The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

EVERETT — Snohomish County got one step closer Tuesday to approving a plan to create hundreds of affordable housing units with an already implemented 0.1% sales tax.

The county believes the new plan will create 550 affordable housing units over the next five years. It would also make available 150 new emergency “bridge and permanent supportive housing units.” The temporary homes would be similar to the hotels in Edmonds and Everett the county purchased last year.

This would bring the number of emergency housing spaces in the county up to 330. Once opened, the hotels will provide 120 units of emergency housing. Pallet shelters in Everett provide an additional 60.

Two years ago, the County Council approved a sales tax meant to pay for new affordable housing projects. It passed along party lines with a 3-2 vote. The move, authorized by the state Legislature, didn’t require a vote of the public.

The tax went into effect in April 2022. By 2026, the county expects to amass more than $118 million from the new tax.

Along with that sales tax, the county can also use money from a second state-authorized sales tax approved in 2019. This measure generates less money, with just over $10 million expected by 2026. Consumers don’t directly pay this tax, rather it is a tax credit from the state.

With interest, the county will have just over $130 million in new money to use toward affordable housing and behavioral health facilities by 2026.

On Tuesday, a County Council committee approved a proposal on how best to spend this money.

In the proposed investment plan, the county wants to spend $114 million over the next five years.

Here’s how the plan splits up the money:

• More than $92 million to acquire, create and maintain affordable, emergency bridge and permanent supportive housing.

• Of that $92 million, $64 million is set aside for affordable housing and $28 million for emergency housing.

• Another $10 million is earmarked for the construction of behavioral health facilities.

• Over $8 million to pay for the delivery of services, like employment help, child care, education and legal support.

• More than $3 million for the administration of the fund and the evaluation of the investment plan.

• The remainder, about $20 million, will remain unassigned, to account for any changes in the cost of developing the affordable housing units.

Council member Megan Dunn said these are investments the county has never made before.

“I absolutely think this will make a difference,” she said in an interview. “If we want to address homelessness, we need housing.”

In January, the annual point-in-time count recorded 691 unsheltered homeless people and 594 sheltered homeless people across the county.

The planned affordable housing units will serve vulnerable populations, like senior citizens, veterans, people with behavioral health challenges and homeless youth.

“We’ve absolutely failed as a community if we have a veteran sleeping outside on a cold night,” Dunn said.

Council member Sam Low said he wished more of the money had gone to behavioral health causes. Based on guidelines from the state, up to 40% of the sales tax could go to behavioral health. The county earmarked 9% in their investment plan.

He said his constituents want to see their money go into investing in behavioral health, rather than going toward cleaning up drug-contaminated hotels.

The council expected the hotels in Edmonds and Everett to be open about five months after buying them. Over a year later, Low noted, the hotels still aren’t open.

He said meth contamination in both locations is the cause for the delay. The contamination was discovered before the county finalized the purchase of the hotels.

If the county wants to use taxpayer dollars for building affordable housing, Low thinks the timeline needs to be realistic.

With committee approval Tuesday, the new proposal will come to a final council vote Dec. 13.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when the meth contamination in the hotels was discovered.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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