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Mike Nelson gets an earful at open house


Last updated 10/4/2018 at Noon

Edmonds City Councilmember Mike Nelson recently announced several open houses to gauge the public’s opinion of the City’s housing strategy, intended to identify how Edmonds can help increase the supply of affordable housing and meet diverse housing needs.

During the first of those meetings, held Monday at the Meadowdale Community Club in Edmonds, Nelson certainly got an earful.

It turns out the draft strategy’s 32 pages devote one-and-a-half pages to homelessness, including the temporary kind. But for the majority of the roughly 50 citizens in attendance, homelessness was issue No. 1.

Citizen after citizen spoke out – frequently with anger – about what they perceived was the City’s catering to the homeless and what that could bring, namely crime, public urination, and drug and sex trafficking from many unwilling to help better themselves.

“I don’t want Edmonds to be in the homeless business,” one attendee said, to clapping.

“Once you start the process, you can’t reverse it,” said another, to even more vigorous applause.

Although Nelson reminded the audience that the housing strategy includes many elements – accessory dwelling units, supporting the needs of an aging population and the middle class, constructing more apartments, and increasing the supply of income-restricted affordable housing – a majority of attendees steered the conversation back to the homeless.

This in spite of the fact that the issue of homelessness is not dealt with at length in the housing strategy, as its main focus is on more general housing options.

In addition, the City has hired a contractor for a detailed study into the needs of the homeless population in Edmonds, with the goal of nailing down options for addressing those needs.

The results of that study, which could be completed this fall, will inform any future actions by the City.

“The purpose of this town hall was to have folks share their thoughts about the mayor's housing strategy, to listen to them, and for our citizens to walk away knowing their voice in this process matters,” Nelson said on Tuesday.

“The most significant concerns expressed were about homelessness and more crime occurring if low-barrier housing is allowed in Edmonds. Other discussions included housing density, the lack of parking for new housing developments, and wanting to know who is paying the true costs for multifamily tax exemption developments.

"There were also frustrations expressed about not wanting our property taxes to pay for affordable housing, and many attendees asked for the housing strategy to be put for a public vote.”

The seven-member City Council will vote on the housing plan after receiving input from Mayor Dave Earling.

Some in the audience complained that information on the plan hasn’t been adequately disseminated to the public.

In fact, there have been two open houses, time for public comment at City Council meetings, and numerous stories in the Beacon and other news and social media outlets.

The mayor and city staff have also written columns on the plan.

Housing plan required

The Washington Growth Management Act requires periodic updates of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which considers how Edmonds is planning for expected growth. Even though, as Nelson said, the city is about “96 percent built out,” estimates call for 5,500 more people by 2035.

The City is updating that plan now. It includes the housing strategy.

In 2017, Earling appointed a Housing Strategy Task Force comprised of nine local housing developers, policy experts, and civic leaders representing the public, nonprofit, and for-profit areas.

Since then, the City has set aside $250,000 that funded the current study to assist with homeless needs; joined the Alliance for Housing Affordability, a multi-jurisdiction organization looking to contribute funds toward selected affordable housing projects; and adopted a plan and regulations that allow more housing in the Westgate and State Route 99 areas.

Still, many at Monday’s meeting frequently returned to what they felt were the plan’s focus on providing aid to the homeless and those with low incomes, which they felt would lead to deteriorating conditions in the city.

One referred to Edmonds Lutheran Church’s Blokable housing on it grounds, which will be managed by Compass Housing. Some units will be free; others will be priced according to income. A social worker will be on the premises.

Some thought that this type of housing would lead to comparisons to Seattle.

“The draft strategy is specific to Edmonds and the challenges faced in our community,” Earling wrote in a column for the Beacon. “It is not modeled on a particular approach taken by another jurisdiction, such as Seattle; our problems are different and demand Edmonds-specific solutions.”

It is important to remember the challenges faced by people seeking housing in Edmonds, Earling added.

The cost of housing in our region has so outstripped any increases in wages that many working people and families can’t afford to live in Edmonds.

“The primary focus of the draft housing strategy,” he said, “is on housing for people who are working or retired.”

The second of Councilmember Mike Nelson’s town halls on the City’s housing strategy is 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, at the Edmonds Senior Center, 220 Railroad Ave, Edmonds. Nelson said he will try to explore other parts of the strategy, but also will give participants the freedom to choose what they want to talk about.


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