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City wants part of Avenue D land as way to help bring housing

SNOHOMISH — City leaders want to obtain part of the county’s barren yard on Avenue D and designate it for affordable housing.
City Councilman Steve Dana introduced the idea to colleagues last week. It cracked open the dialogue so much that it led to the council forming a brand-new committee on affordable housing.
Collaborating with county leaders for part of the Avenue D yard is most immediate priority for this new committee, which is comprised of Council-members Dana, Judith Kuleta and Felix Neals. Within City Hall, Mayor John Kartak, city administrator Steve Schuller and others have been holding meetings to discuss affordable housing overall, and last week were gung-ho to contact county officials toward the Avenue D effort.
The county is preparing to sell its nearly 10-acre former public works yard after years of site cleanup. It could be on the market this summer or fall, county project lead Randy Blair said.
Fostering development on the Avenue D yard site has constantly held the city’s interest. The land is the centerpiece to the city’s Midtown development study, for example.
The challenge to the idea will be having the county see “the value of this kind of housing is worth an investment from them too,” Dana said by email.
An April council workshop on Snohomish’s lack of affordable housing motivated Dana, who terms it as “public benefit housing” since housing is no longer “affordable,” to ask around on what obstacles stand. Erase those, and more people benefit.
Dana envisions the city would obtain and then lease the property to a developer, although the idea is in the embryonic stages.
“We believe our options for providing housing for low to medium income families is very limited in the for-profit economy,” Dana said by email. “So serving that demographic will require governments to invest with the assurance that ownership will always be public.”
There are a few factors causing housing to be inaccessible, Chris Collier of the Alliance for Affordable Housing (AHA)*explained to the City Council last month.
Affordable housing, by its formal definition, is housing that doesn’t cost more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income. It’s tough to find considering 1-bedroom apartments in Snohomish rent for $1,450
a month today, from market data Collier presented.
With today’s inflated housing market, entire segments of society can’t pull together the money to swing a house, Collier said. You must be earning $101,000 or more to buy an average home in the Snohomish area, from Collier’s market data. Homes here are just out of reach for individuals with good-paying careers (middle class, two-income households even get stretched.) The average house goes for $500,000 within Snohomish.
“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of important work, and they can’t afford a place to live,” Collier said.
Adjusted for inflation, housing prices shot upward starting in 2014; apartment rent prices went on a similar trajectory. Rental spots
available for under $800 a month evaporated as rent prices rose past that mark.
Pressure from out-of-towners is intensifying the hot market: King County residents priced out from where they live are relocating north and south, as well as transplants arriving for Washington’s job market. Oddly, for the past five years, the housing stock in King County is shrinking, not growing.
In Snohomish County, available housing stock is at an all-time low, Collier said.
Anyone trying to buy a house today can relate: Houses sell as quickly as 10 days, and people are recommended to lump extra thousands of dollars over the asking price to win the sale.
These same buyers may be overextending themselves to clinch their home now before prices climb further. A wave of foreclosures during 2020 will worsen in 2021, Collier said, as people grabbed onto rungs of a metaphorical ladder while it was rising, but for whatever reason — unemployment being a biggie — won’t be able to hang on.
Low inventory means higher prices. It’s simple supply and demand.
The kinds of denser housing that Collier says benefits supply, though, aren’t necessarily being built: Townhomes, duplexes, quadplexes, mixed-use buildings.
Collier describes this gap in housing styles as “the missing middle.”
Snohomish’s total housing stock was around 4,165 units, according to 2019 Census data. Of those, almost one-fourth — 966 — are in multifamily buildings that fit the “missing middle” with between 2 and 9 units. Almost 60 percent of all housing in Snohomish are single-family detached homes.
For new construction within Snohomish from 2006 to 2018, it’s been about a 60-40 split between single family homes and small multifamily buildings. Quantified, there were 312 new single family homes and 215 new multifamily units within multifamily buildings under 49 units* built in that timeframe, Collier said.
Snohomish’s Pilchuck District zoning framework for the east side, and its upcoming Midtown District, both aim to encourage these developments.
A 2018 “state of housing”-style report from HASCO gives multiple suggestions on improving housing stock, including to reduce burdens for developers. Suggestions include to reduce minimum on-site parking requirements for affordable housing and to lower or waive development fees if the developer commits to renting units at reduced rental prices.

In this story, Chris Collier's organizational link was misstated. His primary duty is with the Alliance for Housing Affordability (AHA), an interlocal board that advises the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO).
In the same story, clarification on multifamily buildings is needed. There have not been 215 new multifamily buildings built in Snohomish. There have been 215 units of housing that has been built among new multifamily buildings that contain 49 units of smaller.
The Tribune regrets the errors.



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