LYNNWOOD — In the county, thousands of people face increases in rents, while wages remain stagnant.
Census data from 2018 showed that one in every three Snohomish County households paid more than 30% of their income for housing. The median gross rent between 2017 and 2021 in Everett was $1,426, according to the Census.
In a Daily Herald forum held Thursday at the Lynnwood Library, a panel of experts discussed housing affordability and the challenges that come with working toward solutions. Jon Bauer, editorial page editor for The Herald, moderated the discussion.
CEO of Housing Hope Donna Moulton said a lack of housing affordability can lead to a lack of stability for children.
“Children need to be housed,” she said. “If we have any hope of breaking the cycle of poverty, we need to make sure we are giving children opportunities.”
Without a place to call home, children can’t maximize their potential in school, Moulton said. That can impact their development and future success, she said.
One of the biggest challenges to building affordable housing is combating fear from neighbors, said Duane Leonard, executive director of the Housing Authority of Snohomish County.
Concerns from residents about incoming affordable housing units are generally unfounded, Leonard said.
He used Clare’s Place, an Everett housing facility for chronically homeless individuals, as an example. He said when the 65-unit supportive housing facility was being developed in 2019, “the citizenry came out and brought their pitchforks and went to City Council.”
“Now that the building is built, what have you heard?” he said. “Nothing.”
State Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, added multi-family housing does not ruin a neighborhood.
After the last session in the state legislature, dubbed “the year of housing,” panelists at Thursday’s forum still see work to be done.
“In order for us to crawl out of this hole of a lack of housing, we need housing of all types,” said Jerry Hall, executive director of Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 36% of households in the state are renters. Due to that high number, Peterson said passing tenant protection legislation has been a high priority.
For Peterson and other local Democrats, rent stabilization laws can be a way to ensure affordable housing for residents.
In this year’s legislative session, lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would peg rent increases to the rate of inflation, capping the maximum annual increase at 7%.
Unlike rent control, which is illegal in the state, rent stabilization allows for flexibility for property owners and avoids outpricing tenants.
Landlords opposed the bill as well as Republican lawmakers. It failed.
But Peterson said landlords should like the bill as a cost-effective way to keep tenants housed in their properties.
He said lawmakers will try again to pass a rent stabilization bill in the next legislative session starting in January.
The problems faced by residents today in the housing market should have been addressed 25 to 30 years ago, Hall said.
“In every step of trying to develop affordable housing, it feels like an uphill battle,” Moulton said.
But local leaders are optimistic for the future.
“There are some bright spots,” Leonard said. “But it all has to be done in partnership.”
Hall emphasized the cooperation it will take to come up with the right housing solutions.
“Think really long and hard about how you vote,” he said. “And making sure that you vote in ways that are going to support housing for generations to come.”