Commentary: How shifts in Edmonds housing policies could impact single-family homeowners, Part 2

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The following commentary from Eric Soll is presented in two parts. In Part 1, published Sept. 7, the author explains what he believes the problem will be for single- family homeowners in Edmonds. In Part 2 below, he describes how, in his opinion, single-family homeowners can be involved in the  political “system” to attempt to protect their most important asset, their community and their environment.

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.

Eric Soll
Edmonds

25 Replies to “Commentary: How shifts in Edmonds housing policies could impact single-family homeowners, Part 2”

  1. Thank you for your well written explanation of what can and is happening to our communities.
    I was unaware of the strategic plan, at many levels of government that is in play.

    Not all strive to earn what others have.
    Some think these individuals should be given these same . It doesn’t work that way. You have to EARN through long hours of dedicated time, energy, and waiting.

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  2. Well done. The Comp Plan is undergoing an update. Given that the CP is so critical to the entire planning process it would be wise to review the CP for specific issues that will impact things like single family homes, taxation, and infrastructure. Finding those elements that are supportive of SFH would provide a list of things to support. Finding elements that could threaten SFH would provide issues to change or modify. Coordinated action on individual elements of the CP will be the key. Thanks Eric.

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  3. My wife and I bought our current home in Edmonds almost 30 years ago for $200,000. It is now worth, according to county assessment and various real estate websites, upwards of $800,000. When we bought it, I was fresh out of college with our first child less than a year old, and working as a carpenter for $15/hour. Our mortgage took up more than half of my paycheck. I guess that puts us in the category of people who “worked hard” for our good fortune. However, there are some other factors I feel compelled to acknowledge. Our first house in Edmonds was purchased from my parents, who had purchased it from my grandmother. We got a good deal on it and my parents carried the contract, so we didn’t have to get a loan which, even in those days, we would not have qualified for with my income. We sold that house after a couple years with a $100,000 profit to a developer who tore it and the house next to it down and built condos. How ironic. Because the zoning in Edmonds allowed for the building of condos (higher density) in that part of town (3rd Ave S) we made enough profit on the sale of our single family home to buy our current house in a part of Edmonds that is zoned SFR with a minimum lot size of 12,000 sq ft. I have to recognize the “luck” in that.
    The high price of housing in Seattle and surrounding communities is a problem. Attempts to mitigate that problem with changes to zoning, etc. are necessary. Putting up “walls” around our neighborhoods to protect “ambience” and our property values is not helpful. It represents the kind of “I’ve got mine, stay the hell out.” mentality that is behind so much of the toxic politics we are experiencing is this country. A big part of the solution to homelessness has to be finding affordable ways to house people and it will require that those of us who have be willing to share. Living in the kind of economically and socially diverse neighborhoods that will likely arise from the changes we need to make, will be a benefit. That’s America.

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    1. Thank you Einar
      I grew up in Edmonds, and when we moved back here from the east coast we bought our house in Edmonds in 1974 for around $75,000. I agree with you that we don’t want gated developments and keep out signs because we have ours – we want to make room for young families and people who work in Edmonds.

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  4. The City’s proposed “affordable housing” plans will raise taxes and make our homes LESS affordable. This is classic reversification – the government tells us their policy is the exact opposite of what it actually is. We must fight tax increases, fight housing subsidies, and fight to defend single family zoning. If we win we will have: 1) Lower taxes, 2) Less traffic, 3) Higher property values. When the City’s ideas win, we lose. When they lose, we win. It’s really that simple.

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  5. I look at the situation a different way, Einar. I lived in our first home in the Broadview area of Seattle where I was raising two small children. We had a ‘special needs home’ near our house and they were expanding and building onto our block. We already had regular occurrences of public fornication, peeing, and breaking an entering into my neighbor’s house by the residents who lived in the special needs housing. Now it was going to be twofold. So we moved.

    Now we are going to have Compass Housing Alliance a mere 1/2 mile from my house. They allow convicted felons with low to no income live in the units. I know exactly how this is going to turn out because I’ve lived it already. I empathize for my neighbors with young children – because that was me. What made me move was looking out my front window at a man being led out of my neighbor’s house in a straight jacket being loaded onto a stretcher and then into an ambulance being escorted by Seattle police. I don’t want to live that way anymore, and I’m pretty sure no one else does either.

    Giving addicts a home without any conditions (clean and sober living) enables them in their addiction. That’s why Seattle is still a mess. We need real solutions that benefit the whole person, and in turn they’ll be a productive part of society. That’s what would benefit everybody.

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  6. Well I certainly have some research to do on the topic. I too as Einar, came to Edmonds because it was a nice small city. We purchased a distressed house on a large lot with a view of the sound. We put a lot of own labor and money into rebuilding the house into something where we planned to retire and live a comfortable life in the great little city of Edmonds. I am not one for change in our lifestyle for the sake of change.

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  7. Eric, well written and thoughtful. It brings many points out to consider. My wife and I are in the process of giving our “two bit’s on a proposed ADU around the corner from us that is to be built on .23 of an acre and involves what we feel are steep slopes. The character of the area will be blemished, wildlife will be impacted and I feel sorry for the people that will have to live next to the building if it gets approved. Take a look folks at this site and see what you think. It is at the corner of Pioneer Way and Shell Valley Road down in Shell Valley. They could not sell this piece of property last year so they have gone the ADU route. Again thank you for your thoughts and time putting these two writings together. We will get and stay involved.

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  8. My family moved to Edmonds in 1955. I am not “Old Edmonds,” but I have known some. Riding on the rickety school bus on my first day at Esperance Elementary school, as we turned right from 212th onto 76th, we saw the cows grazing on the corner plot of land that now houses E-W High School and before that my Alma Mater, Edmonds High School. Sleepy little Edmonds was a place where locking your doors was often an after thought, and it was not unheard of for a person to dump their used motor oil in the Marsh to inhibit the breeding of mosquitos. When we moved here the focus politically and socially was not on the “Edmonds Bowl,” but on the burgeoning growth of new homes on “The Hill,” as it was referred to. We were seen as an unwelcome intrusion, but it was a love hate relationship. Many people didn’t like us moving in, but liked the revenue we bought. We put a strain on the utilities, and the over taxed West Coast Telephone Co., where it took us 3 months to get a phone and we had a 10 party line. The schools were over capacity and we double shifted my 2nd grade year. God bless those wonderful teachers! As we spread out and swallowed up stands of trees for housing developments, the area grew by leaps and bounds. Through the 50s, and 60s homes, schools and businesses grew at an unbelievable pace. For the first time apartment buildings sprang up, and they were soon filled with young families, single men and women. Jobs were plentiful and the economic boom was thriving. Then came the drastic downturn of the 70s, “Boeing Bust,” and oil crisis, which I avoided because I was serving in the military in Vietnam. When I returned, jobs were scarce, but I found one, and a place to live. The apartment complexes were begging for tenants, rents were reduced, and a lot of maintenance was deferred or ignored, with predictable consequences. In the late 70s the economy again grew, and the cycle began again. People flooded into the area, home prices soared, and interest rates went into the 18% range. People sold homes in California, and elsewhere for exorbitant sums and came here to settle. Inflation slowed the growth and we survived another economic cycle. It seems the current cycle has taken us a full circle, only this time the focus is not on the burgeoning growth, but on the “Bowl.” It appears as though more emphasis is being placed on a dog beach, tree policy, parking solution, building height, beach front connector, and how to pack more people into a small area, than the problems along the Highway 99 corridor, crumbling roads and infrastructure and other concerns on “The Hill.”

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  9. Those of you who are concerned that “upzoning” will result in lower property values need look no further than Seattle to see evidence to the contrary.

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    1. Your right. I used to own single family houses in both Lower Queen Anne and Ballard in Seattle. Property values skyrocketed after rezoning. Also crime, traffic, and noise surged. The only thing that was lower was the quality of life…

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  10. I sold my house in Seattle just before the upzoning happened. My old house has gone down in value. I would have lost almost $100,000 if I had waited until after my old neighborhood got upzoned. The evidence is clear that single family zoning is good for property values.

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  11. There seems to be some confusion here. Allan reports property values go up. Jeffrey reports they go down. Get your story straight, guys.

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    1. Property values generally go up for a residential single family lot that is up zoned to multi-family because of the potential to build more units on that lot, meaning more profit for the developer. Especially if the existing house is in poor shape. But how can some values go up and some down? Simple. Real Estate is always first about location, and then location, and location again. Depending on the location it’s possible for some areas properties to increase, some decrease. Higher end homes may be some decrease. Both of us are right and have our story straight.

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  12. People resist change for many, often erroneous, reasons. Kemper Freeman fought the extension of light rail to the East Side for over a decade. Does anyone now believe that bringing it to Bellevue is going to hurt businesses there or lead to a decrease in property values? Some people equate efforts to make housing more affordable with felons and drug addicts in their neighborhoods defecating in the streets. I would ask them if someone with a stable place to live is more or less likely to engage in those behaviors than a homeless person.

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  13. They were housed, Einar and some still used the streets as their bathroom anyway. I think the person in need of housing should be required to receive help for their mental instability, addictions (if they have them) in order to receive the housing. Anything other than that is enabling and is harmful to the individual and their community. Don’t we all want them in recovery and improving?Safety is one of our basic needs – I’m pretty confident no one wants to live next to the addicted, mentally unstable, and felons who don’t require getting help in order to live in the unit. They can still do drugs in their unit, just not in the common spaces. I’m not talking about affordable housing in general, I’m talking about the Compass Edmonds project who allow low barrier individuals.

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  14. I enjoyed Mr. Pennington’s synopsis of how this area has developed up to this point. His perception of the various economic cycles of ups and downs and how and why the area has grown the way it has is exactly as I experienced from 1960 on. When my family moved here in 1959 (first to Mountlake Terrace in a rental home and then to my current residence in the so called “Bowl.”) we actually talked about how Edmonds was an undiscovered and essentially underappreciated gem of a place to live by the local population. My Dad, who was a rather good futurist said this would become a major resort type town and he wasn’t far off on that. He also predicted that salmon would become scarce and that what we called scrap and bottom fish, would become highly prized and protected from over fishing which they have, to the point of prohibition of the taking.

    More to the point on this housing business, the big deal in Edmonds has become “protect my view.” The fact is most of the so called “views” in Edmonds are the result of the removal of virtually all of the large forest type 2nd growth tress that came to be after the huge first growth forest was harvested for lumber and shingles. The views came after the trees were removed. My house is a prime example of that phenomenon. When my parents bought the house they did not consider it a view property. It did have the smallest of peak a boo views if you cocked your head just right in the Southwest corner window.

    We have virtually “created” all this feel good supposedly precious view property by essentially destroying and altering nature for our benefit. Now that we have created this phony high value view property, some in our population want to try to prevent others from invading our preciousness by disallowing and discouraging small dwellings and multifamily dwellings anywhere near our valuable view properties and single family homes. We better form a commission to address this problem and maybe create a property value police department.

    This whole thing is almost comical when you think about it. We cut down all the trees for views with giant houses on postage stamp lots and then wonder why we don’t have any trees. Better form a tree commission and tree police to tell folks not to cut down anymore trees. That will solve that problem.

    The average price of a home in our town is $650,000. Good heavens we have an affordability problem. We better form a special commission to address and solve this affordability problem before it’s too late. No, No don’t do that, it will only encourage the “riff raff” to move in and destroy our property values.

    Enough of this, I’m getting a “migraine” and probably giving a few.

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  15. Kari,
    I did specify a “stable” place to live, which isn’t what you’re describing. This information about Compass doesn’t make me think I would be worried about living in proximity: https://www.compasshousingalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Edmonds-Project-Overview-FAQ-1-2019-Web.pdf. They say specifically that they are not a low barrier program. As far as people using drugs in their units, you probably have neighbors who are doing that already. My point is, that providing a place to live can be of great benefit in helping people to get out of the circumstances that make them a burden for society, whether those circumstances be mental illness, drug addiction, poverty or just misfortune (medical debt is one of the main reasons people end up homeless). Being able to afford housing is one of the key factors in preventing people from getting into those situations. I believe that most of us would like to see people facing these challenges get help for the underlying causes of their homelessness. But, what are willing to sacrifice to provide that opportunity?

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  16. When you’ve been following the Compass Edmonds project from the beginning, you notice the inconsistencies when trying ‘to sell’ the project to the neighborhood. The original document which I have said it was low barrier; for people with incomes 50% OR LESS of the average median income. At the one of the initial meetings, Compass was questioned who were allowed in- and they told us. Luckily my neighbor was a previous social worker and asked them the right questions so we got the answers. They lie- that’s all I can say. (the new Compass web site regarding Compass Edmonds) Maybe that is why Janet Pope is no longer CEO of Compass Housing Alliance as of yesterday. Maybe that’s why Bill Anderson is no longer a Woodway councilman. Maybe that’s why Neil Tibbott shouldn’t be Edmonds mayor, he was instrumental in getting this project in our neighborhood.

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  17. “Affordable housing” is a slogan designed to make us feel guilty, so we will give the government more money and more power. I live in Edmonds because I can’t afford to live on Mercer Island. People who can’t afford to live in Edmonds can live in Mountlake Terrace or Lynnwood. So why are we being guilt-tripped to provide “affordable housing?” So the government can take lots of our money and give it to their favorite special interest groups. For an x-ray of how affordable housing units are crazy expensive, here’s a link:

    https://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2018/09/21/it-can-cost-750000-to-build-an-affordable-housing-unit-in-california-heres-why/

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  18. I tend to agree with Mr. Herman and Mr. Wambolt on this to a certain extent. For good or bad, Edmonds (particularly the more downtown version of the place) has evolved into a bastion of accumulated wealth and the display of that wealth often in the form of the abodes we choose to live in. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing; it just is. I realize I’m the one that’s out of the norm in my opinions here and I’m not trying to force my value system on to others. I just don’t like it when others try to force their value systems on to me.

    When I use the term “affordable housing” I don’t see it as a slogan to make someone feel guilty. I see it as a slogan to designate what is needed in the population as a whole. Young people and people who are employed in lesser paying occupations need permanent housing, whether it’s in Edmonds or Lynnwood. I think the housing commission can look at this in terms of future growth in the whole area but I don’t think they are going to come up with any big solutions for Edmonds per se. The market is probably going to determine any solutions in Edmonds especially where housing has become such a symbol of social status and “success”, whatever that means.

    Homelessness is another whole can of worms and that can only be solved on a regional basis with great inputs of public monies. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. We will continue to use band aids and moralistic solutions that don’t work.

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