Editorial: How do we make housing affordable for everyone?

Written by the Herald Editorial Board

To quote one New York gubernatorial candidate in 2010: “The rent is too high.”

What was true in New York then remains true today in Snohomish County, Washington state, and elsewhere in the United States: rents — and mortgages — are too high.

It is clear that with nearly half of Washington state households having to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent or mortgage payments — the level considered “affordable” for housing — these costs are not only high, they are a burden to pay. Other expenses.

A panel discussion sponsored by the Daily Herald Thursday focused on the challenges of providing critical assistance and building an ample housing stock that can help keep rents and mortgages affordable. Additionally, the discussion identified policies and efforts to address assistance and the need for additional housing and proposals for future legislation and programs.

The Herald Forum panel included Duane Leonard, executive director of the Snohomish County Housing Authority; Donna Moulton, CEO of the nonprofit Housing Hope and HopeWorks; Jerry Hall, executive director of Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties; and Strom Peterson, Snohomish County Councilman, State Representative for the 21st Legislative District and Chairman of the House Housing Committee.

Affordability issues can be difficult to see, Leonard said, noting the wide income gap in Snohomish County and the rest of the state. Even as the economy improves and unemployment rates remain low, many families struggle to make rent or mortgage payments while providing other necessities. Leonard said the statistic that jumps out at him is that 43 percent of school children in Snohomish County’s 15 school districts qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“And yet people say, ‘Well, I don’t see the problem.’ You know, they see the problem of homelessness. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Affordable housing “is a much bigger problem.”

Donna Moulton, CEO of Housing Hope, which builds and manages affordable housing for eligible beneficiaries, says the nonprofit sees housing as a human right. It has built and managed about 600 housing units throughout the county, works with families in equity-based homeownership programs, and also runs the HopeWorks job skills training program.

“And we are really proud to be able to do this,” she said. “Unfortunately, when we do it at a rate of 50 to 60 units a year, we’re not making a significant dent in the problem.”

Complicating efforts by the Housing Authority and nonprofits like Housing Hope is a lack of political will to make the necessary policy changes, opposition from the public and local governments to specific housing proposals and a lack of financial investment, Leonard and Moulton said. at home.

Leonard sees hostility as a major obstacle to affordable housing, pointing to past opposition to specific projects in Everett, including a supportive housing complex, Claire’s Place, that was eventually built.

“Citizens came out and got their pitchforks and went to city council meetings, and it was all over the newspaper for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time,” he said. “Now that the building has been built, what do you hear? Nothing, it has just become a normal part of the fabric of the community. None of the fears that were raised and talked about have come true.”

However, neighborhood and city council opposition halted the Hope for Housing project that would have built 44 multifamily units near Sequoia High School, specifically for homeless students and their families.

However, there are investments and changes in the law moving forward that provide hope.

Peterson outlined some of the legislation adopted this year and in previous years that aims to provide more affordable housing and promote the construction of a full range of housing that can help keep rents and mortgages affordable.

He said that among the legislation that has been adopted and is now being implemented are changes that allow duplexes and multiple dwellings in single-family residential areas in cities; simplifying permits; And an $800,000 investment over the two-year budget for the state’s Housing Trust Fund, which provides grants to build multi-family rental housing, first-time homebuyer assistance and other programs.

However, he admits that progress is slow.

“We’re making progress, but it’s not happening fast enough and it’s not happening in a big time,” Peterson said.

This effort to encourage more multifamily housing works against federal tax policy over the past 15 years, which has helped homebuyers in single-family housing but discouraged investments in affordable multifamily housing options, he said.

Recent numbers from the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Board showed that multifamily housing permits fell by about 7,000 units between April and June of this year, while permits for single-family homes increased by 4,600 units, the Washington State Standard reported Tuesday. The state Department of Commerce had previously said that the state would need to build 1.1 million housing units over the next 20 years; Of that number, nearly 800,000 will need apartments and other multifamily housing.

“There is a large portion of our population that will never be in the homeownership market,” Peterson said. “We need to make sure we have the support and allocation of subsidies to make sure we keep people in housing.”

However, changes made to permits and zoning, Hall said, with Master Builders — who represent those with the hammers that will build this housing — offer promise.

“This is an exciting thing. It provides an opportunity to actually build more densely than we had before,” Hall said, noting that the changes will make it possible to build housing in places where it wasn’t intended before.

Efforts to shorten the timeline for obtaining permits are also key to building housing more quickly, Hall said.

“What I hear most often from builders within our organization — and we have 2,500 members — is that the period from the time you buy the land to the time you hand someone the keys is four years. Simply put, it takes two years to permit,” Hall said. “So we’re keen to see “What will happen with the simplification of permit issuance processes?”

Beyond housing supply issues, rental housing costs were also discussed. Although proposed this year, legislation that sought to cap rent increases did not advance. But Peterson said he intends to bring the issue back for further study next year.

However, Hall said there is concern that such restrictions, called rent stabilization, could discourage some from offering homes for rent, working against affordability.

“I think our organization would say, ‘Strom, let’s go get a beer,’” Hall said. “We really see the solution as making sure the supply is there. Show, show, show. We see this as a better solution in the long term.

If, as Moulton and Housing Hope assert, housing is a right for all, then this means a responsibility on government, industry and society to provide ample opportunities to realize this right.

This requires assessing the current conditions that work against affordability, adopting a policy that makes the necessary changes, making the necessary investments to build and providing support that welcomes new families to the neighborhood.

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