The Washington State Self Sufficiency Report has been released by the University of Washington. The report details how much families must make to meet essential family needs on a county-by-county basis. Additionally, it tracks how the cost of providing for these basic needs on a year over year basis. It will come as no surprise to those in Snohomish County that we have seen the second largest increase in the cost of living expenses in Washington State, second only to King County. At the same time the cost of living has increased dramatically, incomes have lagged, creating a growing challenge to Snohomish County and Washington State residents.
A recent study by Zillow estimated that if rent in Seattle were to rise by 5%, 258 people would be made homeless due to shrinking housing affordability. The full report can be found here.
While the report and its findings are only applicable to Seattle and other cities in the study, it is nevertheless illustrative of how the cost of housing and homelessness are closely associated issues.
At the behest of the Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, the Department of Commerce assembled the Housing Affordability Response Team (HART), with the of examining the housing supply, and ways to alleviate the difficulties encountered by Washingtonians trying to live affordably. The entire report can be found here.
The report’s executive summary gives the following 7 suggestions, expanded on in the body of the report:
1. Provide funding and support to local governments to plan for housing at every income
level, especially for lower-income levels.
2. Provide funding to local governments to assess land capacity through “buildable
3. Provide broad-based education to encourage communities to facilitate the
development of more affordable housing.
4. Seek responsible changes to development-related statutes and regulations to
facilitate housing development. Small changes to statutes such as the Project Review
Act, Subdivision Act, the State Building Code, impact fees, multifamily tax exemptions,
community revitalization financing, and prevailing wage determinations could add up
to make a difference.
5. Provide stable and dependable state funding for housing by providing predictable
funding to the Housing Trust Fund, making document-recording fees permanent, and
encouraging local adoption of local housing levies.
6. Encourage public agencies to consider underutilized publicly owned property as an
opportunity for affordable housing.
7. Continue this work into the future by finding opportunities to collaborate with
existing work groups and projects to carry these ideas forward.
The Urban Institute has published an interactive map that compares affordable housing data across the United States, displaying the affordable rental housing gap and tracking federal assistance for extremely low-income (ELI) renter households by county. America is currently in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, with rents having risen steadily since 2000, while the number of renters needing affordable housing has increased, creating critical challenges for the nation’s low-income households to try to find affordable housing.
In Snohomish County, there are only 40 units of housing for every 100 ELI households. In total, there are 9,005 units for ELI households. In the year 2000, there were 49 units per 100 ELI households, with 6,393 units total. This shows that efforts to build affordable housing for ELI households is working – but growing need continues to outpace increases in supply.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently published an analysis of the FY2017 spending package moving through Congress this week. The analysis looks at issues related to housing and homelessness that receive dollars from federal funds. Of particular interest would be any changes to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs. In 2016, these two programs combined to bring $5.5 million to Snohomish County, earmarked for affordable housing development/retention, as well as general community revitalization. Both the CDBG and HOME programs received the same funding they did in FY2016. Considering both programs were said to be at risk of being totally defunded at the beginning of the year, maintaining status quo funding is a win for affordable housing and Snohomish County.
Read the NHLIC’s full report here, and view a budget comparison here.
Portland, Oregon is rolling out the initial step in an innovative new program where interested homeowners have a small 200 square foot home, built by the city, placed on their property. The homes are fully heated and plumbed, and designed to house an adult and at most two children. Additionally, all residents in these homes would receive the same social services the county delivers to all residents they house. This program’s goal is to address the number of homeless families residing in Portland area shelters. After five years of housing a homeless individual or family, the homeowner takes full ownership of the unit and may use it for their own purposes with no restrictions.
Read more about this program in the AP’s original article, found here.
The Alliance for Housing Affordability recently prepared a memorandum on the issue of Source of Income Discrimination (SOID). You can now read the full report here.
Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) is the practice of a landlord choosing to not renew a tenant’s lease due to their source of income. Often, but not always, the income in question is a Section 8 voucher that the tenant uses to help pay their monthly rent. Other sources of income discrimination are from child support or disability payments. Unless prohibited by city or county law, SOID is legal in the state of Washington.
The City of Everett is moving forward with a partnership with Catholic Housing Services to develop a low-barrier housing facility to serve chronically homeless Everett residents. Mayor Ray Stephanson has written a piece for the Everett Herald that does an excellent job of summarizing the need for low barrier housing while addressing common community concerns with this specific project, along with the plans that paved its way. In his own words, “the people on our streets are Everett residents, and members of our community. For their sake, and for the sake of our entire city, we must take action.”
NPR’s Planet Money podcast has cast its eye toward the “lottery” of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. The episode offers an overview of the program, and breaks the illusion of the “social safety net” in the US – that instead of a cohesive net as an analogy, a “collection of band-aids” may be more appropriate. One young mother also shares her struggle to find housing assistance while not “homeless enough”. (Living precariously with friends, but not yet in a shelter) Highly recommended listening!
In yet more evidence supporting the importance of housing assistance, a new paper from the St Louis Federal Reserve finds that for every year that girls and women between the ages of 13 and 18 live in public housing, adult earnings increase by 9 percent; for each year that their families received housing vouchers, their adult earnings increase by 6 percent.
Last night, Sound Transit presented its draft Sound Transit 3 plan to a packed house at Everett Station. The “ST3” plan includes transit improvements that would be funded through a ballot measure this November, including a light rail connection from Lynnwood to Everett.
While the Lynnwood extension funded through ST2 is scheduled to open in 2023, the extension from Lynnwood to Everett will not open until 2041 under the draft plan, prioritized behind connections from Ballard and West Seattle to Downtown Seattle. At last night’s open house, many local residents and elected officials voiced the need to accelerate this timeline, and prioritize the regional “spine” from Everett to Tacoma. There are several proposals in the works to improve the timeline by as much as 10 years, depending on different options to reach Paine Field. An initiative called “Light Rail to Everett” has also come out of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County to advance this effort. You have until Friday, April 29th to comment on the draft plan before it is finalized in June!
Our growing region faces transit shortfalls nearly everywhere, and a great challenge in prioritizing future investments. In weighing these considerations, the relationship between transportation costs and housing affordability cannot be forgotten, particularly as it affects low income households. While housing costs in Snohomish County tend to be lower than in King County, this is offset by higher commuting costs for many Snohomish residents. According to HUD’s Location Affordability Index, a family earning 50% of the area median in King County could expect to devote 26% of their income to transportation, while a family with the same income in Snohomish County could expect to spend 30% of their income on transportation. As traffic and transportation challenges continue to deepen over the years before light rail and other transportation improvements are complete, we can expect these costs to rise.