Summit finds no quick fix for affordable housing

  • Mike Benbow / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, December 11, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

By Mike Benbow

Herald Writer

Business, governmental and community leaders gathered in Everett on Tuesday in an attempt to bring new energy to solving an old problem — affordable housing is getting increasingly hard to find.

In what was billed as a Snohomish County housing summit, they gathered at the Northwest headquarters of Verizon Communications to look at the extent of the problem and identify the obstacles to fixing it.

While the diverse group wasn’t always in agreement, one thing is clear — it has its work cut out for it.

Consider this from Snohomish County government’s Steve Toy and Lauren Giboney:

  • Home prices here have been increasing faster than household income and the cost of living since 1997.

  • The percentage of home sales affordable to people in low- and moderate-income households has decreased from 38 percent in 1998 to 30 percent in 1999 to 22 percent in 2000.

  • Snohomish County has grown by 30 percent during the past 20 years and typically attracts more than its share of the statewide population growth.

    Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel added another fact: the county’s population is expected to grow by an estimated 120,000 people during the next six to seven years.

    "When you’re talking about our economy and our infrastructure and how we can react, one of the responses is to provide a diverse economy and affordable housing," Drewel said.

    The attendees broke up into five groups and identified issues that were both important and something a coalition of community leaders could do something about.

    They include:

  • Streamlining government regulations and the permit process to lower construction costs.

  • Developing both more detailed area-by-area plans for growth and better overall vision.

  • Paying for more roads, sewers and other services to accommodate growth.

  • Providing incentives to developers to build more affordable homes.

  • Educating the public about the problems and needs.

  • Getting people involved sooner and in more meaningful ways.

  • Providing more resources for people with low incomes or special needs.

    The group plans to go over Tuesday’s work and develop an action plan for addressing the issues and problems.

    A big one, Drewel said, was infrastructure, which he said has been neglected for the past 20 years.

    "The idea that we can save our way to prosperity and pay less and less for infrastructure….," he said. "Unless we can figure out a way to make these infrastructure improvements that is clearly understood, we’ll be back here next year and five years from now and 10 years from now."

    He said Tuesday’s discussions were good and he hoped they’d continue until solutions are found and implemented.

    "What we need to do is take what we know are the facts and engage in this public education process," he said.

    You can call Herald Writer Mike Benbow at 425-339-3459

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