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Snohomish County task force has plan to address affordable housing

Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. (KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)

After months of collaboration, a task force in Snohomish County released a report Wednesday that suggested the region’s housing situation is dire and getting worse.

From 2011 to 2019, rent for a 2-bedroom apartment doubled to an average of nearly $1,900 a month, according to the report.

“Someone needs to make almost $76,000 annually to be able to afford a 2-bedroom apartment,” said Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith. “That equates to $36.52 an hour. Washington state’s current minimum wage is $12 per hour. One would need need to work three full-time minimum wage jobs in order to afford a 2-bedroom rental.”

Smith said there are about 95,000 renters in Snohomish County with careers of all sorts, ranging from mechanics to firefighters to lawyers.

“Their estimated hourly wage is $18.60, which is almost $7 dollars more than the minimum wage, but at that income level, the average renter can afford to pay $967 a month without being cross-burdened by living expenses,” Smith said.

All the usual issues are to blame: the growing population has gutted the housing supply, the median household income hasn’t kept up with rents and home values, and the number of low-income housing units have dropped.

A separate study found the number of affordable units, those that rent for $800 or less, dropped by half to two thirds from 2011 to 2017, and continues to fall.

Developers won’t build new affordable units without government intervention, such as tax exemptions, zoning changes, and reduced permit and impact fees, according to the report.

So what are they going to do about it?

The Snohomish County’s Housing Affordability Regional Task Force, or HART, said it has a 5-year action plan.

Among the top priorities:

• Encouraging local cities to enter into cooperation agreements with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) and/or Everett Housing Authority;
• Implementing the state sales tax shift to local governments to fund low-income housing;
• Lobbying for changes in state and federal law to consolidate and streamline funding to support low-income housing;
• Fostering community conversations about density;
• Engaging private sector stakeholders in helping to find solutions to our housing affordability challenge; and
• Confirming and supporting an ongoing structure for regional collaboration around production of housing across the entire income spectrum.

The task force says it also needs state and federal help, and help from NIMBYs.

“It’s us, right, for the sake of humanity,” Smith said. “When we have this crisis, we have to take care of each other and figure out a way to provide shelter.”

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said another 250,000 people are expected to move to Snohomish County over the next 20 years.

“We’ve got to start changing the dialogue a little bit,” Somers said. “I hear that people don’t like growth or they don’t like density. Well, we have to manage the people who are coming in.”

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott and MyNorthwest’s Stephanie Klein contributed to this report.

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