Letter to the editor: Statistically valid survey needed to gauge residents’ opinions on housing

Editor:

The Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission recently issued its much anticipated recommendations focused on expanding housing options in Edmonds.

Adoption of the Citizens’ Housing Commission’s recommendations by Edmonds would permit construction of either a duplex or two townhouses in most single family residential neighborhoods. In addition, two, three or four housing units on single family residential parcels, or cluster housing/cottage development would be permitted in other single family residential areas.

In addition, development of Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADU) would be permitted in most single family residential areas.

The Revised Code Of Washington defines a DADU as
“……an accessory dwelling unit that consists partly or entirely of a building that is separate and detached from a single family housing unit, duplex, triplex, town home, or other housing unit.”

Furthermore the Revised Code of Washington defines a dwelling unit as
“……a residential living unit that provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons and that includes permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation”.

Or in other words, there is the potential for more separate houses on parcels that are presently zoned for single-family residences.

There has been considerable debate as to future residential development in Edmonds.

Proponents of the commission’s recommendations have advocated that there is community support for the construction of affordable housing in Edmonds. They assert that the addition of duplexes, townhouses, fourplexes and DADUs in single family neighborhoods would accomplish that goal without altering the characteristics of single-family residential areas.

Opponents of the commission’s proposals respond that there is minimal support for increasing density in single-family neighborhoods. They assert that the commission’s development proposals, if adopted, would increase noise, traffic, parking issues, density and degrade the quality of life for single-family residences adjacent to or near such development.

The City of Edmonds, when proposing a new policy or program, often develops an online survey and invites the general public to participate. Those informal internet surveys provide limited information as to the true extent of support or opposition for any proposed policy or program by the targeted population.

It is imperative that the City of Edmonds commission a statistically valid survey to determine the extent and type of Edmonds residential development that residents actually prefer for their city, as well as in their single-family neighborhoods. A properly designed survey can accurately reveal the preferences of not only all Edmonds residents, but also preferences of residential owners in single family neighborhoods.

In order for any survey to be as statistically accurate as possible and provide relevant information, that survey should be developed in a manner that generates the most reliable data. In order to accomplish that result, the survey should also include the following:

-The survey participants should be chosen at random and not from those wishing to voluntarily participate.

-Any internet survey that provides an open invitation to participate may provide unreliable data. Open internet surveys report what those who voluntarily responded to the survey believe or desire. Those surveys may not reflect an accurate preference of the targeted population as a whole, or those who will be most impacted if the commission’s recommendations are implemented.

-The population to be surveyed should be identified and defined.

-It is single-family homeowners that will bear the repercussions if the commission’s recommendations are adopted and implemented. It is of crucial importance to determine what Edmonds single-family residential owners specifically desire for their residential neighborhoods.

-Ensure that the questions are simple, neutral, unbiased, easily understood and to the point.

-Illustrations of duplexes, townhouses, DADUs or fourplexes adjacent to single family residences should accompany any survey. If available, photos of these situations that currently exist should be included for illustration. That will ensure ease of understanding and visualizing the housing commission’s recommendations, and how such development will impact adjoining single-family residential properties.

-Furthermore, the survey should include an option to reject all the commission’s development proposals for single family residential areas, and that option should be provided as a clear, viable alternative.

-Allow for an accurate marshalling of information by polling the proper number of individuals so that the survey will be statistically accurate within a defined and acceptable margin of error.

If the survey is executed in a statistically accurate and thorough manner, it should reveal reliable information of not only what all Edmonds residents desire regarding future residential development, but specifically what type of development is preferred by single family homeowners for their own neighborhoods.

Transformation of the comprehensive plan and subsequent zoning to permit increased development on single family residential parcels, either by constructing a duplex, two townhouses, up to four houses, or adding a DADU to an existing residence will have significant and permanent ramifications for single-family homeowners who reside in Edmonds. Once the protections of single-family zoning are eliminated, there is almost no turning back.

Furthermore, any assurances that an owner of a DADU be required to reside on the premises can also be discreetly jettisoned as recently observed in Seattle. In fact, these initial planning and zoning alterations to single-family residential areas often lead to even more intensive and intrusive development.

As long as the Puget Sound area continues to grow, there will always be the demand for even more “affordable” and market rate housing. Even if Edmonds voluntarily totally transforms itself into an ultra-high-density urban city, the demand for housing of all types in Puget Sound will not even begin to be satiated.

Adopting the commission’s recommendations to transform single-family residential areas will have a profound impact on those neighborhoods. It should be Edmonds City Council’s highest priority to accurately determine what the owners of the residences impacted by these recommendations actually desire for their own neighborhoods.

Eric Soll
Edmonds

  1. Eric Soll’s letter is thoughtful, well researched and accurately reflects the problems ¬with the Housing Commission’s recommendations and the surveys they used to support their positions. As Mr. Soll indicates, such surveys rarely sample the population in question, i.e. the Edmonds residents. Moreover, the questions can be framed in such a way that they obtain the desired outcome; many believe this was the case in these surveys. In addition, they lack transparency. The problem has been aggravated because the pandemic has made it impossible for the community to gather in a town hall type setting and openly express their views. Tellingly, in public meeting before the lockdowns, there was strong opposition the plan.
    Despite the assurances from the Housing Commissions and other proponents of the plan that there will be no change in the character or “charm” of Edmonds, as Mr. Soll points out these changes will change Edmonds and much to the worse; it is inevitable. In fact, similar recommendations have been implemented elsewhere and have invariably resulted in deterioration of the community and quality of life. Indeed, those of us living in Western Washington have had the opportunity to see such consequences in Seattle, Ballard, Magnolia and elsewhere. It has always been the same. Perhaps there is a community somewhere in this country that has benefited however that would be rare indeed and we shouldn’t count on it.
    This is a not a good plan and we should reject it

  2. DEFINE affordable housing…
    Can a single family home be torn down and replaced with a two, three or four unit structure??
    Will this increase or decrease (affordable housing)?
    DEFINE affordable…

  3. How will parking be an issue. If the existing home has a 1 to 2 car garage, a driveway and street parking how does adding a DADU be a problem.

  4. Edmonds continuously does what appears to be politically correct, see resolution 1427:

    “Mission. The mission of the new Citizens’ Housing Commission shall be as follows:
    Develop 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 only other notable requirement was to report in, (Council could use any, all or none) by a specific date.

    The Commission is not responsible for lack of data or quality. The Volunteers are responsible for the quality that actually exists. Watch the videos: They are disappointed in the survey methodology, lack of outreach, lack of resources…

    Term, after term, project after project, controlling Edmonds Staff and Elected Officials are keeping citizens mired in details.

    Have you ever read, been to the theater or watched the Comedy, Yes, Minister or Yes, Prime Minister? The savvy, craftsmanship, experience and skill in bureaucracy to control the agenda, many times by not doing things right, but appearing to do what is correct, by going through the minimal motions often keeps all playing the “game.”

    Ones such as Eric, demanding statistically valid, reliable representation of Edmonds usually are heard and supported a bit. Matt Richardson, for example, presented a white paper on the topic of the Edmonds Business District (via in person, and writing to the Council and to Economic Development, and to My Edmonds News and most likely the Business Improvement District itself). I too fought for scientifically correct surveys before and during the surveys for the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission “surveys” along with other survey methodology projects.

    Not just the survey, or housing, but step back, view from a distance.

  5. Lora Pesto,

    Thank you!

    I don’t know how you sourced an example touching on so many topics in civil service, so expediently.

    For me, through comedy, I gain knowledge and respect for individuals who I had surface, assumptions.

    My past trip to London, I took advantage of theater ticket for a Yes Minister show. What Fun; well it’s fun when one is not living it.

    I understand you served on the Council, and quite well I have heard, prior to my move to Edmonds. It sounds like Edmonds is quite fortunate to have you. If what I heard is true, Edmonds Citizens could have spoken up for you, like they finally are now (thank goodness) for courage of Council Members sticking their necks out to do correct – for the citizens – proper work.

    What is going on now, with this “respect to authority” needs to stop. I don’t know if certain council members understand their role is independent decision making for policy making, and not loyalty and acceptance to authority figures.

    Again, Thank you for the Clip. I haven’t seen the show in years. Bittersweet.

  6. The federal and state government are working on numerous new bills that will either incentivize or mandate many of the recommendations of our local housing commission. That means the state and federal governments will make the decisions for us. The housing commission was a good effort to get ahead of these mandates and try to develop some Edmonds-specific policy changes tailored to our community. Now the council has to sort things out and come up with some policy or zoning changes that will accomplish the goal of both the state and federal governments: increase the supply of affordable housing. That is the best way to avoid getting our zoning and land use policies mandated from Olympia or WA DC. Does anybody seriously think that more surveys here in Edmonds will slow down the Olympia and WA DC crowd?

    Marko (who probably got votes from most of the NIMBYs here in Edmonds) is driving many of the bills in Olympia. Quote from him: “As many of you know, if it were left up to me, we would mandate missing middle housing in every jurisdiction across our state, but the legislature has not reached a consensus on that,”.

    Here are articles about what Olympia and WA DC have in mind for Edmonds:
    https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/10/biden-housing-plan-480676
    https://www.theolympian.com/news/politics-government/article250070249.html

    1. Honestly, John? You feel the need to label fellow Edmonds residents NIMBYs? How is that helpful to any discussion? Every comment I’ve read of yours about the Housing Commission recommendations encourages residents to accept what YOU see as inevitable. You believe we will be forced by the state and the feds to do exactly as they say. Here is an excerpt from the article you reference:

      “What passed instead was HB 1923, which gave cities a list of possible actions to take to increase housing supply, and grant funding to pursue those ideas. The strategy has been, and continues to be, nudge cities towards reforming their zoning laws, but stop short of commanding them to do so.”

      Note the last phrase “stop short of commanding them to do so.” Edmonds residents have the opportunity to provide input to Council to modify the sweeping recommendations made by the Housing Commission under the heavy-handed direction of Development Services Director, Shane Hope. Thankfully, but no thanks to you, many residents are making their opinions and concerns heard.

      1. Joan, I am sorry if my use of the term NIMBY seemed offensive. I have no other way to describe the attitude expressed in most of the alarmist commentary about this issue. The prevailing attitude seems to be: Nothing changes in “my” neighborhood, growth of the housing supply should be limited to large projects along already busy arterials. That is the “do nothing” approach and will cause us to feel like we’re in Ballard every time we walk or drive through Five Corners or Westgate. Despite the reassuring spin the legislators put on HB 1923, it is still my opinion that the federal and state govt. will continue to pass more bills, entice cities with grants, etc. to eventually force zoning changes on us. I fail to see what the problem is with our council and planning departments updating our zoning with appropriate setbacks, height limits, stormwater controls, etc. instead of waiting for these mandates? My hope is we can avoid overcrowding the targeted neighborhoods and arterials by dispersing DADU and missing middle growth throughout Edmonds.

        1. John,

          The word NIMBY is used to discount all points of view that differ from your own. The “alarmist commentary” is the response of residents who are genuinely alarmed by what up-zoning all of Edmonds will do to the quality of life in many of our neighborhoods. Several commenters have stated that they moved from Seattle because of up-zoning there.

          My neighborhood is not likely to suffer from up-zoning because of the age and/or size of the homes. My concerns with the Housing Commission recommendations relate to the serious impact that up-zoning will have on the environment, and the effect that it will have on neighborhoods with older homes. And most important, up-zoning will NOT create more affordable housing options in Edmonds.

          Please read “New MIT study suggests the Yimby narrative on housing is wrong”

          https://48hills.org/2019/01/yimby-narrative-wrong/

          Those who aggressively support the Edmonds’ Development Services Department push to up-zone Edmonds, suggest one of the following: They have not reviewed the policies carefully, but like the feel-good idea of everyone being able to afford to live in Edmonds. They whole-heartedly embrace the fantasy being sold by staff (and politicians) that affordable housing will be the result of up-zoning. They are envious of, and perhaps angry towards, those of us who are fortunate to own homes in Edmonds. They are developers, general contractors, engineers, or realtors (often outside Edmonds) who will financially benefit from up-zoning.

          I would be interested in your thoughts after you have read the above article.

    2. NIMBY is relative. I grew up poor in Maine, trailer parks, etc, etc. The state of Maine worked out some kind of pilot program with places like NYC to relocate criminals to my small town area. Even though the area was always poor, it’s a real problem now and I dare say blighted because of the influx and concentration of people who are effectively feral. Poor people who opposed the drug rehab centers there were maligned like this. NIMBY is community. Start your own community elsewhere if you feel like your community needs to change to accommodate pet projects. NIMBY only applies if you advocate for projects in other people’s back yards that you wouldn’t want in yours.

  7. I was contemplating writing a Letter to the Editor about recent city surveys, but the comments here are saying what I was seeing. We have now had housing, tree, and Walkable Mainstreet survey that are fundamentally flawed in terms of acquiring unbiased, scientifically or statistically valid data. As a physical scientist who works heavily with social scientists and statisticians I have been admonished and trained to NOT try to apply either discipline’s tools without truly understanding how they work. These surveys are case studies in how to do them poorly.
    When I look at these surveys, I am reminded of the campaign ads that showed up on Facebook, primarily from the Trump campaign on my page. They said “Click here to tell us how you think Donald Trump is doing as president.” When you clicked, there were NO options lower than “Good,” you could only be positive. If the city wants valid, actionable data that represent Edmonds accurately, Mr. Soll’s points are a good start, but there’s even more that they need to do.

  8. We have friends who built a DADU in their backyard in Ballard who planned to live in the new very upscale tiny home they built. Their plans have changed. They are now looking at renting out both the old and new homes on their property in Ballard and moving to the Kingston area. Each home should rent for at least $2500/mo. DADU’s in Edmonds will similarly result in high priced rentals, not low cost housing as being portrayed. As much as we like to put down Seattle and the Ballard NH., the truth is, hundreds of people are wanting to move there. The same is true of Edmonds, but even more so.

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