Edmonds to involve citizens with new housing commission


Last updated 2/21/2019 at Noon

After hearing from citizens upset at the direction of the City’s draft housing strategy, councilmembers decided to halt the process and look into involving the public and offering more transparency.

On Tuesday, councilmembers took a first step in that direction, doing what it’s done so many times before – it created a commission. The purpose: To outline steps in enhancing housing options for all income levels.

In this case, it’s a housing commission that could include two members of the public chosen by each of the seven councilmembers. The commission members would come from each of the seven districts in Edmonds as defined by the City – the Bowl, Westgate and Highway 99, for example.

“There will be a considerable amount of meetings,” Development Services Director Shane Hope said.

Many citizens criticized Mayor Dave Earling’s original housing task force for its lack of diversity, as it included mostly real estate agents and nonprofit housing groups.

Many focused on what they thought the strategy would bring – more density to a city already mostly built out, as well as problems they associated with low-income and formerly homeless residents offered subsidized housing.

So the City hired Berk Consulting to offer ideas.

But after a disastrous public meeting with citizens, who felt their concerns were pooh-poohed by Berk staff, the City cut ties with the consulting firm after spending $90,000 on the Seattle-based company.

Shortly after, Councilmember Neil Tibbott cited two factors in creating a new commission with more community involvement.

“One is to ride on the momentum that has been built during the housing strategy task force, and harness the energy of the citizen involvement and input. The second is, through a citizen commission, to narrow the focus of what our housing strategy would look like.”

The commission would join others in the City, including the new Youth Commission and Arts, Diversity and Historic Preservation, among others. Commissions hold regular meetings and include volunteer members of the public, as well as City staff or councilmembers.

Councilmembers say they want to clearly identify the task and next steps to develop housing options recommendations to be brought to them that will increase Edmonds’ supply of housing for residents.

“The housing commission would have a very specific focus,” Tibbott said Tuesday. “And the focus would be to develop housing policy options. Once those options are articulated, they would be brought forward to the council in the form of a recommendation. Having a broad range of participants serving in that would serve our city well for perhaps a decade or two.”

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Some citizens complained that the City did not distribute adequate notices on past open houses concerning housing issues, even though the open houses were reported by local media and on the City’s website.

The idea this time around is to send mailings to all Edmonds residents. Money could come out of almost $100,000 in budget reserves, said Councilmember Diane Buckshnis.

It might be awhile before the new commission has its first meeting, as councilmembers must sort through applications when the commission is formally announced. Members would have to learn about city codes and planning processes, among other things, before arriving at specific policy considerations.

The commission would be a separate entity from the Citizens Advisory Committee, which had its first meeting Nov. 8. Hope handpicked the nine members to advise her department on issues and processes that might help rework the controversial draft housing strategy.

The advisory committee had three meetings.

In a separate effort from the original housing strategy, according to Hope, the City Council began a process in early 2018 to study homelessness, with the intent to better identify and assess homelessness needs in Edmonds.

The study is not yet available, but likely will be completed soon, Hope said.

It is tentatively scheduled for council discussion on Feb. 26 and March 5.


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