Edmonds Housing Commission rolls up its sleeves in kickoff meeting

Commissioners Nichole Franko, left. and Will Chen listen as Edmonds Development Services Director Shane Hope opens the commission’s first meeting.

The newly-formed Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission got down to business Thursday night on its way to developing housing policy options for Edmonds City Council consideration.

The commission — which consists of 15 members and eight alternates — was formed from a list of 135 applicants and were chosen by district (see accompanying map). Each city councilmember appointed two members and one alternate and the mayor appointed one at-large (not district-based) member and one alternate.

Housing Commission district map

The meeting was moderated by Edmonds Development Services Director Shane Hope, who noted that future meetings will be facilitated by a community engagement consultant, which the city is in the process of hiring. All meetings will be videotaped and Hope promised there will be extensive community outreach as part of the commission’s work.

The city council will receive quarterly reports on the commission’s progress, Hope noted. In addition, two city council liaisons who will attend all commission meetings will provide regular reports to the council. Councilmembers Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott attended the Sept. 26 meeting but the liaison jobs will rotate among the council through the end of the year. After that, permanent liaisons will be appointed.

Councilmembers Teitzel and Tibbott stressed that the commission’s input would be critical as the council begins its work in 2021 to update the city’s comprehensive plan, which must be completed by 2023. In addition, it’s possible some of the commission’s ideas may spur other council actions related to housing policy, they said.

The city council established the housing commission by a resolution earlier this year after the city’s efforts to develop a housing strategy came under fire for lack of community involvement and notification. Under the resolution, the commission is charged with developing, by the end of 2020, “diverse housing policy options for council consideration designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds: options that are irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation.”

The meeting began with group introductions, which provided insight into each commissioner’s background and areas of interest:

District 1 (appointed by Councilmember Kristiana Johnson): Commissioner Jim Ogonowski, a 12-year Edmonds resident who is retired, said he transitioned from being a renter to homeowner so can represent both perspectives. Commissioner Karen Herrick, a resident since 1989, described unsuccessful efforts to find housing suitable to “age in place” as a motivation for her application to serve on the commission.

District 2 (appointed by Councilmember Dave Teitzel): Commissioner Keith Soltner was unable to attend so was replace at the table by alternate Wendy Wyatt, who said she has been “a renter all my life.” A retiree who used to work for the Veterans Administration, she moved to Edmonds six years ago and lives outside the Edmonds Bowl. Commissioner Weija (Vicky) Wu, a native of Shanghai, said she was in the banking industry for 20 years and now manages a small family business with her husband. She is concerned about the impacts of growth on Edmonds.

District 3 (appointed by Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas): Commissioner George Keefe said he and his wife have lived in an Edmonds condominium since 2008. He said he is interested in exploring the statistic that 70% of Edmonds households consist of one or two people and that 63% of the housing stock is three to five bedrooms or more. Commissioner John Reed, a 43-year Edmonds resident and downtown condo owner, is a retiree who has served on the Edmonds Planning Board and is an active member of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE).

District 4 (appointed by Councilmember Mike Nelson): Commissioner Mike McMurray grew up in Edmonds and came back to raise his family here. He now owns some commercial properties in downtown Edmonds, and is interested in finding a balance between density and preserving the character of Edmonds’ single-family neighborhoods. Commissioner Nichole Franko described herself as a Midwest native who has lived in Edmonds for five years. Franko, who has two small children and lives just off the Highway 99 corridor, is interested in ensuring “a safe and fun neighborhood for my children with schools that are not overpopulated and parks that are accessible.”

District 5 (appointed by Councilmember Tom Mesaros): Commissioner Tanya Kataria has lived in Edmonds for a year and a half. She is an architectural designer for a Seattle firm and for the last five years has been working on affordable housing and multifamily housing projects. Commissioner Greg Long is a California native who moved to Edmonds five years ago. A retired community health administrator, he has worked on developing housing for people with chronic mental illness.

District 6 (appointed by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis): Commissioner Jess Blanch moved to Edmonds two years ago and shares her home with her partner, a third-generation Edmonds resident. She has a background as an architectural designer but recently went to work for an affordable housing advocacy organization. Commissioner Alena Nelson-Vietmeir and her daughter are “housing insecure and couch surfing,” and have been living with her parents in Edmonds while she attended college. Her interest in the commission, she said, is in “people who live in Edmonds that make…just enough to receive services and not enough to be able to afford to rent a place.”

District 7 (appointed by Councilmember Neil Tibbott): Commissioner William Chen was born and raised in China and attended the University of Iowa. As a CPA, he worked as an auditor for Kimberly-Clarke and traveled the world. He ended up in Edmonds and now lives in the Lake Ballinger area with his wife and children, and owns a business on 76th Avenue West. A 25-year Edmonds resident, Commissioner Judi Gladstone has experience working in utility services for the City of Seattle, which she said has given her exposure to the impact of utility costs on affordable housing.

At-large (appointed by Mayor Dave Earling): Commissioner Bob Throndsen is a retired broadcast journalist who has lived in Edmonds for 40 years. Throndsen noted that he and his wife are to the point of downsizing “and I don’t want to see people our age written out of the community.”

Housing commissioners place stickers on issues that are their highest priorities.

After introductions, commissioners talked about the various issues related to housing in Edmonds, and what type of information they needed to do their work. Those were recorded on paper-covered easels stationed at the front of the room. Then, commissioners and their alternates were given stickers to affix to their top-priority issues. Among those issue listed:

– Community engagement.

– Background on the city’s housing strategy.

– Information on Edmonds income distribution and housing types.

– Available incentives to build affordable housing, including the multifamily tax exemption program.

– The relationship between the types of housing in different parts of Edmonds and the total revenue generated in those areas, including the impact of development on those revenue streams.

– A list of development fees that the city currently assesses, from utility hookups to permitting to impact fees.

– Background on the city’s plan for Highway 99 development.

The commission includes 15 members — two from each district plus one at-large member — and eight alternates.

At the next meeting, city staff will present a comprehensive list of issues based on the notes taken. One commissioner suggested that it would be helpful for staff to develop a draft work plan that commissioners could react to and modify, rather than having the commission develop a plan from scratch.

Commissioners will also receive a list of definitions for various housing terms in a packet prior to the next meeting, so they can become familiar with the terminology that will be discussed.

Other issues raised by commissioners:

– Whether they would have enough time to complete the work, and if it would be a good idea to extend the deadline for completion, which is now the end of 2020. Hope suggested it might be best to monitor the commission’s progress before the group decides whether that is necessary.

– What is off limits for the commission to consider? Hope replied that the commission won’t be tackling the issue of homelessness, as the city council is working on that, although one commissioner noted that addressing housing affordability can prevent people from becoming homeless.

– Whether the city could work with the commissioners to develop a survey to be sent out to citizens on their priorities and concerns for the commission.

The group also talked about the best schedule for future meetings, and decided on the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in either the Edmonds City Council Chambers or in the Edmonds City Hall third-floor Brackett Room– depending on availability.

More information about the housing commission effort, as well as an archived video of the first meeting, is online at www.citizenshousingcommission.org.

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

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