into high-density areas until it was too late, and there is little they can do to reverse the process.
Attention to detail, as well as constant monitoring of residential legislative proposals, is mandatory, with the comprehension that seemingly benign recommendations can suddenly morph into ordinances that have no relation to their original intent or design. Aggressive promotion of unattached ADUs is often justified as a common-sense strategy for seniors to remain in their residences — by either leasing the additional unit for income or housing supportive family members in the adjoining residence. But as observed in Seattle, their ADU policy was “magically” transformed with little fanfare or public debate into non-owner-occupied triplexes for most single-family neighborhoods.
Most Edmonds single-family residents relied on the city’s comprehensive plan and current zoning ordinances when they first viewed and subsequently purchased their single-family residence. They did not anticipate the potential for aggressive upzoning policies that would dramatically increase the population in or adjacent to their neighborhoods, as well as changing the fundamental character of their neighborhood. They did not anticipate the possible construction of a second residence in their single-family neighborhood towering over their backyards in the guise of a “modest” unattached “Accessory Dwelling Unit,” or the dramatic potential upzoning of neighborhoods adjacent to their single-family homes.
Many activists for numerous national causes have embraced the politics of personal destruction, regularly applied against those who advocate for positions that are not deemed politically or socially correct. Those who defend single-family neighborhoods, or oppose increased taxation schemes to provide “affordable housing” have come under personal attack in virtually every part of the country as selfish NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) individuals who are insensitive to the poor, the drug and alcohol addicted, the mentally ill, the homeless, the environment, the climate, or past racial injustice.
One must ignore those attacks, understanding that it is not personal, but a strategy systematically applied universally to stifle dissent so that urbanized high-density housing schemes, subsidized housing plans and homeless housing strategies can be implemented with minimal opposition on a public that is opposed to those plans, but is often cowed into silence.
It is also currently in vogue to theorize that many longer-term single-family residential owners were “lucky” to have purchased their homes in the past when those residences were “affordable.” Most residents of Edmonds were neither particularly “lucky,” nor were they lottery winners or pampered trust fund kids. They are for the most part individuals who worked diligently, and often made great personal sacrifices to purchase and reside in Edmonds in what for many of them at the time was an expensive undertaking. Luck is primarily what people make of and how they conduct their lives.
Supporters of unattached ADUs and other schemes to upzone single-family residential areas or increase density in adjoining areas assure a concerned public that these changes will have “minimal impact” on their neighborhoods and residential environment. Homeowners are informed that it is only just a” few” unattached ADU units that will ultimately be constructed in each single family neighborhood, or just a “modest” apartment complex will be constructed in an adjoining residential area. That “minimal impact” is suddenly transformed into a major negative event for those single-family property owners who are directly impacted by the construction of an adjoining apartment complex or of a second house directly abutting their property. Many of those adjacent homeowners had no clue as to what was going to transpire until it was too late.
Edmonds single-family residential home owners must act proactively to protect not only one’s most valuable investment, but the small town environment that they cherish. Single-family homeowners can rely only on themselves to advocate on their behalf. At best, there will be a major increase in residential density with significant residential growth slated for the Highway 99 corridor. That development will have major impacts on adjoining single-family neighborhoods. Future Highway 99 development, along with other mandated growth within Edmonds, is more than adequate to satisfy any state growth mandates required for Edmonds for years to come. With that mandated growth, there will still be major impacts to Edmonds, such as increased traffic woes, as well as traffic speeding through single-family neighborhoods that lack sidewalks, increased unavailability of parking in the downtown area, as well as the increased cost of providing more intensive government services that residents in these developments often require.
If Edmonds homeowners desired a highly urbanized residential experience, they could have chosen to reside in Seattle. Many homeowners specifically chose Edmonds for the quiet suburban lifestyle Edmonds offered, and that lifestyle should not be sacrificed in order to attempt to alievate housing issues that single-family homeowners of Edmonds did not cause and cannot resolve.
If supporters and defenders of single-family neighborhoods do not act decisively, one can be assured that the current Edmonds ambiance that is so valued will become but a pleasant and distant memory. One has only to view various other cities and neighborhoods such as Ballard in Seattle that have journeyed down the path of urbanization to observe and experience what has been forever lost.
It is not simply hyperbole to suggest that the single-family residential area is under assault throughout the U.S. A casual internet search will readily reveal the relatively new phenomena of the all out assault against single family residential areas.
Consider the headline for a recently published article in Politico that described the Minneapolis land use policy decision.
“How Minneapolis Freed Itself From the Stranglehold of Single-Family Homes”
This is but one example of the current political and social climate that single-family homeowners presently encounter throughout the U.S. If local single-family residential owners are not actively engaged in this process, Edmonds too will be “freed from the stranglehold of single-family homes” by others who will dictate how Edmonds residents should live.