EDMONDS — Nearly 60 percent of jobs in Edmonds pay an annual salary below $40,000 — less than half of the area’s median income, according to the city.
In a town with an average monthly rent of $2,300 and a median house price of nearly half a million dollars, that leaves these workers with few options but to live outside city limits.
“Edmonds used to be a place where a middle-income person could move in,” said Shane Hope, the city’s director of development.
In many other Puget Sound cities, the cost of housing has outpaced incomes. To address housing affordability, Edmonds set out to develop a housing strategy, a set of guidelines and recommendations. But backlash in the community — some at the process, some at adding affordable housing and density, all of it insisting the city not change — has stalled the plan.
A draft of the housing strategy was released last summer. It found the lack of affordable housing makes it difficult for employers to hire and retain teachers, nurses and firefighters.
The proposed strategy recommended increasing the supply of affordable housing, encouraging the development of multifamily units and adding “missing middle”-density housing in the form of duplexes, townhomes and accessory dwellings, also known as mother-in-law apartments.
At the latest public meeting on the topic in January, a tense crowd packed a Swedish/Edmonds hospital conference room.
Mayor Dave Earling told the gathering of roughly 150 the city needed to plan for 5,500 new residents and 1,000 more jobs expected by 2035 in accordance with the state’s Growth Management Plan.
He said Edmonds needs to develop a variety of housing stock but he also tried to reassure the group.
“We are committed to having this small-town atmosphere. We don’t want to have a five- to six-story building in downtown Edmonds,” Earling said. “Starting teachers, which make about $65,000, should be able to live in this town.”
Some in the audience voiced support. Much of the critique was aimed at what was described as a lack of input from residents. The meeting ended with a few voices calling for a moat to be built around the city to prevent new residents from moving in.
Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Edmonds City Council president, agrees with criticisms about the lack of public involvement.
“It blew up because citizens felt they didn’t have enough input,” she said in a recent interview.
Fraley-Monillas said the task force that launched the plan was picked by the mayor and the staff and included few people who lived in the city. She was part of the group.
The task force consisted of mostly affordable housing advocates, a developer, a real estate agent, a reverend and a council member, according to a city website.
“It was people that didn’t live in Edmonds. That really upset a whole host of citizens,” Fraley-Monillas said. “I’m not sure we need a housing strategy. I think it’s caused a whole lot of friction.”
She admits that she probably couldn’t afford to buy in the city today.
“It’s awful that you can’t afford to live in a city you work in,” Fraley-Monillas said.
Instead, she wants to see the city prioritize development along Highway 99.
“The land is cheaper. We don’t need cars to commute,” she said. “You don’t need a strategy.”
The council is considering pushing back the adoption of the housing strategy or eliminating it altogether. Two councilmembers are set to bring forward recommendations for how to proceed, Fraley-Monillas said.
Some councilmembers don’t want to address this before this year’s election, she said.
“We can’t wait ten months for people to get elected and decide this,” she said.
Councilmember Mike Nelson, who is running for mayor, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hope, the city’s development director, said some of the pushback stems from two new projects; the under-construction Westgate Village and the proposed Blokable module housing development on land adjacent to the Edmonds Lutheran Church. Neither one is part of the housing strategy.
When completed, the four-story Westgate Village will be one of the first mixed-use buildings outside the historic downtown area and one of the tallest buildings in town, according to Brad Shipley, an associate planner with the city.
The folks who have inquired about living in the new complex speaks to the need for a variety of housing stock, Earling said.
“These are people from Edmonds who are trying to find a less expensive way to live in Edmonds,” he said. “You have two choices, try to shape the future, or let it happen.”
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lizzgior.