Letter to the editor: Housing commission recommendations will reduce availability of affordable housing

Editor:

The Edmonds Housing Commission has presented a variety of recommendations to the mayor and the Edmonds City Council for review.

Those recommendations can be found here.

The commission’s first recommendation addressed what has been labeled as: “Missing Middle Housing in Single Family Neighborhoods.”

The commission recommended that single-family residential neighborhoods in Edmonds be rezoned to allow for the construction of duplexes or two-unit townhouses on single-family parcels. This proposal was advanced as a way to increase the availability of “affordable”  and “missing middle” housing in Edmonds single family neighborhoods.

The commission rationalized that:

“Two attached single-family homes, otherwise known as duplexes or two-unit town homes, offer an alternative to typical detached single-family homes. They help to address the need for smaller, more affordable housing choices in neighborhoods characterized by single-family homes. Over the past fifty years, the median square footage of new single family units has increased from about 1600 to 3100. This policy would allow two units within the same square footage. ” (Bold added for emphasis)

The commission further stated:

“Allowing smaller homes in our single-family neighborhoods makes them more affordable and accessible to middle-income households that are seeking the amenities that we enjoy in Edmonds, i.e. excellent public schools and low crime. (Bold added for emphasis)

There is a paucity of empty parcels within Edmonds available to develop the proposed “missing middle”  housing. By necessity, developers would be required to acquire single-family parcels with houses on them.

In reality, developing either a duplex or two-unit townhouses on existing single-family parcels would result in demolishing modest-size housing in less-affluent, single-family neighborhoods in Edmonds. That would result in replacing less expensive residences with more expensive housing units while at the same time transforming those single-family residential areas into higher-density neighborhoods.

Ironically, the available limited number of modestly priced single-family houses remaining in Edmonds would also decline if this policy is implemented, as developers would concentrate their efforts on obtaining smaller and less expensive houses for redevelopment.

A review of residential sales in Edmonds for the prior one half year reveals the following:

Approximately 23 detached single-family houses on single-family residential lots with Edmonds addresses were conveyed for under $500,000.

Approximately 65 detached single-family homes on single-family residential lots with Edmonds addresses were conveyed for between $500,000 and $600,000.

In order for a developer to procure a parcel for townhouse or duplex development, that developer will be required to spend at an absolute minimum $400,000 to $500,000 to acquire a parcel that by necessity would have an existing residence on it.

And those prices will escalate if this policy is implemented as a result of increased demand for a limited supply of inexpensive single-family houses.

With limited availability of housing in the lowest price range, more expensive parcels will be required for redevelopment that would only increase the cost of duplex or townhouse development.

Estimates of construction costs to develop new single-family housing in the greater Seattle area range from $250 to $400 per square foot. There are many factors that determine construction costs, such as the quality of the materials utilized for both the exterior and interior of the residence.

It would be instructive to apply the analysis of both the cost of obtaining the parcel as well as the cost of developing the duplex or two townhouses to determine if the commission’s hypothesis is correct and that their recommended policy would result in ‘affordable” and “missing middle”  housing in single-family residential areas.

Example A:

Assuming a developer acquires a single-family house for redevelopment at a cost of $500,000 and incurs construction costs of $250 per square foot, and constructs either a 3,100-square-foot duplex or two 1,550-square-foot townhouses, the cost to develop each unit would be as follows:

One half the expense of procuring a half-a-million-dollar parcel (excluding demolition and related costs):  $250,000

Construction costs – 1,550 square feet at $250 a square foot.

Cost of construction = $387,500

Total minimum costs to acquire the parcel and develop each residential unit: $637,500 per unit

Each new unit costs at least $137,500 more than the house that each unit replaced if the cost to procure the parcel is $500,000 and construction costs are $250  a foot.

Example B:

Assuming a developer acquires a house with a residential lot for redevelopment at a cost of $500,000 and incurs construction costs of $300 per square foot, and constructs either a 3,100-square-foot duplex or two 1,550-square-foot townhouses, the cost of each unit would be as follows:

One half the expense of procuring a half-a-million-dollar parcel (excluding demolition and other costs): $250,000

Construction costs – 1,550 square feet at $300 a square foot.

Cost of construction = $465,000

Total minimum costs to acquire the parcel and develop each residential unit: $715,000 cost per unit.

Each new unit costs at least $215,000 more than the house that each unit replaced if the cost to procure the parcel is $500,000 and construction costs are $300 a foot.

There were more than 150 single-family houses situated on traditional single-family parcels that were acquired for under $700,00 with Edmonds addresses in the past six months. All those houses were less expensive to purchase than the cost to build residential unit example B at $300 a foot on a parcel that cost $500,000  to procure.

The result will be increased traffic, more vehicles parked on the streets, more noise, more pollution, less tree canopy and vegetation and more dangerous streets without sidewalks for area pedestrians to negotiate. It is a policy that promotes increased density and the elimination of single-family neighborhoods in Edmonds in the name of “affordable” or “missing middle” housing. This proposed policy does nothing to resolve the issue of affordability, and it will acerbate it by replacing less expensive housing with more costly housing.

The commission’s proposal also provides the potential to further increase density in those single-family neighborhoods. Once the protection of single-family housing zoning is removed, it will only be a matter of time before new demands for increased density will be promoted in the name of “affordability,”  “missing middle” housing or some other rationale that will further encroach upon single-family neighborhoods.

Eric Soll
Edmonds

  1. Excellent summary of the unintended consequences. Thank you.

    Look around at what this kind of zoning has done to unincorporated Snohomish County if you want to see what this would lead to.

  2. Great letter.
    Hopefully we are all paying attention to this Housing Commission as the recommendations, if implemented, will forever change the character of this small town by changing single-family neighborhoods into multi-family properties (e.g. duplexes, cluster housing, etc). Multi-family Tax Exemptions (MFTE) will create a tax burden to current residents. It may result in decreased property values and/or higher property taxes.
    Environmental and infrastructure concerns have not been considered in the proposal to add population density (e.g., SEPA, stormwater runoff, impact to roads, schools, nature areas and tree canopy).
    The Plan also proposes a 1% sales tax increase.
    There is no need for a rushed process. Our city is currently meeting the Growth Management Act population goals and 2050 goals can be accommodated through our existing zoning. The recently developed Highway 99 plan can accommodate over 3300 additional housing units along the transit corridor.
    The concerns and questions of the citizens of this County have not been heard. Let’s slow down this train!

    1. Amen Helen! Your comments are spot on. Thank you to Eric and everyone else who wrote comments against the Housing Commission recommendation as their plan will erode the charm and beauty of Edmonds, not to mention many other negative outcomes to residents. Bottom line, it is city government supporting a state agenda to push through new zoning codes before the majority of residents can voice their opposition.
      I hope everyone reading these comments reaches out to their friends, family, neighbors in Edmonds to share what is going on and why they should be very concerned. Together, we need to unite against the Housing Commission’s recommended plan being presented to the City Council next month. There is a sense of urgency because it appears this will happen March 16th.

  3. It would be worth knowing how many condominium structures( and units within) the City of Edmonds; the number of duplex housing, and the number of apartments, that are already within the boundaries of the City of Edmonds? How many `single family houses’ are there?

    What is the distribution of property taxes that are generated by these different sources of housing?

  4. I read the Housing Commission report several times and I was struck by a couple of things:
    1) any report like this should have a quantitative goals section and an expected results section. This report has neither-It is really just a bunch of ideas for increasing density without considering the impact of implementing these ideas.
    2) there is no consideration, non whatsoever, of what the citizens of Edmonds desire. Instead, it is assumed that the residents want uncontrolled sprawl.
    3) the examples presented by Eric are excellent–why are there not examples like this in the Housing Commission report???
    4) This report is a developer’s dream–in fact, I would not be surprised if a lot of the input came from developers through Shane Hope. My wife attended two meetings of the housing commission and it was clear that Shane Hope was guiding the commissioners .
    5) There were 68 question submitted to the commission and only 5 quesstions were considered worthy of consideration. Perhaps Shane did not want the commission burdened by pesky questions representing what the residents want Edmonds to be in the future.

    I am getting very tired of the City of Edmonds making big decisions based on poor or no data.

  5. Roselee — According to the 2019 America Community Survey (5 year estimates) there are a total of 18,712 housing units in Edmonds. 59% are single-family homes (somewhat lower than Snohomish County as a whole [62%]; 10% are 4 or fewer units, 6 % 5 to 9 units, 25% are 10+ units.

    71% of units are owner occupied (higher than Snohomish County as a whole[67%]). Assuming then that most single family homes are owner-occupied, we could estimate that between 10 and 20 percent of the multi-family dwellings are owner-occuped; the balance are rented.

    45% of renters are paying 30 percent or more of their income for rent — meaning they are cost-burdened and may have difficulty affording other necessities including food, transportation, medical care, etc.

    Per Mr. Soll’s letter, building duplexes or townhomes is unlikely to address the needs of renters looking for housing that requires less than 30 percent of their income. What Mr. Soll did not point out is that out of all the proposals allowing duplexes and townhomes on single family lots had the greatest opposition of all proposals. The ECHC “survey” results shows that nearly twice as many respondents strongly opposed this proposal as strongly supported it — 47% compared to 26%, respectively. So not only wil it not solve the problem, there is significant opposition to the proposal. Most literature addressing the missing middle housing problem suggests housing in already dense (walkable [with sidewalk] areas with access to public transit so less need for cars and parking) not in far-flung single-family neighborhoods. Unfortunately in Edmonds property meeting this criteria is even more expensive than Mr. Soll’s estimates making the feasibility of “missing middle” housing in these areas less likely.

  6. Having watched Shane Hope’s work for years in Mountlake Terrace, it is not surprising to me that Edmonds residents might believe she was “guiding” commissioners to predetermined conclusions. She is a professional and they are just like you, mere citizens. If there is a difference, it might be that Edmonds citizens actually have the City Council’s ear and that your Council won’t accept “big decisions based on poor or no data.”

    Older homes are just as suitable as an affordable housing alternative for young families as they are for increased density. But that misses the whole point. What planners in the path of growth want most isn’t affordable housing; it’s density.

  7. I observed this most recent Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission from the time of the formation to when I left the community in late October (due to lack of affordable housing). The broad goal was created with a predetermined deadline, extremely limited resources, and a tight reign on the Commission members. Due to bureaucracy (approvals of budget, contracted parties, and Commissioner appointees), months ate into the predetermined deadline. As many guidelines were determined in the process, I was impressed by the Commissioners keeping their level of professionalism. Of the entire group, Commissioners often had one minute, maybe two, to speak, often on a topic that was just presented to them. Some of these topics were to the level that City Council Members would have ahead of time to review, and then discuss for hours in a public meeting, if not, two meetings. Again, I do not know how the Commissioners kept their decorum. They were repeatedly reminded that the Commission would present a brief list of recommended policies. In one of the first public meetings, Director Hope is recorded stating the Council may choose to do nothing with the recommendations. During the time period I attended the meetings, and watched the live, and, or recorded meetings, the Commissioners did their best to be involved, to solicit more information from the community. Many expected more publicity; expected to represent the neighborhoods in which they lived, stood up for the entire socio-economic range. However, those who have commented so far are correct; the Commission Members were heavily guided. Watch the videos: the members begin with enthusiasm, and volunteering, and then are discouraged from engaging because there isn’t time. However, bare in mind I left off in October and I have not read the outcome.

  8. Lori, Edmonds city government pretty much functions in the interest of whatever Mayor is in charge at the time and his staff. If independent Council persons ask too many embarrassing questions they are merely told to mind their own business. This housing commission was window dressing to give the citizens the allusion that they have some real input into how the city is actually run and what is good for the citizens. The best thing that could come from this housing commission would be using the districts created to form a new system of government with Council Persons elected out of each of those districts (living in the district required). Everyone would have at least one person with city influence who was obligated to listen to their city related concerns, whether it’s housing, policing, zoning, or building heights; you name it.

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