King County aims to combat affordable-housing crisis

  • Written by Madeline Coats

Woodinville resident Douglas Pearman expressed concern about the City’s housing strategy at a study session on Nov. 5.

“My family has lived in Woodinville for over 30 years and has witnessed the rapid population growth, as well as the maturation of the downtown city core,” Pearman said.

Between 2–6 a.m. on Jan. 25, nearly 1,000 volunteers spanned across King County for the annual Point in Time Count of individuals experiencing homelessness in 2019.

Pearson said the count found over 11,000 people who were without housing in King County, with over 1,000 of those on the Eastside.

This number does not represent all people experiencing homelessness. 

“The average wait for entry to affordable housing is 3-5 years,” Pearson said. “Interim shelters tend to become a permanent home, which is not the point. Affordable housing is needed.” 

Pearman is Chair of a task force called the Eastside Village Alliance, which spans across Redmond, Woodinville, Kirkland, and Bothell. He wants to site, build and operate an enhanced shelter in an area northeast of Lake Washington. 

“The city of Woodinville needs to come to the table with other Eastside cities and do its part to encourage the construction of affordable housing and address the critical homelessness issue. The gap between ‘livable wage’ and ‘affordable housing’ continues to widen,” he said.

At the study session, King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci shared a presentation about the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force (RAHTF). She serves as the co-chair of this task force.

The RAHTF was created in 2017 in an effort to bring together representatives from King County, the City of Seattle, and other local cities.

The goal of the task force was to develop a regional plan to address the affordable housing crisis in King County. 

The RAHTF concluded its work at the end of 2018 with a final report and five-year action plan, Balducci said.

Participation in the task force included 12 elected officials, a standing panel of 17 members from various communities and stakeholders, and a staff workgroup to provide technical advice on processes and policies. 

Various public education opportunities have been available over the past three years, including a 2017 community meeting with over 200 people in attendance. Three sub-area

meetings took place in Auburn, Bellevue, and Shoreline to allow comments on the draft action plan. Staff presentations to City managers, planners and architects also helped to gain feedback, Balducci said.

“The main finding was that our growth in population and in jobs has been greater than housing production for almost 10 years, and so that gap keeps widening,” Balducci said.

Public feedback discovered that wages have not kept up with the continuously increasing cost of housing. More than 100,000 low-income households may more than half their income for housing costs, she added. 

“We did an analysis that came out with a pretty eye-popping number,” Balducci said. “244,000 homes affordable to people who are earning 80% area median income, which is a pretty high income, would be needed in order to have a healthy housing market.” 

By the time the study was completed in 2018, it was determined that 156,000 homes were needed at that time to ensure a healthy housing market. The number has likely increased since 2018, she said.

The overall goal of the regional Five-Year Action Plan is to eliminate the cost burden for households earning 80% median income and below, with a priority for serving households at or below 50% area median income. 

The action plan has seven areas of goals and recommendations. The first goal aims to create and support an ongoing structure for regional collaboration. The task force recommended the creation of an Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) within the Growth Management Planning Council (GMPC).

The AHC is composed of about 20 members representing government and non-government organizations. The committee’s proposed 2020 work plan intends to establish committee procedures, prioritize equity, develop the data dashboard and reporting systems, increase regional collaboration, create a community engagement strategy and advance committee priorities to produce more homes. 

The second goal of the action plan is to increase the construction and preservation of affordable homes for households earning less than 50% area median income. The task force recommends 44,000 units of affordable housing be produced within the next five years to maintain a healthy housing market. 

The third goal prioritizes affordable housing accessibility within a half-mile of existing and planned frequent transit service, with a particular priority for high-capacity transit stations. This goal would help with traffic digestion as more residents move to eastside cities. 

The fourth goal preserves access to affordable homes for renters by supporting tenant protections. This would increase housing stability and reduce the risk of homelessness. Balducci said approximately 4,000 renters in King County were evicted from their homes in 2017. 

According to the task force, evictions can create barriers to future housing and increase the risk of homelessness, while also costing additional time and money for both tenants and property owners.

The fifth goal aims to protect existing communities of color and low-income communities from displacement. Recommendations include supporting community-led preservation strategies to give people opportunities for growth and redevelopment.

The sixth goal promotes housing growth and diversity by providing a range of affordable costs, more jobs in the area and increased housing connections throughout King County. Balducci said land use and other regulations constrain the private market’s ability to respond to growth in the region. The task force encourages the region to adopt policies that streamline regulations and allow for diverse housing choices.

Lastly, the seventh goal seeks to engage local communities and partners in addressing the urgent need for affordable housing. 

“Implementing any of these recommendations, almost any of them is going to require a significant amount of community buy-in,” Balducci said. “If the community doesn’t see the need or benefit, they are only going to see the impacts of what we are doing on taxes, on growth, on traffic.”

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