Verdant-sponsored meeting looks at connection between housing, better health

Housing in South Snohomish County is “a truly grim picture.” That’s according to one expert who spoke during a Wednesday night meeting organized by the Verdant Health Commission around the questions of where we are with affordable housing, where we need to be and the link between housing and health.

One after another, presenters from South County cities and nonprofits told commissioners that prices are going up, rents are going up, too few housing units are being built, the population is booming and incomes are stagnant. All of this creates an urgent need for a plan.  Since the state Legislature gave hospital districts broad authority to engage in any activities that promote community health, Verdant commissioners are considering what they can do to participate in solving the housing crisis, and thus contribute to community health.

Verdant has approximately the same footprint as the Edmonds School District, and serves about 180,000 people in Edmonds, Esperance, Woodway, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Lynnwood, plus small pieces of Bothell and unincorporated Snohomish County. The Verdant Health Commission is the government overseeing South Snohomish Countys Public Hospital District No. 2. In addition to receiving rent for what is now Swedish Edmonds — the former Stevens Hospital that Verdant leased to Swedish Health Systems — Verdant owns some property in the hospital area, including the Krueger Clinic and the former Value Village property on Highway 99. That rent brings in about $11 million annually, and Verdant also receives about $2.4 million annually in tax dollars for operations and maintenance. Verdant operates a wellness center in Lynnwood that offers a range of health-related programs, and also provides community grants for local health and wellness programs.

Time after time at Wednesday nights virtual meeting, planners and experts emphasized the clarity of the research that shows permanent housing increases health. Children benefit when they have a home, as do people with chronic disease and mental health issues. Society benefits overall. The problem is how to provide enough housing that people can afford.

Meeting attendees first heard from Jess Blanch of the Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit working on housing initiative nationwide.

Verdant, she said, could consider a variety of initiatives. For example, she suggested creating respite housing for post-hospital stays, participating in a national coalition to promote prescriptions for housing, building housing developments with a health element included, or looking for publicly owned, tax-exempt land to develop for affordable housing.

The Director of Human Services for Snohomish County, Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, described the work of the Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce (HART) to create a five-year plan to address the issue. “The challenge is huge: South County will have a million-plus people by 2040 and the cost of housing is rising much faster than incomes,” she said. “Teachers, nurses, firefighters, all struggle to afford housing here.” The two most expensive ways to house people are jail and emergency rooms, she said, and “we do a lot of that.”

City of Edmonds Associate Planner Brad Shipley pointed out that a third of all Edmonds residents are cost burdened, meaning they have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing.  The city has a shortage of small units, yet most households are just one or two people. It’s an aging population that wants to age in place. Like other cities, Edmonds is short of housing in the “missing middle” — units that are not single-family detached homes and not multi-story apartments or condos. Townhouses and cottages are among the other options that most cities in this region admit to “missing.” Shipley reviewed the recommendations of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Committsion to the Edmonds City Council, noting that those are still under review.

City of Mountlake Terrace Seniro Planner Edith Duttlinger echoed all those concerns, adding that her city has 65% single-family homes. The city council did vote to allow cottage housing, ADUs, mixed use and townhomes, and she expects more development when Sound Transit’s Link light rail station opens in 2024. “This is a difficult issue,” she said. “There are no easy answers. There are no cheap answers. Sometimes politics makes it all more difficult.”

City of Lynnwood Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth described that city’s five-year Housing Action Plan and recognized they have already activated much of the plan but still have much to do to accommodate a growing and increasingly diverse population.

The region’s diminishing housing stock over the past 20 years. Data source: Washington State Office of Financial Management.

All the experts concurred on one thing: There isn’t a choice between growth and no growth. The choice is between planned growth and unplanned growth, which is very expensive down the road. Shipley had a warning, “If the cities don’t plan for growth, the state will step in.”

Verdant Commissioner Deana Knutsen was struck by the fact that often cities were not able to move forward even though they had all the research and had even done a great deal of planning. At least two presenters mentioned the difficulty of making progress through some challenging political climates in their cities.

“I’m most concerned,” Knutsen said, “about how we make people comfortable and it doesn’t become a NIMBY (not in my back yard) problem.”

Commissioner Fred Langer said he is amazed at the scope of the problem. “This board is keenly aware that homelessness is a marker for health; but the problem is so big, I just hope we, as a community, are up to the task.”

Commission President Bob Knowles ended the meeting by saying there was a lot of review and there will be no next steps for Verdant until they can review and engage the community.

— By Mauri Shuler

  1. Did this event get recorded for later viewing? How many people attended, beyond public officials and staff?

    1. Just checked with writer – no public recording available and there were 24 people on call — mostly officials/participants

  2. What is the data source for “Housing Stock”. There are more housing units per capita in this area than ever. Seattle built more apartments in the last couple years than in the entire last 50 years combined.

    ADU’s are basically bedrooms outside of the home. The home has spare rooms typically. People aren’t downsizing, and big houses are an investment tranche for DINKs (Dual Income No Kids).

      1. Theresa, did you get any information about this? There are no minutes posted for this meeting on the Verdant site. Can you get those too?

    1. Matt, while it is true that there are more housing units per capita now than ever, household sizes have continued to drop, from 3.11 persons/household in 1970 to 2.25 in 2019—families are simply not having as many kids as they once did. It takes more housing to house smaller families.

      The days source comes from a combination of census data and tax assessor data.

      Regarding the statement that “people aren’t downsizing,” I’d say that is partially true. Most are not willing to give up their lifestyle to downsize, understandably. And there are just too few options in the market. I frequently receive calls from longtime Edmonds residents who are looking for options to downsize and age in place. Many, if not most, want to built a detached ADU—which is more like a small apartment than a “bedroom.”

      1. Correction: I should have adjusted my persons/household figures to exclude vacant units. Corrected as follows:

        1970 – 3.29 persons/HH
        2019 – 2.37 persons/HH

        1. Thanks Brad. Living in someone’s back yard apartment/hut is a sub-standard way of living. One wouldn’t raise a family there, whereas the established families that own the main home got married, had kids, the kids moved out, and now there are empty bedrooms with a ADU outside. The chief reason anyone would want an ADU on their property is so that they could keep their big empty nest and pay the increasing taxes with some side-rent.

          We’ve heard of Urban Sprawl; I’m calling the decreased household density and rise of ADU’s “Sub-Urban Sprawl”. Effectively, ADU’s are going to bifurcate society into two castes; 1) those who got a home and were able to raise a family and now how enjoy a large empty nest, and 2) those who are relegated to non-procreation thus reducing the demand for “Housing Stock” (whatever that is). Edmonds basically will have mini-plantations, defined as having a main family that owns a home supported by ADU’s were the workers live. This model was tried some time ago if I remember right.

          The poop smell downtown here (even through there was an MEN article about algae) I think has something to do with our water treatment situation. How is our already taxed infrastructure going to support ADU’s? Commercial, big condo-esque, projects would likely be able to pay the overhead of city-level infrastructure improvements.

  3. Isn’t Verdant really after more compact, high-rise Section 8 housing focused upon forced equity for all???

  4. Well, this sounds like an interesting discussion among some knowledgeable people. I wish I knew about it ahead of time. I’m a member of the Edmonds Planning Board, and I follow housing issues closely; I would’ve tuned in. But unfortunately Verdant didn’t notify the public this was happening. No news release, no article in MEN, nothing visible on the Verdant website.

    I can think of no reason why this housing discussion needed to be kept under wraps, where we only learn about it after the fact. As a public agency, a unit of local government, Verdant needs to better inform citizens about their important events. Think transparency, please.

      1. Can they use $2.4 million of our taxpayer dollars for low income housing? Wasnt this money supposed to go to bonds-which were paid off last December if anybody looked at their budget online. Two Verdant council positions are up for election this year so we should pay attention.

    1. Roger Pence and Sam Walker,

      Since you both expressed interest in this meeting, I searched the Verdant website and found the following information.

      Here is a link to the video of this meeting:

      https://youtu.be/4ggnTlxLJZ8

      Here is the agenda:

      https://verdanthealth.org/wp-content/uploads/boardspecialmeetingagenda081121.pdf

      Here is a link to Verdant Health website:

      https://verdanthealth.org

      You can sign up to receive an e-newsletter, although there was nothing in the newsletter I receive about this meeting, that I recall.

      Here is a link to the August 2021 calendar of events. This meeting was listed as a “Board of Commissioners special meeting” on 8-11-21.

      https://verdanthealth.org/events/

      Here is a link to the Public Hospital District, from which you can find the Board of Commissioners. “The five members of the Board of Commissioners are elected by the voters in the hospital district and govern the Verdant Health Commission.”

      https://verdanthealth.org/about-us/public-hospital-district-info/

      I’ve included this detail, so that the information you need will be easy to find.

      1. Thank you for this good information, Joan. I’ll play the video, but I hope in the future, Verdant can inform the public ahead of time when critical issues such as Housing are up for discussion. Perhaps they need a PIO or a community engagement person, someone who can get out a press release and post on their website homepage. It’s important to get word out ahead of the event..

  5. Joan, the video was posted two days ago and verdant told MEN there was no public video available. Look at Theresas comment above . So where did it come from? Also no minutes posted. Isn’t it a law to post minutes of a public meeting? Other stuff was easy to find.

    1. Just heard back from Verdant: “The meeting minutes will be approved next month, however, we have posted a link to the recording of the meeting on our website. Here’s the direct link: https://youtu.be/4ggnTlxLJZ8 or via our website: https://verdanthealth.org/about-us/public-hospital-district-info/public-meetings/. The intent of this special meeting was to inform commissioners of the current housing needs in our community so they can consider ways Verdant can be engaged in this work moving forward. We hope the recording helps do the same for others in the community.”

  6. The information on the meeting was out there. I received a couple emails about it from the city housing information portal I think. Anyway, I planned to attend but forgot about it. I think I also read something about it in MEN, but can’t swear to that.

    Brad Shipley knows his stuff and he is right that the state will take control of growth planning issues, if the cities don’t. Personally, I don’t see how the city area can absorb great population growth without having some adverse impacts on our quality of life in Edmonds. I notice there is more and more desire from some quarters to have the various forms of government try to control what people can and can’t do with their private property. People favor government control when they think it benefits them personally and oppose it when they think it doesn’t. Systems that are for the benefit and better life of all in the society are few and far between I’m afraid.

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