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Roundtable talks address Everett housing affordability

EVERETT — What can be done to improve housing affordability in Everett?
City Councilwoman Liz Vogeli hopes to foster a public dialogue through meetings on the topic. At these meetings, participants are given equal time and weight for their ideas.
The next meeting will be Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m., again at Vogeli’s campaign headquarters, 8921 Evergreen Way, near the intersection of Evergreen Way and Holly Drive.
About two dozen people came for the inaugural kitchen table-style meeting in mid-August.
There, the most echoed calls were for more density, smaller houses and a general desire for Everett’s housing supply to meet hot demand.
Others suggested rent caps and creative infill measures, albeit those who spoke up for rent control acknowledged that legislatively it may be a long way off. Local rent control measures have been illegal by state law since 1981, except for public housing.
Experts in the room such as Housing Hope’s CEO Fred Safstrom and Jim Dean, the executive director for the Interfaith Association for Northwest Washington, which helps transition families into homes, described a perfect storm in today’s market: Builders paused for about 25 years in constructing affordable housing. Today, Snohomish County is short by about 1,000 units of affordable housing, Dean said.
Meanwhile, small houses were plowed under for bigger houses that cost more to buy. Safstrom suggested using development standards to limit building sizes.
Even so, people at the table said the small houses accessible as starter homes are out of reach to the Millennial generation. People locally are finding it hard to grab a footing.
Complicating the issue is that people in Seattle being priced out are moving north. And, empty-nest Baby Boomers wanting to downsize homes are competing in the same arena; some are able to win deals as cash buyers against younger, less-established people who might need a mortgage or are balancing  old college student loans in their debt portfolio.
“There’s a sword of Damocles hanging over this community’s heads with this money coming in and the ability for (rent) increases,” said Alex Lark, who works for Housing Hope.
The city has an inventory of 4,423 housing units for a low-income population of 23,118 people, from a 2018 report from the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County.
Furthermore, the average income in Everett is a bit over half the county average. Countywide, the average median income is in the $90,000 range for a family of four, but U.S. Census data shows for 2017, the median income in Everett was $54,562.
About half of Everett’s housing is rentals, according to city housing statistics. That’s high compared to county averages, where countywide about one-third of people rent their residence.
Landlords have an upper hand, because even if they increase rent, the hot market means someone will want the space.
But for the general public, this means being priced out. A few people at the roundtable aired frustration having to move every year or so because their rent went up.
And homeowners are not immune. One said that she bought her home during the Recession when housing prices ebbed, and said she certainly wouldn’t be able to afford the same house in
today’s market.
Between the bottom of the market in late 2012 to 2019, the average single-family home price in Everett has escalated from $192,000 to a peak of almost $400,000 this February, according to Zillow.com’s Home Price Index. Prices have cooled slightly since.
The same market index places the median list price per square foot in Everett at $277 for the average house.
Smaller homes mean smaller pricetags.
Resident Paula Townsell said the city can be inventive by supporting cohousing, where families live in individual homes but share facilities such as laundry machines in communal fashion.
Raymond, a person at the meeting, suggested drafting code to allow  a nonprofit in the region that repurposes shipping containers for small transitional housing. The nonprofit is one of a few nationwide doing this.
“I think we need more housing and repair the housing stock we have,” Vogeli said. “It’s no longer an option to build ‘out’ — we need to build ‘in’ to prevent sprawl.”
Vogeli’s campaign managers say the roundtable meetings are unrelated to the fact she is running for re-election.

  

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