Updated 9-27-23 to include a correction about a dollar amount HB-1406 annually generates. – MD
The best method to promote more affordable housing development in Sequim remains a work in progress for Sequim city councilors.
They split on a trio of decisions — a draft resolution declaring the lack of affordable housing an urgent situation, an ordinance reducing parks impact fees for affordable housing, and a pledge to Habitat for Humanity’s Sequim project — during a Sept. 11 housing work session.
Councilor Kathy Downer proposed a resolution for staff to draft a declaration that “workforce housing in the city has become an urgent situation and should be declared as such (and) that council acknowledges that housing affects the physical and mental stability of all, and everyone deserves to be housed.”
Her motion continued, “It is our hope that the area agencies will include this resolution with their grant applications.”
It passed 4-3, with councilors Rachel Anderson, William Armacost and mayor Tom Ferrell opposed. A draft declaration tentatively comes back for consideration at the Sept. 25 council meeting.
Downer told fellow councilors she felt the housing crisis was “an emergency situation” and that the public needed to know they were serious about it.
However, Ferrell said he felt the public already knows the council feels they’re serious about it.
“To me, it’s redundant,” he said.
Armacost and Anderson echoed Ferrell’s sentiment.
“It’s stating facts we all know,” Armacost said. “I don’t know if it’s going to move the dial to accomplish a result to go further than where we’ve gone in the past.”
Anderson said “[it] feels like we’ve let the public know housing is one of our priorities … we’re doing everything we can and we’ve said housing is a priority.”
Councilor Vicki Lowe questioned if the public feels the council has a sense of urgency about affordable housing.
“Honestly, I don’t think people think we’re serious about housing because it’s taken us forever to do a moratorium on manufactured housing,” she said.
Lowe added that if a declaration helps agencies receive grant funding, then they should do it.
Initially, Downer wanted her declaration to state the housing issue was an “emergency” but changed it to “urgent” following some councilors’ concerns.
The declaration would be a policy statement, according to city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross, who said the council must be ready to act quickly on the housing issue, and for agencies requesting letters of support for grants if they eventually pass Downer’s declaration.
Impact fee reduction
Downer also motioned for staff to draft a proposed ordinance to reduce the city’s park impact fees by 50 percent through Dec. 31, 2028, for developers building single-family or multi-family affordable homes focused on residents earning up to 80 percent of area median income (AMI).
The motion passed 4-3, with the same voting results as the declaration.
Ferrell said the council voted for a “significant increase” of the parks impact fee earlier this year and was confused about why they’d cut back on it.
“I want to know your commitment to parks,” he said. “I don’t see it.”
Downer said she loves the parks and the reduction would only be for five years.
“It’s the easiest impact fee to waive … I don’t know what’s going to get developers to build,” she said.
For developers, they’re charged a parks impact fee of $5,887 for each single family residence and $6,347 for multi-family residences following a Parks Master Plan update.
Councilor Lowell Rathbun suggested considering city manager Matt Huish’s suggestions from an hour-long video presentation provided for the Sept. 11 work session.
Some of the city staff’s suggestions recommended a donation to Habitat for Humanity’s proposed Sequim property rather than waiving any fees, or waiving up to 80 percent of impact fees or general facility charges.
Huish said city staff need to coordinate with Clallam County to complete an interlocal agreement to use funds from HB 1590, a 0.1-percent sales tax to support affordable housing and related services.
It generates about $500,000 a year, he said, and they receive about $30,000 a year locally from HB 1406 that allows local governments to retain a portion of the state’s sales tax to fund affordable housing construction, provide rental assistance, and other related services.
Downer said she didn’t want to do a pledge or waive fees up to 80 percent “just because we can.”
Anderson opposes waiving fees, she said, because city projects and infrastructure need funding, but she is interested in an interlocal agreement to use the HB 1406/1590 funds “for what they’re meant for.”
Ferrell preferred a $250,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity over waiving fees as he feels it keeps the process simpler, but he ultimately voted against both.
Ferrell said he was reluctant to pledge $250,000 to Sequim School District’s now on-hold CTE building project, but met with those involved and became more confident in the project.
However, Ferrell said he’s concerned about running the city as “we have 8,200 people who want their sewers to be perfect, streets to run well, and those (up to 53) units are going to want the same thing.”
He told Downer she’s choosing the housing emergency over running the city well.
“The reason why developers aren’t building right now is that the market is dead; the market is flat,” he said.
Downer said she’s not proposing the reduction only for Habitat for Humanity.
Lowe stood up to point to a poster in the council chambers and quoted the council’s vision that “Sequim will be a diverse, dynamic City providing an accessible quality of life for all its citizens.”
She said she feels the city has focused on people with the most resources while ignoring certain citizens.
Councilors voted down a proposal in a 4-3 vote from deputy mayor Brandon Janisse to pledge $250,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County for its Brownfield Road Habitat housing project in the city, a project that would create 53 Habitat-built homes.
Anderson, Downer, Ferrell and Lowe voted against it because they either wanted a fee decrease or a donation, not both, or a higher donation.
“Pick one or the other; I can’t do both,” Anderson said.
Lowe reiterated that citizens don’t think councilors are serious about housing, and she wanted the pledge to be higher.
“We don’t have affordable housing in Sequim … and we sit here and say we’re serious, but when it comes time to do something I don’t think we’re being serious,” she said.
Ferrell said that “‘seriousness’ seems like we act like an endowment fund.”
“We’re not a business either,” Lowe said.