Edmonds has been grappling with housing issues including density, affordability, availability and homelessness. A Housing Strategy Task Force was organized and issued various recommendations, but encountered negative feedback from the community. As a result, a Citizen’s Housing Advisory Committee has been organized with new participants. The new Housing Advisory Committee has been charged with the following:
“Develop, for council consideration, diverse housing policy options designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds — irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation.”
There has been no clamor from current homeowners, “to expand the range of housing.” The origination of this mandate, its importance as a crucial issue to most homeowners that justifies expending significant staff and council time, remains an enigma to most Edmonds residential owners. Whether most homeowners support the expansion of “rental and owned” housing in a city that is for all practical purposes fully developed (or “built out”) has never been explored by any study or survey, and was never a major topic of debate at any public forum. Homeowners have been more focused on other issues, such as escalating property taxes, the unavailability of parking in downtown Edmonds, the lack of sidewalks and other ongoing maintenance issues such as the proper upkeep of Edmonds roadways. As Edmonds is already “built out”, and most of the area in Edmonds is dedicated to single family residential units, increasing “rental and owned” housing units must by necessity transpire either in single-family areas, or areas adjoining those single-family communities.
Numerous politicians, while condemning the increased cost of housing, regularly inform their constituents that more “affordable” residential development is imperative. Those same politicians ignore governmental policies and legislative mandates that directly impact both the cost, availability and ongoing expense of purchasing and maintaining a residence, including but not limited to:
– Limited availability and dramatic increased expense to obtain construction sites as a direct impact of implementing the Growth Management Act.
– The necessity for builders to construct large expensive single family residences as an economic byproduct of the cost of procuring lots.
– Escalating cost of construction due to excessive governmental mandates and red tape.
– An increasing percentage of escalating property taxes earmarked for programs unrelated to housing.
– Escalating cost of utilities that exceed the rate of inflation.
– Judicial mandates (as in McCleary) that increase property taxes.
Locally, this entire process has always been accompanied by egalitarian insinuations hinting that Edmonds residents have an implied ethical responsibility to increase the availability of affordable and subsdized housing for all who wish to reside in Edmonds. That moral imperative suggests that availability should be increased through a combination of increased development, higher density and taxpayer subsidies regardless of financial or environmental impact on current residents.
Governmental policies and legislative action that directly impact the scarcity and increased cost of all housing are conveniently absent in these debates. Rather, the burden of creating the availability of moderate priced housing has been shifted by political sleight of hand to homeowners in various jurisdictions throughout Puget Sound.
Increased density through the construction of a greater number and taller multi family apartments, aggressively promoting Unattached Accessory Dwelling Units (English translation — two houses built on one lot in single- family residential areas) and subsidized housing schemes are popular strategies when shifting that burden to homeowners in Edmonds as well as other jurisdictions.
Adopting these housing policies for Edmonds has the potential to physically transform Edmonds from a pleasant suburban community into a crowded urban environment, accompanied by the inevitable increase in traffic, noise, reduction of vegetation and tree canopy, loss of residential privacy and increasing the unavailability of parking in the downtown area.
The development of Unattached Accessory Dwelling Units in areas zoned for single family houses is often promoted as a financial solution for seniors to “age in place.” Unfortunately, unattached ADU policies promoted on behalf of senior independence often “mysteriously” morphs into development mechanisms to promote stealth residential density increases.
Seattle initially permitted limited ADU development in single-family residential areas. One ADU, either a “mother-in-law” apartment within the primary residence or an unattached ADU, was initially allowed. The owner of the property was required to reside on the premises a minimum of half the year. Stringent size and height limitations as well as off street parking requirements were mandated for any proposed unattached ADU development.
Seattle recently amended their ADU ordinance, jettisoning owner occupancy requirements, relaxing height and lot limitations, and eliminating off street parking requirements. Two ADUs per single family housing unit are currently permitted — one within the primary residence as well as an unattached ADU. Twelve unrelated individuals are currently permitted to reside in what was once a single-family residence by the newly enacted ordinance. Many of those residents own their own vehicles, dramatically increasing traffic, noise and parking woes in those formerly single family residential areas.
In effect, Seattle now permits the development of three separate residential units per lot in neighborhoods previously zoned exclusively for single family housing. “Aging in place” rationales were discreetly discarded, replaced by an “affordable housing” mantra.
The urbanization of single-family neighborhoods is trending in other cities. Minneapolis recently enacted legislation that eliminated any single-family housing zoning within its jurisdiction. That city allows up to three separate units to be constructed in all areas once zoned exclusively for single family residences.
Oregon recently implemented legislation that allows for the construction of duplexes in single-family areas in all cities with more than ten thousand residents.
Philadelphia and Charlotte are also exploring eliminating all or most singe family zoning in their cities.
(To be continued)
— By Eric Soll, Edmonds