Expanding Assisted Housing Supply

This goal area focuses on both expanding the number of assisted rental units and expanding access to home ownership. Here, the jurisdiction is considering the needs of two large groups – those who cannot afford market rents, and those who can reasonably afford to buy a home but may face certain barriers to doing so, or could afford a home with a bit of initial assistance.

What is assisted housing

“Assisted housing” refers to any housing that has units reserved for and affordable to households of certain income levels. “Reserved for” means that there is an upper limit on what a household can make in order to live in the unit, and “affordable to” typically means that the household does not have to pay more than 30% of their income for housing. Those who pay more than 30% are commonly referred to as “cost burdened”.

Assisted housing can be divided into two broad groups by funding type – “Rent-Subsidized” (or just “Subsidized”) and “Affordable Rent” (or “Workforce”). “Rent-Subsidized” properties receive ongoing funding to cover the difference between what households can afford to pay and the unit’s market rent. Here, the subsidy is tailored so households never pay more than 30% of their income. This type of funding is typically required for properties serving the lowest income households. Shelters and transitional housing properties are a subset within this type, explored in more detail below. “Affordable Rent” properties receive an initial benefit of some kind, like a grant or favorable financing (Tax credit and tax exempt bond financing are the most common examples), and, in exchange, set rents for a set portion of units to be affordable to a certain income level. Rents are not tailored to individual households, so a household that earns significantly less than the rent’s income level may still be cost burdened in these properties. This type of funding serves the area between a deep subsidy and market rent, which is why it is often referred to as “Workforce Housing”.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has set income levels to use as a guide for its programs. Income levels are defined by their share of “Area Median Income”, or AMI. For Snohomish County, HUD applies a regional AMI for the Puget Sound region, which also includes King County. To see what this all means in the context of a family of three in Snohomish County, see below:


In the above image, HUD’s income levels are presented along with the major types of assisted housing, with additional specific numbers for context. As shown, Snohomish County’s rental housing is generally affordable to households earning at least 50% AMI. This mark varies from city to city.

While jurisdictions are not likely to provide housing directly, they can serve an essential role in the viability of assisted projects through partnership with providers. As a partner to housing providers, jurisdictions can offer contributions that will lower the overall costs of a project, including granting or leasing land, waiving fees, expediting permitting, and more. Due to the extreme complexity of affordable housing developments, anything that can be done to ease uncertainty and lower costs will make developments much more viable. Jurisdictions may also be able to help coordinate funding sources to make local grant applications more competitive, and provide the political clout to positively influence funding program policies.

Snohomish County Tomorrow’s “Housing Characteristics and Needs in Snohomish County” report (often called the “HO-5 Report”) provides more information on projected demand for new units serving low income households.

While a comprehensive housing planning strategy can help stabilize rents, and encourage housing types that are inherently more affordable, there will likely always be an income level that cannot be served at market rate.

Expanding access to homeownership

While home prices and interest rates have dropped following the recession, many households that could afford home ownership face other barriers – a tight market for mortgages, inability to make a down payment, and more. There are a number of organizations that support prospective new homeowners with education, down payment assistance, and mortgages, including HomeSight and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Other options are discussed in the “Direct Household Assistance” section, linked with other tools below.

Serving Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

The homeless population defies stereotypes and blanket diagnosis and treatment. To just scratch the surface, individuals experiencing homelessness may be fleeing abuse, have mental disorders including substance use disorders, or have simply had a job opportunity fall through in a new city with nothing to fall back on. They could be families, children, teenagers, or single, and of any age.

The “Housing First” model has come to prominence in recent years as an effective method for addressing homelessness. While in the past, homeless individuals would be expected to reach milestones like getting clean before being housed, this model puts housing as the immediate priority. The philosophy is that, once an individual has stable housing, they are much better equipped to face their other challenges.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has outlined the “10 essentials” communities must consider in developing strategies to end homelessness.

Assessing Needs and Performance in this Area

General Resources

Tools in this Category

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