The human side of the housing debate: Part 4 — Edmonds at a crossroads

The one issue that generates the most intense discussion in Edmonds is housing. Residents and city officials have debated for years the issues related to how and where people should live — from housing density to homelessness to affordable housing —  and how much the city should help those who struggle to afford to live here.  This is the fourth and final report in My Edmonds News series on our housing debate and its human impacts – It is a story of housing and change; the story of our future. You can read Part 1 of our series here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Main Street in Edmonds looking toward Puget Sound in 1925. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Historical Museum)

A hundred years ago, no one could predict the future of what was a very small town — a village really –where a dozen shingle mills lined the shore churning out cedar shakes. Those smoky mills were the economic backbone of the fledgling downtown located just a few blocks away.

Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum

You can see the mill smokestacks in this photo, above. In 1925, houses clustered in the Bowl; the first cross-sound ferry route had just opened to Kingston and logging trucks rumbled down George Street (since renamed Main Street). Nearby, you could still find Illegal whiskey stills, saloons and roadhouses. The Princess Theater (originally opened as the Union Theater in 1916 and now known as the Edmonds Theater) was only two years old. And Edmonds had elected its first woman mayor, Alice Kerr, by just four votes over her male challenger. In the 1920 census, Edmonds claimed 936 residents.

Main Street looking west from 6th toward the 5th and Main intersection in October 1960. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Forty years later, Edmonds was 10 times bigger but still a small town – 8,000 people – just as the suburban boom exploded on the hillsides above the Bowl. In the next 10 years, Edmonds tripled in size.

Overlooking 5th Avenue South and Maple Street, with Old Milltown in the foreground, in September 1988. (Photo courtesy of Edmonds Historical Museum)

The 1988 photos still reflect a small, compact city. Today, there are 42,000 of us. In the next 20 years, the state’s Growth Management Act predicts that Snohomish County will add another 300,000-plus in population, and that a lot of those people will move into the South County.

Planners who are already updating the Snohmish County Comprehensive Plan anticipate another 14,000 residents will live in Edmonds by 2044. Lynnwood’s population will nearly double – from 38,000 to 63,000. Mountlake Terrace, now at 21,000, will jump to 34,000.

 Where will they all live?

 Edmonds resident’s opinions from our letters to the editor:

  • “How do you want Edmonds to look in 10 years? Don’t let them sell Edmonds down the river.”
  • “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…” 
  • “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.” 
  • “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.”  

 Change is going to happen. Jim Ogonowski, a former member of the city’s 2019 Citizens Housing Commission, told me: “I’m watching the way we struggle; we shy away from the difficult conversations; we want to satisfy everyone but not everyone can be satisfied…”

 (In the interest of transparency, I was also a member of the housing commission. We finished our work and forwarded 15 proposals to the Edmonds City Council. I am not involved in, nor have I commented on, any housing issues since the report was finished in January 2021)

For Ogonowski, the biggest threat to Edmonds’ housing future is the state trying to take local control away from the city. “Let the cities be responsible for land use and housing priorities,” he argues. “The state is trying in one form or another to get through some edicts on zoning policies… and it is taking away local zoning control from the cities.”

A prime example, Ogonowski says, was the city’s attempt to accept a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce to “evaluate missing middle housing.” In return for the $100,000 grant, available to Puget Sound cities, My Edmonds News reported that “Edmonds would have been required to ‘evaluate and consider’ allowing missing middle housing on 30% of lots zoned single family, and also to conduct a racial equity analysis.”

There are several ways to define “missing middle” housing – smaller, more dense housing such as duplexes, townhomes, row houses – similar to what existed in many big cities before World War II. It also means housing for middle-income families — more affordable.

In an earlier city council committee meeting, Edmonds Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin said it made sense to get the grant since Edmonds would have to conduct such a study as part of its 2024 update on the city’s Comprehensive Plan. But Councilmember Kristiana Johnson moved to reject it because “land use planning is a local responsibility,” and the council vetoed the grant.

The Comprehensive Plan is the game changer

My Edmonds News file photo

Like the county, Edmonds has its own Comprehensive Plan. The state Growth Management Act mandates that all communities must update their plans; the deadline is Dec. 31, 2024.

“The (Edmonds) Comprehensive Plan… guides the City of Edmonds decisions on a wide range of topics and services over a 20-year time period.  As the Plan acts as the blueprints for development in the city, it will impact neighborhoods, businesses, traffic, the environment, and you.  The Plan is also meant to reflect the vision and priorities of the city and residents, while meeting the requirements of state and federal law.”

                                    Edmonds Planning Division – from the Comprehensive Plan

The city has launched its efforts to revise the plan here. On that website, you can take a survey to tell planners what is important to you.

Edmonds at a crossroads

The dilemma — how can this community maintain the sense of small town that makes it unique and appealing, and still make room for thousands more people who will move into Edmonds in the next 20 years? And will this city encourage housing that is still affordable for young families, or those with a lower or middle income, seniors who want to keep their homes, veterans and those with disabilities?

The flashpoint for any housing discussion is single-family zoning. City data shows that 70% of the existing homes in the city are single family.

In the last legislative session, Washington state lawmakers scuttled two housing bills that could have changed that. One would have allowed development statewide of up to six-unit housing within a half-mile walk of major transit stops in cities with a population of 20,000 or more. In Edmonds, that would have included the downtown ferry terminal and Sounder train station, as well as Community Transit’s Swift line bus stops along portions of Highway 99. The measures also would have approved construction of duplexes and triplexes in many other Edmonds neighborhoods that are currently zoned single-family only. The bills would have required cities to update their comprehensive plans to accommodate the multi-family units.

The city prepared a zoning map showing the impact of potential changes if the bills passed. Since they failed, that map was never publicly released.

My Edmonds News readers’ reactions to that idea:

“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.”

“Affordable housing, “missing middle” housing is unattainable in Edmonds. The privileged elite running this city have sent a clear message – only the rich are issued permits and allowed to build homes here. They discourage rather than encourage affordable housing efforts.”

The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) has consistently championed single-family housing and challenged any perceived threat to it. In a February letter to the editor in My Edmonds News, ACE President Michelle Dotsch warned that those bills would not increase affordability or housing equity and would “push massive increases in density that remove land use decisions from local control without a holistic approach to environmental, topographical, or infrastructure needs.”

Housing advocates countered that the failed bills supported “missing middle housing” that all communities need to accommodate inevitable growth. Former Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission member Jess Blanch, an architect and affordable housing supporter, in a previous story, said that ACE’s position on the environmental impact is wrong.

Jess Blanch

“The alternative to allowing more housing options close to job centers is continued sprawl in the exurbs, which destroys wildlife habitat and contributes to climate change by requiring people to drive long distances to jobs in greenhouse gas-emitting traffic,” Blanch said in a February interview.

“Ultimately, we are in a massive housing crisis,” Blanch added. “There are just not enough homes for all of the people already here… while allowing middle housing types will not solve the crisis on its own, it’s an important part of the solution.”

 In 2020, the Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Task Force (HART) released a report “that identifies priorities for County and City governments to accelerate our collective ability to meet the affordable housing needs of all County residents and sets a foundation for continued success through 2050.”

HART report recommendations for affordable housing countywide:

– Promote housing growth and diversity of housing types at all levels of affordability

– Preserve existing housing (which is) at risk of rapid rent increases or redevelopment balanced with the need for more density.

– Increase housing density along transit corridors and/or in job centers.

Record-breaking multifamily development

The Hazel Apartments now under construction at 234th Street Southwest and Highway 99 will include 192 units.

Edmonds is having a record-busting year in multifamily applications and projects – 18 projects under construction or in permit review, totaling 1,027 housing units. Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin briefed the city council just two weeks ago.  The number of building permits in the city has gone from just under 200 in 1985 to 1,400 last year.

But only 143 of the new units are labeled “moderate” or ‘low-income” rentals. The 192-unit Hazel apartments at 234th and Highway 99 is nearing completion. Forty apartments there are moderate or low income; the developer receives a multifamily tax exemption from the city for building an apartment that includes those units.

Edmonds has green-lighted most new multifamily housing for the Highway 99 corridor. The focus is on developing a neighborhood where there has never been one. It is part of the city’s major overhaul of the 99 corridor, which is already underway.

 Just a few blocks south of the Hazel, the Apollo apartments project – 251 units — is going through permitting. And near Swedish-Edmonds Hospital, the Anthology project for 192 senior apartments is also on the drawing board.


Pine Park

Downtown is not exempt. This rendering of Pine Park above shows 14 townhomes on the lots that were Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream shop and the Curves exercise studio. Other small condo projects are planned for Bell Street and Dayton Avenue.

Edmonds Way is also a new go-to neighborhood, with four new apartment/condo projects. Among them are Westgate Station next to Kwick ‘n Kleen carwash, and Kisan Townhomes, across from Westgate Chapel.

What about affordable housing?

A total of 1,027 new housing units are in development; the vast majority will be market-rate rentals – whatever the going rate is. Rent Café, an online rental resource, puts the average Edmonds rent in July 2022 for a 767-square-foot apartment at $1,866.  The traditional formula for housing spending suggests it should cost no more than 30% of your income. So, you need an income of nearly $6,000 a month — or $72,000 a year — just to afford average rent.

Edmonds private developers do not build low- or moderate-income apartments; there is no profit in it. Of the 143 new low- to moderate-income rentals planned for Edmonds, 52 will be built by Housing Hope, a Snohomish County nonprofit. That project is the first specifically designed for those coming out of homelessness or looking for stable, affordable housing.

Architect’s rendering Edmonds Lutheran Church/Housing Hope project.

Housing Hope is launching one complex in Edmonds and another in Lynnwood, for Edmonds School District families, just east of 196th and Highway 99. The first is at Edmonds Lutheran Church — 52 apartments. The second — also 52 apartments — for homeless students and their families, will be built on a former ballfield next to Cedar Valley Community School. We profiled these projects in our third report on housing.

There are three other properties currently in Edmonds defined as affordable; they were built years ago in neighborhoods that the city then annexed.

Again, they are nonprofit ventures, owned and managed by the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO), which was originally created to help low-income senior citizens. It has expanded to manage 4,000 housing vouchers, eight programs supporting families, seniors, veterans and the disabled, and it owns 35 properties countywide.

Just last year, the city council approved an agreement to allow HASCO to buy and expand its offerings in Edmonds. There is a need: HASCO says a third of all households in the county pay more than 30% of their income for housing, and a third of low-income households pay more than 50% of income for rent.

Edmonds Highlands, located at 236th Street Southwest and Edmonds Way. (Photo courtesy of HASCO)

This HASCO complex, Edmonds Highlands, has 120 units. Tenants pay full rent, but HASCO says it keeps those rents “the same or lower than similar apartment homes in the immediate area.” Olympic View, on Howell Street, is for seniors who earn 50% or less of the Snohomish County median income ($89,000 currently). It has a waiting list that averages two to three years. HASCO also offers federally supported “Housing Choice” vouchers to lower-income families, which permits them to rent private apartments or homes and they pay no more than 40% of their income.

A ‘Tale of Two Cities’ housing plans

In nearby Shoreline, the city council in April 2022 voted 4-3 to order city planners to study what Shoreline Councilmember Chris Roberts said would “explicitly allow duplexes and triplexes” on property that had been single-family only. Shoreline Mayor Keith Scully said he wasn’t sure it is a good idea to allow duplexes and triplexes on every lot, but added, “studying this to see if there’s a way we can do it without radically changing the city, for me, makes sense.” Like Edmonds, Shoreline is zoned 70% low-density, most of that single family.

Councilmember Roberts called the idea “a natural evolution” for Shoreline. While Shoreline Councilmember Laura Mork said she shares the view that the city must increase density, “… the Planning Commission to my understanding is already working on the cottage housing and the missing middle components of this, and I want to get that done first.”

This duplex/triplex study goes to city planners and includes public hearings; it may be months before Shoreline makes a final decision.

The City of Mukilteo is not planning on adding duplexes or triplexes or low-income housing. Their Comprehensive Plan, revised in 2021, puts it this way:

“The City of Mukilteo alone cannot ensure there is enough affordable housing to meet the needs of all populations residing in the city. Providing enough housing that is affordable to the lowest economic segments of the population is probably the greatest housing challenge facing the city. In fact, it may not be feasible for such housing to be located within city limits due to Mukilteo’s high land values. This is why a regional approach to meeting housing needs is required.”

                                    -Mukilteo 2021 Comprehensive Plan 

Instead, Mukilteo plans to “collaborate” with other cities and public and private agencies to provide low- and middle-income housing outside Mukilteo. The Comp Plan puts it this way: “While the City has the land use capacity to accommodate current and future house demands on the whole, it is not likely the existing and potential housing units will be able to accommodate the housing needs of all populations, especially the “Very Low” and “Low” income sectors of the economy.”

Mukilteo estimates that in the next 20 years, it will fall short by 800 units housing offerings for low- and very low-income families.

Edmonds’ future

Edmonds is trying to map out a housing future. The question: Will it include opportunities for young couples and families, for those with low to moderate incomes, for seniors, the disabled and veterans? With the current development surge, those are decisions that should be considered now. Some people urge that the city complete its Comprehensive Plan update first, then tackle housing questions.

The Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission spent a year and a half investigating options, taking public feedback, and hammering out proposals. In the commission’s first public poll, conducted in February 2019, two-thirds of respondents agreed there was a “lack of affordable housing options in Edmonds — that rose to 89% of respondents who rent.  And 56% of total respondents agreed “there is a lack of opportunities for seniors to ‘age in place’ (afford to keep their homes). But 78% of all those surveyed also felt that “it is important that single-family neighborhoods remain zoned as single family.”

Among the proposals forwarded to the Edmonds City Council: low income and missing middle housing, permitting accessory dwelling units (small homes) on existing single-family lots, increasing affordable multifamily housing in transit and high-density corridors, cottage clusters of smaller homes, using new sales tax dollars for housing support.

The commission sent 15 proposals to the council in January 2021. But the council has voted on only one – the agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County. Consideration of any other proposals has stalled for a year and a half.

An article written by Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin and published by My Edmonds News earlier this month begins this way: “Broad public participation is essential to creating a vision for Edmonds’ future. What do you love about Edmonds today? Looking ahead 20 years, what kind of Edmonds do you hope to see?”

To update Edmonds’ Comprehensive Plan by 2024, the city has launched what it calls a “community-guided visioning process for ‘Everyone’s Edmonds’.” Through September, the city will hold public sessions to help focus the Comprehensive Plan. Here is the lineup:

– Identity: Aug. 8-14

– Quality of Life: Aug. 15-21

– Economic Growth: Aug. 22-28

– Environment: Aug. 29-Sept 4

– Culture: Sept. 5-11

– Livability and Land Use: Sept. 12-18

“Every good plan starts with a collective vision,” McLaughlin noted in her article.

As Edmonds tries to find that “collective vision,” it will be a difficult, emotional, sometimes contentious journey. Whose “vision” will guide the city? How can Edmonds maintain the sense of small town and still make room for thousands more people who will move here in the next 20 years? And will we encourage housing that is still affordable for young families, or those with a lower or middle income, seniors who want to keep their homes, veterans, and those with disabilities?

That brings me back to Jim Ogonowski, the former housing commission member and citizen commentator:

“We are being given an opportunity to be heard on how much we want to change Edmonds,” he wrote. “Some will not want to change at all and others more so. Regardless, voice your priorities (potholes, sidewalks, single-family neighborhoods, whatever) so we can start to create a plan which benefits the community and spends our tax money wisely. We can either be part of the process or let it happen to us in an unplanned, haphazard, and wasteful manner. Either way, it will happen.”

 In the next 20 years, Edmonds will change. Just remember how this city looked 50 years ago.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. What an informative and well put together article on this issue! Towns cannot remain the same forever; they either grow or they decline. Edmonds is fortunate in that people want to live here. There are many towns across the country that have the opposite problem.

    The loudest voices at council meetings, responding to surveys, and writing letters to the editor are not always representative of the majority opinion. Single-use zoning is rooted in racism and classism, and irrational fears along these lines continue to drive opposition to more condos and apartments being constructed in Edmonds. Let’s face it, we will never build enough to make Edmonds truly affordable. Any new condominium or apartment building in Edmonds will likely be populated with the same middle-class people who would have bought a house here decades ago when such a thing was possible. So what’s the fear about? More traffic? Longer lines at the supermarket? Housing growth must go hand-in-hand with infrastructure growth. More and better public transportation options, more places to walk to and making it safe to walk to those places needs to be considered. We won’t solve the climate crisis (or the traffic crisis) unless we get people out of their cars for some if not all of their daily activities.

    1. It is a very informative article. I agree. Single family housing should stay as it is. The new units in progress will bring in literally thousands of people. Figure at least 3-4 or more per unit. So we have many already. Ruining our Tree canopy is not a good idea it is already bad enough. I think a few more where there are adequate roads to allow people to easily get out to main roads is fine. I say NO to state run zoning. I think Edmonds should make this decision. 78% saying no is a lot of our population. There will always be people who want to live in Edmonds WA. That is a fact. Also look at the crime reports here right now. We have a small police staff and they are working as hard as they can. So I say you let people living in Single Family homes regardless of their ages decide what they want. We have owned a home here for 30 years. We have maintained it paid it off and improved it through the years. Planted appropriately and have a great system for the wanted water sheds. Also not everyone drives every day! I have filled my tank with gas 4 times in the last 3 years. We like it at home in our Beautiful yard. We have worked quite hard to make this a lovely garden and asset to our neighborhood all of our neighbors who have also owned a long time. We plan to stay right here and when the time comes hire someone to come in to live as we have the room for that. I wish that people would realize that the traffic is already out of hand here and the speeding and it is not just stop lights. 30% right now is ridiculous. I am sure that homeowners in Edmonds Bowl agree. They too have yards. The cost here is high. It will not change. So we have plenty of time I say slow down or you will destroy our small city.

    2. Why do you believe that “Single-use zoning is rooted in racism and classism”? My husband and I started a family in Edmonds and want our son to grow up a on street where its safe to run across to the neighbors if they need something. Not having to worry that our street is too busy because of traffic that he can’t run across the street or ride a bicycle. Changing all single family zoning comes with many changes to the city’s infrastructure that we don’t have room for on every street or at every intersection. Before we start hitting the fast forward button on allowing multi use developments and multiple family dwellings we need to first grow and expand things like the cities power grid and waste water facilities. I know that the city has invested money and time in how best to grow but they are not even bothering to review and vote on proposals they claimed they wanted. They spend more time arguing about climate change and protecting trees then they do about how to handle the growth of the city.

        1. I think that insisting on equal outcome rather than equal opportunity has led us to the place of people just giving up when they can’t keep up with the people down the street. There are many examples of people who came from low income backgrounds working hard and moved up economically.

        2. CM Laura Johnson,

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems your link is an attempt to educate the citizens as to why you support upzoning at minimum 30% of single family zones in Edmonds. Upzoning will not create more affordable housing in Edmonds. We are number five in the nation on Zillow of most sought after cities to live in.

          Most residents, myself included, prefer that our elected officials carefully listen and respond to the concerns of their constituents, as Council member Buckshnis has done. Elizabeth Fleming has expressed serious, legitimate concerns about the related environmental issues in Edmonds and the importance of a thoughtful approach to housing issues.

  2. My question is what are all these new people going to do? It is estimated that 30% or more of current jobs won’t be around in 20 years. What are the jobs of the future and will Edmonds have them? If there aren’t very many jobs of the future how does the city plan on supporting all these extra people? What is the down side to not having high population growth in Edmonds? My opinion is more people will not improve our quality of life but might diminish it, more growth is sure to require bigger more bloated government and higher taxes. More growth is sure to have greater impacts on our local environment. “You don’t know what you have got until it is gone.” And my leaders are too blind to see.

  3. Edmonds is a very unique location environmentally & topographically speaking. The Bowl is not only a place where we shop & eat, but is also a crucial land feature for stormwater run-off into the Puget Sound and this system is stressed. We have the Marsh that needs our full commitment & attention and there’s the Perrinville Watershed, the health status of which is already unfavorable, causing mud blockages during high rain incidents and hindering salmon and trout passage.
    Edmonds is a proud “Tree City” but will this be the case in the future? Trees support with stormwater processing- older large trees can process upwards of 7000 gallons of stormwater runoff and reduce atmospheric carbon by 30 lbs each per year. Yet even with the new Tree Code, Developers can just pay the fee to remove trees to maximize their bottom line.
    I live close to the 99/104 interchange, the trees not only provide our “view,” they provide a home for creatures and ecosystems to thrive. They are a sound barrier for traffic from the nearby busy arterial roads. I have noticed that the noise pollution has worsened. The fact that there are so many developments projects along the 104 is truly alarming to me. Huge swathes of trees are being destroyed. There are infrastructure challenges and complexities that must be considered in our next CP, particularly as it pertains to how much growth we can actually support. In considering the impact that the GMA growth plan projected for Edmonds, I believe this level of growth could lead to serious environmental damage to Edmonds unless .
    we prioritize the conservation and protection of our current natural land features.
    If we don’t, they will be lost.
    We are the fortunate stewards of this land and we must approach the issue of housing and environmental conservation holistically, not in silos. There is great support for Climate Action and as such, we are all tasked with finding effective & balanced solutions that we can be proud of. Let’s drive innovation in low-impact housing while also committing to protect our very beautiful & important environment!

    1. Good observations, Beth. For the record, Edmonds has always met its GMA requirements. Adding more affordable housing is a great concept but based on the statistics provided – these goals haven’t been met because the MTFE which provides developers a windfall in tax savings should have been challenged to say 40% or unit inventory. Also, what about our aging pipe infrastructure for stormwater and sewer? These are really important elements that are just quietly mentioned as many watch our new $23mm gasification plant be built on 104. And once built – we will be at capacity utilizing the new standards which are needed to keep our Puget Sound clean. So this topic is extremely complex when attempting to balance the environmental needs with housing.

      Excellent series, Bob! Thank you!

      1. I agree with Diane’s assessment of the excellence of these articles by Mr. Throndsen. Also kudos to Diane for her input and knowledge of the complexities of this issue, or many issues really.

        I find it interesting that some here are conflating past and present single family zoning with both overt and covert past and present racism. The zoning didn’t necessarily cause the racism and the racism didn’t necessarily cause the zoning. Redlining had much less to do with zoning and much more to do with corruption in the banking and real estate industries based on ingrained racism in the society.

        For years we have generally defined a single family home in the country or the suburbs as an ideal lifestyle that many would and should strive for. Now, as the population grows exponentially in our generally desirable area, we are starting to question that vision of the ideal lifestyle goal.

        When I visit the newest Costco and Home Depot in Alderwood Mall, I wonder if that is the real vision our town mayor and staff have for our town by the bay? I always feel an urgent need to get the “hell out of here” on the rare occasions I go there.

        There are some real good reasons to maintain all the single family zoning in our town we can, and I don’t care what the skin pigmentation is of anyone able and willing to chose that lifestyle. With the exception of the human race, I suspect Race, in general, is pretty much a myth. We all pretty much function the same way and want the same good things for ourselves and the people we love.

  4. Edmonds Highlands apartments (HASCO owned) have increased rents every years (except 2020) and now consume 100% of my retired monthly income. This property was built 32 years ago and HASCO will only renovate when a renter moves … those of us living there 6-7 years are paying increased rent on non-renovated units!!
    Conserve bills for sewer/garbage/water and has increased over 100% in the past 2 years …the cost has increased to over $90/month for a 1-person unit. There are garbage issues with uncaring tenants, rats on the premises, broken appliances that are not replaced (stoves), electrical issues and general tenant improvement concerns.

    In 2021, there are no Section 8 or rental assistance for seniors.

    1. Christine,

      This is disturbing. The Highlands, as all of HASCO’s properties, is tax exempt so one would hope that the tax savings would be routed to provide lower rents and a better living situation for the residents. Paying all of your retirement income, with rent and utilities continuing to increase, to live in a situation such as you describe is highly concerning. Former CHC member Jim Ogonowski wrote an excellent paper on HASCO’s Edmonds’ properties, submitted to the CHC on 3 September 2020. At that time, Edmonds Highlands was “Managed by a third party.” Given that Edmonds now has an ILA with HASCO I will send a link to this discussion to our elected officials. Perhaps there is something Council can do, given the ILA.

  5. Clinton,

    I support your view. Those new apartments across from Alderwood Mall facing your Costco and Home Depot are priced at $2,000 a month. Not exactly low income rent. Look around Edmonds and see multiple dense housing whether apartments or condos. I do not understand the sense of things being out of control. Just stop accepting permit applications for dense housing projects now!

    The notion that you can live in Edmonds even if you cannot afford to is socialism by another name. Woodway’s zoning seems unfettered by these housing questions. And we all know why.

    1. Woodway is actually a home owner’s association, pretending to be a town. If you look back at the history of their incorporation, you will find that the home owners there had to lower their standards for property size and use to get enough population to qualify their area as a “city.” They got their population number by convincing some of the denser populated adjacent unincorporated property owners that being in “Woodway City” would result in lower taxation than if they were annexed into Edmonds.

      Mayor Haakenson, during his term in office, proposed the idea of trying to annex Woodway into Edmonds and was shot down immediately by Woodway citizens who don’t want Edmond’s problems; but do want the benefits associated with being Edmond’s next door neighbor. I doubt you will see any high rise 800 sq. ft. apartment buildings or condos in Woodway “City” anytime soon, let alone any sort of low income housing.

  6. There is nothing to add to Joan Bloom’s comment regarding housing and CM L. Johnson. I prefer instead to add to the positive feedback for CM Buckschnis. Ms. Buckschnis always listens and responds. She takes into account what she hears from citizens in her decisions. Every time I write she responds with comments or gets appropriate help for me when needed. Whether the topic is housing, budget, whatever, she responds in a timely manner and has done so for a number of years. With Ms. Buckschnis one feels she is listening. This is duly noted and appreciated.

  7. Bob Throndsen,

    Thank you for this housing series. Of the Hazel apartments you stated “Forty apartments there are moderate or low income; the developer receives a multifamily tax exemption from the city on those units.” This is a common mis-conception about the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE). The developer obtains the tax exemption on ALL of the apartments in the building, in exchange for providing 20% so-called “affordable” units. Which is another misconception about the MFTE program. MFTE does NOT provide affordable housing, per RCW 43.185A.010: “Affordable housing” means residential housing for rental occupancy which, as long as the same is occupied by low-income households, requires payment of monthly housing costs, including utilities other than telephone, of no more than thirty percent of the family’s income.”

    MFTE housing is not considered affordable housing per RCW definition, so is not listed when you look up Affordable Housing Edmonds.

    In researching the Henbart Westgate MFTE building in 2020, I learned there were two one bedrooms left to rent and would cost the qualifying person(s) $1395/mth or $1495/mth. Qualifying individuals could have an income of up to 80% or 115% of Adjusted Median Income (AMI). MFTE housing isn’t affordable for those who are significantly below the Snohomish County AMI.

    Section 8 is the only program that provides affordable housing per the RCW definition, but it is difficult to obtain and there is a long waiting list for available units.

  8. All of JB’s information is correct and should be considered as we look for solutions to increase our “affordable” housing supply. Some added information
    1. The legislature has studied the use of MFTE and has recommendations to improve the use of MFTE to add more affordable housing. Those studies point out that discounting a unit to x percent below market rate does create an affordable unit. Some suggestions have been to use factors other than market rate to set the rent on the units.
    2. MFTE forgives that tax for a time period on all the building except the first floor and the land. In the case of Westgate for example, even with the tax forgiveness, the new development produces more taxes than it did in its former use.
    3. Because of the tax exemption (in the future the tax will go to full rate on the whole building and land) the developer has stated the building quality is that of a condo and not of a rental.
    4. Underground parking and Artwork was also included in the project.

    What we should strive for is how can we create more affordable housing using real definitions of affordable housing. Developments take land and lumber. Edmonds has land values that typically exceed other south Snohomish County communities. Land is almost always 50% or more of the cost and in some neighborhoods, it can be 75% of the cost.

    If we can find public land and make it available for housing, we can likely create some “real” affordable housing.

    Thank you, JB, for the MFTE discussion. We can and should do better going forward.

  9. I’m sure some will call me “simple” by making this statement (and yes, I’m clear on the “legal” definition of “affordable” – but affordable means just that… if YOU and YOUR budget can afford it, then it is affordable. If YOU and YOUR budget can’t afford it, it is not affordable.

    I never really understood the lessons my parents imparted on me until later. I’d have a paper route, clean horse stalls, create lemonade stands, and find other creative ways to make money for the things I wanted or the things i wanted to do. And if I wanted something, my dad would ask me, “can you afford it?” That answer was always dictated by what was in my pocket or in my “spending money” envelope.

  10. Darrol, my good friend, you realize, of course, you are advocating “Socialism” in the minds of many who already live here? I don’t disagree with anything you are saying, but the real challenge, in my mind, is to come up with a program that works in terms of the numbers, yet still checks all the necessary political thinking boxes, and that is almost an impossibility given the current political state of affairs here and everywhere else in the country. As long as the solution to every problem we have is subject to either a Conservative or a Liberal litmus test for implementation, the problems will remain with us.

    I know you are a big advocate and activist in terms of our public schools and I think they are about our only hope for the future of some sort of better functioning and equitable society. You (and my more enlightened relatives) have convinced me that I need to once again start voting in favor of all the school levees and bonds. A good education and access to accurate honest information is the only thing that will help our young people live as well or better as we have. Our poor kids now have to compete with AI and strange machines as well as each other for the good jobs and income now available to them. With a college education costing just North of a half million dollars, a car costing 20+ K, and a decent home down payment being in the 50K range on up; the World has to look pretty scary for people just starting out. Looking back, we had it pretty darn good.

  11. Joan Bloom, thank you very much for so clearly explaining this matter! From my reading, the tax burden of those apartments goes to all the residents of Edmonds: whatever tax exemption the owner of the apartments get, is shifted to the rest of the Edmonds residents. We pay for these taxes… so the more of these units are built, the more taxes we will pay for them.

  12. Tricia,

    Thanks for bringing another MFTE issue up. You are exactly correct. MFTE shifts the tax burden to the other taxpayers. The 2016 WA Department of Revenue report states: “While the exempt taxpayer now pays no property taxes, the taxes shift to other taxpayers who pay more taxes due to the increase in the rate.”

    The Henbart Westgate MFTE’s taxes are deferred for 12 years. My recollection is that improvements made to the apartments during the 12 years are also tax free.

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