by Luke Putvin
The Housing Affordability Regional Task Force (HART) released its five-year action plan on February 5. The task force was launched in May of 2019 to address housing affordability issues throughout the county.
“I wanted to bring all of our local partners together to help. 14 local cities participated,” said County Executive Dave Somers. Somers also said that the three main issues the task force focused on were outreach/community education, policy/regulatory actions and funding.
Along with Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, Somers presented information from the report. Some of that information included the fact that, while the median household income has risen 18% since 2010, the average price for renting a two-bedroom unit has increased 50%. Additionally, Snohomish County is projected to experience a 26% population increase in the next 20 years. This increase in population will put more pressure on a housing market that already has less supply than demand.
“It’s been an extremely collaborative process, a very difficult process, in my opinion,” said Mayor Smith. “What we realized is that this is a really complicated issue, so we had a lot of partners with us including governments, non-profits and the private sector helping to inform this process and the final report.”
The report focused on all ranges of income, and it shows that there is a shortage of housing in all income levels, not just low-income housing. A lot of that can be tied to the 2008 recession, Somers shared. There were a few years of halted development in the county, and the effects of that are still being felt today.
Snohomish County is tied with King County for requiring the highest wage to afford housing without being cost-burdened. Cost-burdened is defined as spending 30% or more of your income on housing. In Snohomish County, one would need to make about 76,000 dollars a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment without being cost-burdened.
“We need to get beyond the idea that somehow this is a problem about other people, those other people,” Smith said. “It’s a problem for our own families, our own friends, for our kids and for our neighbors.”
Somers shared the key takeaways from the report: housing supply is not keeping up with demand, one-third of households in the county are cost-burdened and there is a lack of middle income, so much so that housing needs to be built at twice its current rate to satisfy the demand.
According to the HART report, there are eight 2020 Early Action items. These include encouraging cities to enter into agreements with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) and the Everett Housing Authority, implementing the state sales tax shift to fund low-income housing as authorized by HB 1406 and lobbying for changes in law that will enable funding to support low-income housing.
However, the most-talked-about item of the list was to foster community conversations about density. The conversation centered around “not in my backyard” individuals, often called NIMBYism.
“That’s a huge issue,” Somers said. “I like to say that there’s two things people don’t like: they don’t like density, and they don’t like sprawl.”
Somers went on to say that growth and population increase in Snohomish County is inevitable. “We have to manage the people that are coming in,” he said. The challenge, he emphasized, is in integrating density well.
Specific to Lynnwood, Council President Christine Frizzell spoke about how the council will address NIMBYism with residents.
“I want people who are concerned with ‘not in my backyard’ to come talk to us now, to be part of the conversation so we can move along together and not get to the five-yard line and have it be a problem,” Frizzell said. “It’s part of a bigger conversation that we need to have as a community. I’ve lived in this community sixty years, and it’s changed a lot. It’s going to continue to change, but we need to be respectful.”
Councilmember George Hurst spoke about his excitement to see the report being presented. “Everyone on the council wants to talk about housing, but the majority of the people wanted to wait until the HART report came out,” he said. In reference to NIMBYism, he said, “It is a difficult issue; I think that we’re going to look at what our codes and zones are doing as far as discouraging not just high density but middle income, and when we learn about what we face with there. Then we’ll have to do community education. Lynnwood’s changing, and we’re going to do our best to protect single family residences.”
To read more about HART and read its full report, visit www.snohomishcountywa.gov/5422/HART