Council hears update on homelessness in Edmonds, reinstates salary commission

Consultant Alicia Koné summarizes the conclusions of her report on homelessness to the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

During a busy Tuesday night meeting, the Edmonds City Council approved an ordinance amending the already-approved 2022 city budget, reinstated the city’s  salary commission, heard a preliminary update on homelessness in Edmonds and received an assessment of the city’s tree canopy. The council also approved a $298,000 change order associated with stormwater mitigation for Civic Park construction.

The homelessness assessment, conducted by Edmonds-based Koné Consulting, updated the report presented to the council in 2019. Presenter Alicia Koné, herself an Edmonds resident, stressed that the updated report includes preliminary conclusions and recommendations and will be followed by a full report in mid-March.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway: While the number of unhoused individuals in Edmonds has gone down over the past few years, the proportion of low-income people experiencing homelessness has increased, especially amongst older adults.

In her 2019 report, Koné reported on the results of four tasks: To estimate the number of people in Edmonds who are either homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless; to inventory services in Edmonds for homeless individuals; to look at existing or potential funding streams that could support homeless services; and to interview other cities about “promising practices” they have implemented to address the issue.

A dozen local homeless residents were interviewed as part of that earlier study, the first step in an Edmonds City Council initiative aimed at addressing homelessness in Edmonds. The council in 2017 allocated $250,000 toward addressing the homelessness issue.

The latest report, Koné said, was aimed at updating the 2019 study to reflect possible impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and related pandemic-relief funds. The study once again worked to identify the type and extent of homelessness in Edmonds, to inventory current homeless services offered in Edmonds and surrounding cities, and to identify both current and potential funding sources to address the issue. The consultant was also asked to again look at best practices from other municipalities.

As part of the update, Koné conducted an online survey of local stakeholders that provide homelessness services, receiving 43 responses.

Data from the 2020 U.S. Census indicates that Edmonds residents are predominantly white (76.4%), have a median household income ($89,229) and tend to be older (45.9 years old compared to the state average of 37.9). The number of residents living alone at 65 and older has been steadily increasing (from 10.5% in 2011 to 14.5% in 2019) and the majority of residents (70.7%) own their own home.

Koné then noted that the majority of Edmonds renters (80%) pay between $1,000 and $1,999 in monthly rent, and that the median annual cost of rent alone in Edmonds ($17,592) is $172 higher than the federal poverty line, which is $17,420 in income for two adults.

The data “begins to paint a pretty bleak picture for people who are living at or below the poverty line who are trying to afford housing in Edmonds,” Koné added.

Regarding the extent of homelessness in Edmonds, the consultants once again used population-level information from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), aggregated by the 98020 and 98026 ZIP codes to get city-specific information.

The total number of DSHS clients for Edmonds was 3,581 but those numbers exclude Medicaid recipients. When factoring in an estimate of Medicaid beneficiaries, the number of Edmonds residents defined as “at risk” for homelessness is 8,802, Koné said.

The solid orange line in this chart shows the actual homeless counts while the dotted line is the trend line, Koné said.

“What we have seen is that although the…numbers of people in Edmonds who have been receiving DSHS services has been declining since about 2012, the percentage of people in Edmonds who are receiving DSHS services in Edmonds, who are homeless, is steadily increasing,” she said. She also pointed to the change in the homeless count — as shown in the above chart — in 2020 and 2021, which is when the City of Edmonds began awarding pandemic assistance grants. “There aren’t enough data points to be able to say with certainty there is a correlation between the assistance payments that were going out the door and the lack of a steep increase (in homelessness),” Koné said. But the city may be seeing “the beginning of some (homelessness) prevention efforts (due to the grant assistance),” she added.

Based on the Census data and DSHS statistics, people of color who are unhoused or at risk of homelessness are overrepresented. Older adults are also at greater risk, she added.

Koné also talked about the common reasons why people become homeless in Edmonds in the first place, citing the results of the online survey with homelessness service providers. Lack of affordable housing is the top reason (69%), with mental illness coming in second at 37% and a rise in housing costs third at 36%. As for why people stay homeless in the city, lack of affordable housing was cited by 63% of respondents, lack of adequate support services (61%) and mental illness (32%).

Similar to the 2019 report, Koné said that “hidden homelessness” was the most prevalent form in Edmonds, according to the survey of service providers. Survey respondents indicated that the majority of homeless people were living in their cars or RVs (69%) or with friends or family (59%). It is not as common for homeless people in Edmonds to be in “visible places like parks or on the street,” she said.

Using data from 211, which takes calls for information and referrals to social services and related help, rent assistance is a top unmet need in Edmonds, she added. Lack of transportation is cited as a barrier to receiving services, and this is likely because there are no homeless shelters in South Snohomish County, with the closest location in Everett. “Transporting individuals in need to Everett for those services is a challenge,” she said.

Later in the presentation, Koné talked about money available for homeless services, noting that survey participants indicated that funds and grants from the City of Edmonds have been a leading source of funding. One future funding source mentioned by providers is Snohomish County’s 0.1% sales tax, approved by the county council in December, to fund affordable housing and behaviorial health services. A total of 82% of funds will be used to build affordable housing and emergency shelter services. “That’s something that, in collaboration with the county, the city might be able to tap into,” she said.

Finally, Koné shared some best practices, including a shared housing program known as HIP in San Mateo County, California that matches individuals and couples seeking housing with people who have a room to rent. In addition, she pointed to a best practice for interagency collaboration in nearby Bellevue, called a CARES model. It includes a response unit with two supervised student social workers on call to respond to assist vulnerable populations. Residents are encouraged to call CARES instead of 9-1-1.

The consultant concluded with the following recommendations:

– Continue to fund the city’s human services department, and consider increasing staffing capacity for regional collaboration, policy development, grant writing, and outreach.

– Prioritize working with the county to create a South Snohomish County emergency shelter with on-site supportive services.

– Pursue agency collaboration by placing DSHS eligibility workers from the Alderwood community service office in the Edmonds human services office.

– Pursue a collaboration with Edmonds College to provide an outreach social worker for the Edmonds human services department, working with Edmonds first responders to provide services to unhoused and others in crisis.

– Create a human services grant program and make biannual grants available to community-based organizations to increase availability of local services, including a home-sharing program like HIP Housing.

– Pursue state and county funding to supplement city general funds for homelessness prevention services.

In other business, the council:

– Approved by a vote of 5-1 (Councilmember Susan Paine opposed), an ordinance amending the 2022 city budget. Councilmember Laura Johnson left the meeting early and wasn’t present for this vote.

– Unanimously approved an ordinance that reestablishes the citizens salary commission, which was disbanded last year, “as a broad concept,” with details to be worked out later. Comprised of citizen volunteers, the salary commission sets salaries for the mayor and city councilmembers.

– Approved by a vote of 5-1 (Councilmember Kristiana Johnson opposed), a change order related to extra work associated with removing water from the Civic Park site, at an additional cost of $298,080. Construction began on the nearly 8-acre Civic Field site last August, and the new park is expected to be complete by the end of this year. The council vote followed a construction update by Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser, who explained that the site requires water removal, extensive grading and the addition of fill material. The city is also required to treat related stormwater discharge, but because a treatment facility wouldn’t fit into the existing Civic Park site, the city is instead treating it upstream at Yost Park — in the same Shell Creek watershed as Civic Park.

– Received an updated tree canopy assessment, presented by SavATree Consulting Group. The report showed that from 2015-2020, the city’s tree canopy actually increased slightly — from 34.3% to 34.6%. However, the consultants stressed that tree canopy and canopy change are not evenly distributed: Some areas of city have 7% tree canopy while others have 97%. Of Edmonds’ total tree canopy, 58% is located on residential land. The consultants also noted that current and past practices impact the distribution of tree canopy — include zoning decisions, the ability of residents to request and advocate for new street trees in their neighborhood, and racist practices of the past. “In order to ensure a just and equitable future in which all of Edmonds’ residents are afforded the advantages that the trees provide, the city should strategically target its planting efforts,” the report concluded.

– Heard the annual report from the city’s hearing examiner.

— By Teresa Wippel


6 Replies to “Council hears update on homelessness in Edmonds, reinstates salary commission”

  1. Last evening, City Council had 15 minutes set aside for the Hearing Examiner Annual Report presentation. After roughly 5 1/2 minutes had passed, the floor was opened for questions.

    I submitted a series of questions via written Public Comment early yesterday morning. I think it reasonable to hope my elected representatives would take full advantage of time available for questions and answers.

    None of my questions were asked.

    Those elected to represent citizens chose to not ask the Hearing Examiner questions submitted by a constituent.

    Councilmember Susan Paine did ask Mr. Olbrechts how the Hearing Examiner is able to stay up and in touch with our local Code Changes.

    Mr. Olbrechts’ answer included that he gets a really detailed staff report a week or two in advance of a Hearing and that staff will point out if there are any new standards that apply there.

    Mr. Olbrechts’ answer opened the door to ask a directly related follow up question – a question I provided yesterday morning:

    What should happen if City Staff and City Attorney knowingly choose to not provide a Hearing Examiner all relevant code sections in front of a Hearing?

    I believe Councilmembers who care about the best interest of all the people ask that question.

    The 2022 City Council choose to not ask any of my questions. With roughly 8 minutes available, Council sat by quietly and let the time available go unused. An opportunity to ask questions and get answers during an Open Public Meeting was wasted.

    I hope the 2022 City Council will improve their conduct. I hope the 2022 City Council will recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interest of all the people.


  2. Why weren’t water removal/ disposal issues addressed when the civic field rebuild was designed ? were the civil engineers and architects unaware that the bottom of the Edmonds bowl tends to be a bit “wet” ? 300K C.O. is quite a bit for something that should have been at least ” somewhat” anticipated. If there were a competent soils report, it should have shown the potential for “significant” mitigation when the project was put out to bid.


    1. Frank,

      You’re asking all the right questions. In fact, I posed these same sorts of questions in a letter to our Councilmembers a few days before the council meeting. Obviously, they can’t bring themselves to challenge city staff and hold them accountable. It’s easier to spend OUR money. Just watch how much more civic field will cost than the original budget. It’ll be an open checkbook.


  3. 1. How much did this tree consulting service study cost? Their recommendation seems like kind of an obvious conclusion that wouldn’t require a study to come to. In other words, the city should encourage planting trees where they aren’t already so everyone can enjoy them. Kind of a given if you ask me; and why pay for advice like that?

    2. I want to thank Susan Paine especially for voting in favor of re-instating the citizen salary commission. A unanimous call by those in attendance on this issue is a good sign for the city I think.


  4. Regarding the Salary Commission, Chapter 10.80 ECC was not repealed until July 15, 2021, the effective date of Ordinance 4223. Prior to July 15, 2021, a Salary Commission of five members had to be in place so it could start meeting July 1, 2021.

    The February 22, 2022 Packet Page 252 shows that 3 terms had expired May 31, 2020 and that the other two terms would not expire until April, 2022.

    A full Salary Commission was supposed to be in place so it could start meeting July 1, 2021.

    This should have not been a surprise to anybody.

    The June 8, 2021 Council Meeting Minutes indicate HR Director Neill Hoyson said there is some time sensitivity related to this decision; if the Council chose to move forward with the Salary Commission in the current code, those vacancies would need to be posted very quickly.

    Why weren’t those vacancies posted long before June of 2021? Why would there be any question about moving forward under current code?

    Following is the motion made to disband the Salary Commission, taken directly from the June 8, 2021 Meeting Minutes. Please excuse the “all caps” as the Motion is in “all caps” in the Minutes:


    The Motion was later restated:


    I encourage interested citizens to read the full discussion in the June 8, 2021 Meeting Minutes. I found it very confusing and still don’t understand what all was being talked about. The result of the discussion was a 4-3 vote to disband.

    I don’t know if anything was done over the next 6-7 months. I also don’t know if the unexpired salary commission terms still stand.


  5. 2019 was a Salary Commission year, just like 2021 was. In early 2019, there were 2 vacancies on the Salary Commission. The city published a Salary Commission vacancy notice in March 2019. There was an application deadline date. The mayor interviewed candidates and appointed two Commissioners. Former Mayor Earling’s appointments were confirmed by City Council on May 21, 2019, for the period 6/1/19 – 5/31/22. This process ascertained a full 5 member Salary Commission was in place to start work on July 1, 2019, as required by Edmonds City law.

    Simple, basic, easy government to administrate.

    In early 2021, there were 3 vacancies on the Salary Commission. This time, the city administration failed to publish a Salary Commission vacancy notice.

    Instead, on June 1, 2021, Mayor Mike Nelson’s administration proposed changing the Salary Commission cycle from every two years to every four years.

    This was not an option available to Mayor Mike Nelson and his administration. His duty was to make sure a full Salary Commission was in place to start work on July 1, 2021, as required by Edmonds City law.

    City Council is our legislative branch of government. If Council had a desire to change the Salary Commission cycle to every four years, City Council would have initiated that legislative effort.

    The Administration’s effort was too late, however. A change like this is subject to referendum, so there was no possible way the requirement that a Salary Commission be in place to start work on July 1, 2021, could be repealed prior to July 1, 2021.

    No worries for City Government. Edmonds City government is very willing to break our laws and stand back and act like it is not their duty to address the illegal conduct.

    The 2015 Edmonds City Council adopted the Code of Ethics on June 2, 2015. The following was removed from the Code of Ethics at the last moment:

    “Follow Washington statutes, city ordinances or regulations in the course of performing duties.”

    Minutes after adopting the Code of Ethics, the City violated a State law for interim zoning ordinances.


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