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County focuses on housing and homelessness

  • Written by Madeline Coats

The beginning of a new decade is a time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. 

Regionally, King County aims to focus on affordable housing, homelessness and climate change. Locally, the county plans to enforce code provisions for wineries, breweries and distilleries in Woodinville and unincorporated King County.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci presented her State of the County address to Woodinville City Council during its regular meeting on Feb. 4. 

Balducci represents District 6 in King County, which extends north to Woodinville and Bothell. The area also covers Mercer Island, and parts of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. She was recently elected to be chair of the county council.

“As chair, I’ve been focusing on trying to make our council more unified and open,” Balducci said.

Balducci briefly touched on the long, controversial process that resulted in an updated adult beverage ordinance for wineries, breweries and distilleries in Woodinville. She said the county conducted extensive public outreach before the new code was adopted.

“I know there was a fair bit of controversy,” Balducci said. “I think it’s fair to say that there wasn’t a single person who was really happy at the end of it, which I think means we ended up in a place of great compromise. Or you can call it whatever you choose.”

Balducci said the new code has clear definitions, which makes it easier to apply and enforce. The county is in the process of hiring people to implement the code, she added.

“I want to keep in close contact with you all, and the interested parties, to be sure that we’re achieving the outcomes we said we were going to achieve,” Balducci said. “We have to make sure that things are working and if they’re not, then we have to go back and adjust.”

From a regional perspective, her presentation focused on housing, homelessness and climate change. She said housing affordability continues to be a broad issue in King County.

Balducci said staff is working to advance housing policy and funding to ensure there are enough households for people to live throughout the county.

“Our study has found that over 150,000 households in King County are severely cost-burdened, which means they spend more than 50% of their income on housing,” she said. “It means they are just one paycheck, medical emergency or unexpected expenditure away from being homeless.” 

She said the Affordable Housing Committee has recommended several ways to increase housing in King County. In an effort to better record development, there are plans to design an online dashboard to track data and see results. 

“Our goal is to first create 44,000 affordable homes in five years,” Balducci said. “It’s very challenging, but it’s what we really need if we’re going to make any difference.”

The committee is also focused on reviewing new and existing sources of funding to generate subsidized housing for those at lower ends of the income spectrum. She said the county wants to work with jurisdictions to increase and diverse housing choices.

Balducci said there is a growing number of people living on the streets due to increased housing costs, among other reasons. Homelessness remains a challenge throughout the county, specifically in Seattle. 

King County and the Seattle City Council passed an interlocal agreement to create a Regional Homelessness Authority last year. The agreement was adopted in partnership with the Sound Cities Association and will include 12 total members. 

“This is a regional problem that requires regional solutions,” Balducci said. “What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Our system is fragmented and not focused enough on outcomes.” 

East King County is taking action to update emergency shelters. She said Bellevue will soon have a men’s shelter and Kirkland will be opening a shelter for women and families later this year. Redmond’s youth and young adult shelter is already open, she added.

The council is also working with cities to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Balducci said the county will be partnering with local jurisdictions to create a Climate Action Toolkit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions communitywide. 

She said King County will be updating its strategic Climate Action Plan this year. One goal under the current action plan is to plant 1 million trees by the end of 2020. 

Balducci said her last count was 921,111 trees so far. Only 7,889 to go.

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