Letter to the editor: Affordable housing for Edmonds — the real story

Editor:

The future of Edmonds is up to all of us!

Our neighbors:

  • should be our police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and all who make Edmonds a real city.

Our seniors:

  • should be able to downsize and still afford to live in Edmonds

Our housing:

  • should provide more affordable options:
    • small duplexes
    • cluster-style cottages
    • multi-family units with provisions for lower and middle-income families
    • detached accessory dwelling units (DADU)
    • housing young families can afford
    • housing for veterans and those with disabilities

Our commission:

When the city created the Citizens Housing Commission in 2019, it defined our mission:

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.”

For 18 months, two dozen Edmonds residents, selected by city council, listened to the public, researched housing issues, investigated future needs and worked as a team, with public input, to create those “options.”

The housing commission sought more public input than any other Edmonds commission:

  • Four open houses – one in person, three online (COVID curtailed our ability to meet in person)
  • Four city-wide surveys from February-December 2020
  • Every meeting was ‘live-streamed,’ every action posted on the city website
  • More than 2,000 residents participated in the open houses and surveys
  • Their input and the questions raised in the open houses helped form the proposals 

The commission did not create new laws or zoning. Only the council can do that. We provided “options” the city may consider.

Housing option types:

Of the 15 policies submitted to the council, several focused directly on housing types, including:

  • Develop design requirements/zoning changes to allow homeownership of two attached single-family homes (duplex or two-unit townhouses) in single-family residential areas compatible with those neighborhoods.
  • Establish new single-family zoning that allows construction of zero-lot line duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes of only one- or two-story height located:
    • Near or along high-volume transit routes
    • Next to business neighborhood (BN) zoning districts
    • Close to schools or medical complexes
  • Develop “sub-area” plans, like the one at Westgate, to rethink areas zoned “business neighborhoods.”  such as Five Corners, Perrinville and others.
    • Sub-area plans can create unique, thriving residential, social gathering places and shops to integrate “missing middle housing” and business and protect our environment.
  • Add cluster/cottage housing as an option in single-family or multi-family areas.
  • Allow one attached or detached accessory dwelling unit on a single-family property with development requirements on size, ownership and parking.
  • Strengthen current design standards for new multi-family dwellings to maintain and enhance the unique characteristics of Edmonds.

Let the city council know that you support these policy recommendations and all of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission proposals.

Send your council emails to: council@edmondswa.gov

To see all commission proposals:  www.citizenshousingcommission.org/

We hope the city council will consider our policy proposals and tailor these recommendations to fit our community. The commission’s proposals are the beginning of planning a welcoming and diverse community for all.

Edmonds Citizen Housing Commission members and alternates

Tana Axtelle
Jess Blanch
Judi Gladstone
Tanya Kataria
Greg Long
Alena Nelson-Vietmeier
Rick Nishino
Bob Throndsen

  1. Just 1 question. What to you defines as “Business Area”. Isn’t the Bowl also a huge business area? Why are 5 corners and Perrinville considered business areas? What is the answer? Why isn’t the Bowl which is full of business large and small considered a business area? Why!.

  2. What the housing commission failed to recognize is the majority of the citizens wish to retain the small town character of our community.

    Protecting the town character will preserve our environment including trees, older affordable housing stock and less municipal infrastructure costs such as hiring more police.

  3. I strongly support the recommendations of the housing commission. I appreciate all the work they’ve done to include the thoughts of Edmonds citizens. I would love to see cluster/cottage housing in the lot next to my home in the bowl. But right now, now that the single small historic home that was on it has been torn down, it will turn into two huge homes that sell for well over a million dollars each. I believe the housing commission’s recommendations will preserve our town and help to make it accessible to our teachers, firefighters and others who make this community what it is. I do not want a “small town feel” that is only for the rich. I’ve watched as wealthy people have torn down historic smaller homes and fill the lots with huge contemporary houses – destroying the alleged “small town feel” just as much any duplex and quadplex building. I have no gripes about those new homes at all but let’s not kid ourselves about what we’re preserving when we decide these recommendations would destroy what we have.

    1. You’ve got to be kidding me! I am from a small town of 5,ooo in the midwest. Our home and many many more there are huge lots with big houses. Many now restored to their original selves. It is not little tiny houses everywhere. Farmers, Huge houses and giant kitchens.. YOU are wrong and just want the same as all the others here who seem to think they want have their own little socialist country. YA know for some time now I am sure that teachers have been driving from Lynwwood, Everette all of them except Bellvue and Seattle. WHY they pay a lot more in Edmonds for one thing. But not enough to live here. I like Mercer Island but I can;t afford to live there I understand this and am fine with it. We can’t have a place for everyone that works in Edmonds to Live in Edmonds unless of course you only want to consider the ones YOU want here like teachers and forget all the rest. I say you live where you can afford to live! Plain and simple. This is called LIFE.

  4. Rachel though zoning power of the City can safe the older affordable housing by changing the zoning from Multi-family to Single family, decreasing building heights to 25 feet and increasing setbacks. The incremental changes made to our zoning ordinances during Mayor Haakenson and Earling terms have changed the character of our town and increased our taxes. It just that plain and simple.

  5. Although the CHC “sought more public input…” it is not clear that they actually listened to that input or took it seriously. I was at one of the early open houses. My comments and objections were either dismissed as were the opinions of others present who had objections.
    Moreover, in addition, the comments of the public at the on-line meetings were not presented with the exception of a few that agreed with the CHC recommendations. Of 86 called-in comments, only 8 were presented (about 9%). In addition, the results of the surveys were overwhelmingly opposed to the project but were dismissed. So while it is laudable to “seek public input”, it’s more important to pay attention to what the public is actually telling you.
    A few other things that caught my attention; not what they said, but what they left out:
    -They left out the increase in taxes which is virtually guaranteed for the residents of Edmonds.
    -They forgot to mention the impact on the environment, especially in Perrinville but likely elsewhere.
    -Their intention to ban single-dwelling zoning in Edmonds which shows a profound lack of respect for
    private property rights
    -the impact of their plan on parking and traffic.
    That’s some but not all of what they left out.
    But finally, one must question their improbable claims that:
    -That these multiunit dwellings will actually be affordable. The evidence clearly does not support that claim.
    -That their plan will “…enhance the unique characteristics of Edmonds” where it has done the opposite in
    every other communities where the same or similar programs have been enacted; Ballard, Magnolia, Seattle,
    Portland and the list goes on.
    Bad idea!

  6. I was concerned when the council allowed for low barrier housing two blocks away from my house. Would you feel safe knowing that people with possible drug addictions, felony records, and no income would be living close by?

    What was one of the councilman’s response? What is it about helping people in need don’t you like? I don’t like felons without a job strung out on drugs and not required to seek help roaming the neighborhood. I worry about the safety of our children and elderly. Thankfully, that plan was scrapped. But you need to get involved and do what’s best for you and your community. Hold your council accountable. How do you want Edmonds to look in ten years? Don’t let them sell Edmonds down the river.

  7. Let’s try to put this letter to the editor in perspective. Part of “the real story” was left out.

    First, only eight of the two dozen commissioners and alternates signed this letter. Many of us that didn’t were not even asked to contribute to, or sign the editorial. What does that say?

    Second, of the policy recommendations submitted, some had unanimous support from the Housing Commission, while many did not. So it’s disingenuous to imply that the entire set of proposals were equal in their support by the commissioners.

    Unlike my commission colleagues who signed this letter, I believe that our community and citizens can think and decide for themselves which policies they support or don’t. We don’t need to be led by the nose to show support for this collective set of policies, as being advocated for in this editorial. While I support many, I for one do not support some of the recommendations, particularly the policy advocating for the elimination of single-family zoning as we know it throughout Edmonds. I’m sure many will have similar split decisions once they review the individual recommendations.

    I do agree with the editorial that the citizens of Edmonds should voice their opinion and let the City Council know which policies they agree with and which ones they disagree with.

    1. Is this true? Commissioner Ogonowski’s claim that some Housing commissioners were not asked to join in signing this letter to the editor? That’s unfortunate, even a little sad~ too much like Seattle politics, trying to advance policy by conniving instead of cooperating.

  8. Wow! So our admin already screwed up hiring a Police Chief …twice (!!!!) and now THIS???? This Potemkin, smoke and mirror attitude, is not the sort of government we would have ever for.

  9. It is important to note that the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Action was to develop a strategy by 2019 for increasing the supply of affordable housing and meeting diverse housing needs.

    On April 16, 2019, City Council passed Resolution 1427 establishing the Citizens’ Housing Commission and a sunset date of January 1, 2021. City Council did so even though the Comprehensive Plan had not yet been amended to allow them to do so. Resolution 1427 went as far as to claim the Comprehensive Plan amendment docketed under Resolution 1420 was “expected” to result in the removal of the 2019 timeline. Why would City Council act in front of a Comprehensive Plan Amendment vote as if what is “expected” to happen is what matters? What would have happened if the vote on that Comprehensive Plan Amendment had failed?

    Did City Council extend the Sunset Date established via Resolution 1427 to a date later than January 1, 2021? If so, does anybody have reference to that Resolution? I’ve searched the City’s Resolution Listing online and no such Resolution is included on the City’s website.

    Assuming it was extended to February 1, 2021, why are a minority group of commissioners of an entity that no longer exists making commentary in the Everett Herald dated March 16, 2021 that claims the comment is “By Edmonds Citizen Housing Commission”?

    1. Yes, change will come to Edmonds, nothing is static. That being said, this article is deceptive on so many levels. It states only the opinions of a few of the CHC, it implies the up-zoning will provide affordable housing. I say to them–Don’t provide us with your propaganda. What facts support citywide upzoning will provide affordable housing??
      You brag about your citizen involvement, but in fact the first survey showed 78% of people surveyed agreed it was important to preserve single-family zoning. But CHC dismissed that response, saying it was “perpetuating that sense of privilege.” There is no data to suggest that the CHC received sufficient feedback and support from the Edmonds community to justify citywide up-zoning. In fact, much of the conclusions in the report are highly subjective statements with nothing to illustrate or support the claims.
      The CHC proposals are a developers dream come true–huge density. The citizens will pay in higher property taxes and your proposed 1% sales tax increase, and lose the charm and character of our town.
      Single-family residential zones should not be rezoned to allow multi-family dwellings. It will eliminate the neighborhood character by squeezing more housing with zero frontage lot lines or cutting side setbacks in half or even down to zero.
      As each proposed change is discussed, we need to have everyone involved to discuss the impacts to the character of our town, the environmental (stormwater, flooding) and infrastructure (roads, parking, schools) impacts. I am hopeful the City will move slowly and listen to the citizens and the experts.

  10. This LTE by a minority of the Citizens Housing Commission is highly disturbing. I’ve been actively involved in Edmonds politics since 2004 and don’t recall a minority group of a Council appointed board or commission ever independently urging Edmonds residents to support policy proposals they personally advocate in this manner.

    This minority group has taken it a step further in their letter to the Everett Herald (referenced by Ken Reidy) by introducing their opinion piece as “By Edmonds Citizen Housing Commission / For The Herald.” Here is a link: https://www.heraldnet.com/opinion/comment-citizen-housing-panel-charts-edmonds-housing-future/

  11. Thank you for all your hard work to advocate for housing change and equity for all of our neighbors! I grew up in Edmonds and have raised my family here and am thankful I’ve been able to do so. But, I’m tired of the elitist attitudes of so many. In over 45 years I’ve seen significant changes in Edmonds. Is it different? Yes. Is it bad? No. We are a suburb of Seattle! It’s ridiculous to think we should remain the same while every other city around us changes (literally true- look at MLT, Lynnwood and Shoreline). We need to allow these changes to provide more affordable options for others. We need to rid ourselves of this elitist attitude and make room for everyone. Let’s be honest, we’re not going to lose our charm because the downtown area is protected and established and we won’t lose the beach- that’s all that really matters to tourists. The rest of the city can make room for these changes.

  12. It appears that our mayor, city council and housing commission are hellbent on turning Edmonds into a mini-Seattle. Apparently those entities want needles in the gutter, excrement on the sidewalks and evert intersection with people begging with their cardboard signs. This is what low income housing brings. Just look at Ballard, it has lost its Scandinavian character only to become another tent city where it is not safe to walk at night.

    Do we want to become another Ballard? Apparently, the powers of the city want Edmonds to follow in their footsteps. Come on Edmonds, wake up?

  13. I concur with My fellow former commissioner Mr. Ogonowski’s post. All things are good in moderation. Nothing moderate about up-zoning entire town folks, aka elimination of SF zones. My hope is our very hardworking, city council finds some compromises and moderation on this impactful topic. The crafters of this letter are all good Edmonds folks was fun to work and get to know each one of them. Unfortunately “Land cost” + “Construction cost” = “Market Rate Housing products”.

    I wish simply changing zoning would create affordable units in Edmonds and the desire for developers to build and develop all desired shapes and sizes just because. The evidence and the 2.5 years of new construction history in Edmonds proves otherwise. Even the most modest 1000 square foot new construction home sold in 2019 for $560k. Unless your definition of Affordable housing is new housing products in the $600k-$1 million range in Edmonds (maybe it does), then one should be careful to advertise or imply the creation of housing for all.

    It would have been more respectful and thoughtful for this letter to make a simple statement that this letter does not represent all former citizens housing commissioners’ viewpoints and/or opinions, easy fix.

    Strategically injecting more density and housing opportunities in Edmonds would be great, let’s find some compromises and moderation and more thoughtful approach to our fellow neighbors and residents.

    1. “Strategically injecting more density and housing opportunities in Edmonds would be great …”.
      ___________________________________________________

      That is perhaps the most sensible comment to date on this topic. Change is going to happen. What matters is whether we plan/manage the inevitable growth, or we just do nothing and pretend that Edmonds will ever stay the same. Additional density in assigned/designated areas is actually the opposite of “urban sprawl” (I seriously question whether some people on these threads even know what that phrase means when they use it), and resisting the construction of additional housing supply to accommodate demand will merely lead to skyrocketing prices of existing supply.
      I want a community that includes lots of young families with children, professionals on a budget, and a good percentage of middle-income earners – along with people who grew up in this town being able to afford to buy their own homes in this town. Going forward that is going to require some creative thinking, some flexibility, and some (modest) compromises – because “change” is coming, and it is up to us as to what that looks like.

      1. Paul
        Is tearing down a modest single family home and replacing it with a four story fourplex each unit of which costs more than the original single family home a “modest compromise”? Are the individual units “more affodable” than the original home? If so, I must not understand math.

        1. Doug .. I live in a modest, detached SF detached house in a tidy neighbourhood at the top of the Bowl. All the people on my street live in SF detached houses, most built half a century ago. There is nothing particularly special about our neighbourhood when it comes to lot sizes – we are like most any other neighbourhood in this city. Under current zoning, I can subdivide my property, my neighbour immediately north (across the street) of me can subdivide his property, my neighbour immediately north-east of me can subdivide his property, my neighbour immediately east of me can subdivide his property, and my neighbour immediately south of me can subdivide his property (his into 3 lots ..). Under current zoning we could – if we wished to – turn 5 existing houses into 11 McMansions, each with its own (still) sizable lot. There is your increasing density, and there is your increasing house prices without any planning whatsoever – I hope that you can understand the math … I personally think that is a bad idea and I know that some of my neighbours agree. What we all need is some more creative planning for use of these (and many other) residential/underutilized lots, and to use the process of “densification” more intelligently in order to relieve the pressures of future growth on our town. Creating a mix of affordability means creating a mix of housing options. Placing higher density into specific areas/corridors relieves the pressure of “urban sprawl” in other areas. Allowing builders/developers/existing land owners to consider a variety of uses for their properties encourages more efficient use of existing space, and encourages more vibrant and diverse communities. I know all of that seems a problem for some people, but I am not one of them.

      2. Edmonds current infrastructures for sewer, water, roads will not support greater density without higher taxes to pay for those improvements.

  14. Re a comment above: I think this discussion can proceed with pejoratives like “elitist”.
    I, and most other residents of Edmonds, chose to live here because we liked the beauty, charm and uncrowded nature of Edmonds among other things. I doubt that very many people moved here because they wanted to have a nice place that would attract tourists. We have seen the changes that have occurred in MLT, Shoreline and Lynnwood (not to mention Ballard, Magnolia and others) and we don’t want to see them here. And we don’t need to be called “elitists” because we don’t agree; it interferes with the conversation and it’s not helpful.

  15. The goals and recommendations of the Citizens Housing Commission were to provide options to improve the affordability and availability of housing in Edmonds. I believe they have done a good job on that. The many uninformed, fearful comments from some others on this article suggest the very definition of elitists – that living in Edmonds should only be possible for people that can afford a million dollar plus home. As a Realtor and long-time resident of Edmonds, as well as a provider of affordable rental housing in Edmonds, I am well qualified to comment on the trajectory of housing prices in Edmonds. We long ago priced out “low income” housing and are well on our way to eliminating “middle income” housing. For example, a typical small 1000 sqft 3 bed/1 bath home now goes for at least $560,000 in Edmonds. Hardly affordable. To suggest that anyone advocating for more affordable housing is actively inviting in drug traffic, needles, crime, etc. is simply naive. The tragedies occurring in the cities to our south have much more to do with a liberal attitude that absolves individuals of any responsibility for their own behavior while simultaneously allowing them to do anything they want without consequence. There is nothing in the Housing Commission proposals that supports or allows any such thing. They do provide at least a possibility that developers could create housing in Edmonds that would be affordable to our middle-income citizens. Given land prices in Edmonds currently, it is highly unlikely that true low-income housing would be created anywhere in Edmonds with these proposals.

  16. After watching the Edmonds housing fiasco unfold for the past few years, it is obvious to me that the citizens of Edmonds have no real voice in the decisions being made and city government will continue on with their agenda. The “Citizens Housing Commission” is exactly what we all knew it would be, a façade. At this point, the railroading will continue unless more concrete steps are taken such as some type of legal action by residents.
    A little research finds that other communities in Seattle have also fought this battle in the past and though not completely successful, have managed to at least limit some of the negative impacts.
    Queen Anne area is a good example. They were successful in forcing an Environmental Impact Statement to be done which bought them some time and forced some limits to the housing plan. I would like to see the Alliance for Citizens for Edmonds look into this.
    (See link and related articles)
    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-must-halt-plan-for-more-backyard-cottages-and-mother-in-law-apartments/
    I believe time is what Edmonds needs to understand its priorities and put in place a city government which is in alignment with its citizens wishes. Given the current level of dissatisfaction with Edmonds city government, this shouldn’t be hard to do. If we do nothing but complain to deaf ears, we will have to live with the results (or move).

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