City council asks for more community affordable housing options

Staff directed to investigate density, funding alternatives

Sequim city councilors continue to seek affordable housing options as median house prices reach the highest point they’ve ever been and inventory sees record lows.

At their May 24 meeting, councilors directed city staff to pursue multiple short- and long-term options seeking to reduce the housing affordability gap.

Barry Berezowsky, Sequim’s director of community development, said affordable housing is “an extremely complex issue and we’re not going to solve it overnight, if at all.”

“We’re not different from most cities in the country or the world,” he said.

“It’s crazy. I have friends looking to buy a place (but) they can’t even get to a showing before it’s taken off the market.”

Councilors directed staff to look at multiple ideas and options with some including:

• creating a land bank and/or land trust

• investigating options to increase density

• hosting conversations developers about affordable/workforce housing gaps

• using Rainy Day Funds to support development

• investigating infill options

• revealing ins-and-outs of General Facility Charges (GFCs)

The council unanimously agreed to have city staff generate a list of land and homes for sale in the city.

What is affordable?

According to the city’s 2019 Affordable Housing Action Plan, affordable housing is defined as paying no more than 30 percent of one’s gross income (including utilities).

As of early 2019, Sequim has more than 1,700 low-income apartment options, according to the plan.

It also states that of Sequim residents, 61 percent own homes and 39 percent rent; 41 percent of people with a home pay more than 35 percent of monthly income towards a mortgage; and 53 percent of renters are paying more than 35 percent of income for a home.

City staff wrote in their briefing to city councilors that “Many families in Sequim are not able to find housing that does not cost more than 35 percent of their gross monthly income and a continuation of this trend, if allowed to continue, will have grave consequences on our community’s future.”

In January 2019, city councilors voted to approve an Action Plan that considered a number of options to address affordable housing, including:

• establishing different taxing rates for affordable housing purposes

• allowing and encouraging the use of innovative housing products and designs

• deferring permit and planning fees utility charges and impact fees for affordable accessory dwelling units

Discussion

In spring 2019, the Affordable Housing Ad Hoc Committee was formed with municipal leaders and building stakeholders with five meetings held to address issues, city staff report.

Mayor William Armacost said he was part of the committee and participating developers told committee members that city general facility charges were too high when it came to multi-family facilities.

Public Works Director Matt Klontz said it would be “worth staff time to study connection fees to the greater benefit of the community.”

Klontz said, “We’re willing to work hard to figure out.”

He said the last time the city revised the GFCs, overall costs decreased about $670 last year, which he called “a step in the right direction.”

Councilor Mike Pence said Klontz was on the right track with revealing more details on GFCs and “what is all included in these numbers that everyone tells us is a ridiculous number.”

Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell said density must go up along with the quality for professional developers.

“That’s how we resolve the mid-level professional curve,” he said.

“All these band-aids are great. I support them. But the situation is going to worsen.”

He later added that he doesn’t feel the housing dilemma is special to Sequim.

“We’re all screaming the same words,” Ferrell said.

He said to allow for entry-level homes, the city must be sensitive to the costs for developers.

Councilor Keith Larkin suggested the city sit down with developers again.

“I understand there’s a lot of things we can do as a city,” he said. “I believe those answers come from those people who finance those projects.”

Janisse suggested a multi-family tax exception and investigating whether Rainy Day Funds can cover GFCs for affordable housing developments.

Berezowsky said city staff can investigate possibilities for more density in the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update and target areas to consider before bringing back options to city council for further discussion.

Berezowsky said middle income housing that traditionally served new homeowners has been mostly lost so he feels another option could be pursuing infill opportunities.

“I would be looking at opportunities here like (for example) a corner lot that’s the perfect spot for a three-story walk-up apartment that can blend in naturally to the neighborhood,” he said.

Ferrell said this was a great idea.

“We need to identify those (opportunities) and figure out how to market those,” he said. “We’re not going to subsidize our way into the housing market.”

Berezowsky discusses the Action Plan on the city’s YouTube page here.

For documents leading up to the discussion, visit here.

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