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Affordable housing gets spotlight in county report

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Cities and the county are wrestling with recommendations from the Housing Affordability Regional Task force (HART) that attempt to match needs with reality regarding affordable housing. 
The group’s five year plan says construction rates are not keeping up with demand for housing in general, and pay rates do not cover what people can afford for housing costs.
One-third of Snohomish County households are low-income. Fair market rent for an apartment in the county was $1,899 monthly in 2019, HART studies said. Low-income is defined as a household earning 60 percent or less of area median income. Without a change in that reality, families will require government subsidies or will seek housing that is affordable, in outlying areas that create a commuting lifestyle. 
Study results have led to recommendations for all cities and the county, with a focus on increasing availability of affordable housing options and strengthening partnerships with nonprofits and other agencies to preserve and develop existing options within the county.
Population growth has increased by 44,265 since 2010, the county website states. In 2010, the population jump was drastic — more than 50 percent, according to www.worldpopulationreview.com.  
Available housing “is not within the range of what those at moderate to low-incomes can pay,” the county website states. Average earnings per 2018 numbers were less than $50,000 annually, World Population Review report said. 
Goals of the Housing Affordability Regional Task Force include the following: 
• Promote housing growth and affordability and diversity of all housing types.
• Identify and preserve existing options for affordable housing that are in danger of increasing in cost.
• Increase housing that is available on transit corridors, to provide housing near affordable transportation options. 
• Complete outreach efforts and increase awareness of housing affordability, and support for action.

Strategies of the task force are split into policy and funding categories. The primary change that opens the door to affordable housing in cities is by making changes in zoning, revising permit requirements and fees, and preserving the abodes already upright and ready for low-income housing by identifying that housing and redeveloping it through partnerships with public or nonprofit agencies. Those actions toward restoring existing housing will “decouple it from market pressures,” the report states.
The study is intended to guide cities on how to approach the issue of affordable housing, in respective areas. The city of Snohomish reviewed data for its own housing challenges in a workshop last week. City council and staff there learned that even first responders do not earn enough to qualify for loans that pay for homes in city limits.
One change to meet the needs of affordable housing demand is to zone for multiple housing types. 
Chris Collier of the Alliance for Housing Affordability made a presentation to the City Council on March 3. 
Types of homes and their market-rate for rent was discussed. Those include studio apartments, which in Snohomish are likely to rent for $1,257 per month. 
“It’s not a Snohomish fix because people will come from Everett or Marysville or Lake Stevens to live here,” said Councilman Steve Dana. “Because we can solve the problem but people will be competing for housing for the people who are already living here.”
In the ‘90s, compliance with the growth management act included a strategy to focus on single family homes, Dana said. He mentioned later in the meeting that the city of Brier decided to flout the wishes of GMA, adding a perspective to his comment. 
“With growth comes a change in the community,” Dana said. He said affordable housing is often discussed, but “affordable housing is not attainable … we are going to have to decide if five-story buildings are acceptable.”
To read the report, go to www.snohomishcountywa.gov/5560/Report

 

  

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