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Everett council makes sudden timeout on homeless housing in neighborhoods

EVERETT — The City Council voted to create an emergency moratorium on developing low-barrier supportive housing in single-family neighborhoods. The measure passed 6-0 on June 12 and will delay a proposed apartment building that would have housed homeless students and their families on a 3-acre site located at 36th Street and Norton Avenue.
The housing would be built by nonprofit Housing Hope after the Everett school board voted last month to approve a 75-year lease of the surplus land to the organization for $1 a year. The plan presented would construct 34 two-story units, helping up to 100 of the school district’s students experiencing homelessness. Last year the district had 1,266 such students.
Councilmembers Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy brought forth the ordinance which now gives the council up to six months to consider issues they feel have arisen from a 2016 change made to city zoning codes meant to clear the way for supportive housing. That revision established rules to allow supportive housing, one rule being that projects must be built on publicly owned lands.
Stonecipher said in an interview that as the liaison to the Port Gardner neighborhood, where the Housing Hope development is proposed, she had heard early on about qualms held by the neighborhood association. She initially thought this project would have to go through a re-zoning process. “Then I realized that this 2016 ordinance actually was very broad reaching and opened it up completely to multi-family in the R-1 zones,” she said.
R-1 zoning is for single family houses only (it’s R-2 and R-3 that allow for multi-unit residential buildings). R-1 zoning is in most of central Everett’s neighborhoods as well as the Rucker Hill region. R-2 is across most of north Everett. The site in question lies in R-1 zoning.
Councilmember Paul Roberts said in an interview that based on the comments of his colleagues when they met to vote on the emergency moratorium, they had all interpreted the original intent of the code differently from how it was actually functioning. “The reason we wanted to address it was because anywhere a project might be on public lands, the basic zoning in essence might not apply and we want to clarify that.”
The moratorium measure at council came two days after an emotional meeting of the Port Gardner Neighborhood Association. Representatives from both the Everett school district and Housing Hope made presentations of their proposed plan and attempted to address residents’ concerns.
Many in the crowd of approximately 100 people spoke out, with a majority expressing reservations if not outright opposition, although there were some voices of support for housing. Residents’ worries included feeling surprised by the sudden announcement of the school district’s plan for the land, anger at the price of the lease and anxiety about how the development could change their neighborhood.
Kathy Reeves, the school district’s director of communications, acknowledged at the neighborhood meeting that advance communication hadn’t been sufficient and said the attendees could expect more engagement in the future.
“This is emotional and we know it,” Reeves said. “I’m going to start by laying it out there that we acknowledge the communications about this was not sufficient.”
Stonecipher said that the moratorium will give the public more chances for input and the time will also allow the council to examine what its definition of supportive housing is and the requirements surrounding it.
She wants to make sure that the city is being consistent with its objectives, including the recently passed Metro Everett plan that increased densities downtown and around the transit center. “I have always been one of the advocates for us planning density in areas where we can accommodate it the best,” she said. “Where we have transportation and infrastructure and all the other things that you need to accommodate high density.”
Ed Petersen, the chief strategic officer at Housing Hope and one of its cofounders, said he is mindful of the civic process and having a healthy debate, but that the six-month waiting period will also put off help for some of the city’s most vulnerable students.
“There is a huge crisis in homeless student housing, their performance in public education and ability to take advantage of this great education system that we have,” he said in an interview. “So, it delays solutions to this crisis situation.”
The school district’s plan for the surplus property was chosen because it would be used for the benefit of students. “We would be able to start providing some stable living situations for around 100 of our homeless students and hopefully help them towards more stable lives, which will help their education,” Reeves said in an interview.
A public hearing on the moratorium will be conducted within 60 days of the June 12 vote.
Roberts feels the 2016 ordinance was opening the door to supportive housing and this timeout will allow them to figure out how to be more clear in that process.
“The city made a commitment to support assisted housing and we are not backing away from that,” he said. “But there needs to be a balancing between the underlying land-use and neighborhood integrity.”
Councilmember Jeff Moore works for the Everett School District as the director of finance and recused himself from the moratorium discussion to avoid presenting a conflict of interest.
The low-barrier supportive housing apartment building which Catholic Community Services is readying to open on Berkshire Drive is not affected by the moratorium, the organization’s housing director Sarah Jayne Barrett said on Friday.

 

  

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