EVERETT — The Everett City Council is considering reversing course and prohibiting supportive housing in single-family residential areas after a proposal to build low- to moderate-income apartments for homeless students was met with opposition by some neighbors.
The recommendation by the planning commission would halt a plan by the Everett School District and nonprofit developer Housing Hope for such a project in the Port Gardner neighborhood.
Earlier this year, the school district declared the lot in the 3600 block of Norton Avenue excess land and agreed to lease the three-acre property to the nonprofit for 75 years.
“Without the option of surplus land being offered at a very low price, there would likely be no opportunity to build affordable housing for extremely low-income people,” said Councilmember Liz Vogeli, who took a strong stance against the planning commission’s recommendation during Wednesday’s night council meeting.
Vogeli related her own experiences of homelessness as a child, saying her family lived in tents and a vehicle for a period of time.
Preliminary plans from Housing Hope called for 34 low- to moderate-income apartments spread across several two-story buildings, each containing three to four units. Families experiencing homelessness with children at Sequoia High School would be given first priority, followed by homeless households with students in the school district.
Many neighbors felt blindsided by the proposal. They criticized the plan which they said would increase traffic along a narrow street, eliminate green space many neighbors use, and not fit into the surrounding neighborhood.
After the initial pushback, Housing Hope began holding meetings to engage neighbors.
The council temporarily halted the project in mid-June placing a moratorium on supportive housing in single-family residential zones.
In 2016, the City Council approved changes to the zoning code that allowed supportive housing to be built in single-family zones, if the land was owned by a public agency. This allowed Clare’s Place to open 65 apartments for chronically homeless people on Berkshire Drive in the Glacier View neighborhood.
Under the amended code the city identified four parcels that could be used for supportive housing.
Councilmember Paul Roberts joined Vogeli in pushing back against the planning commission’s recommendation that would bar such housing.
“I’m more concerned the characteristics of the development fit in with the surrounding properties,” Roberts said.
A majority of speakers during public comment Wednesday spoke in favor of allowing supportive housing in single-family zones. Many cited data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Schools that showed last year the district had about 1,200 students experiencing homelessness.
“This is a unique opportunity to leverage scarce money,” said Bob Jackson, who lives in the Port Gardner neighborhood. “This isn’t a request to build something in the middle of the single family zone, this proposal is right on the edge where single family and multifamily zones meet.”
A few urged the council to pass the planning commission recommendations.
Gregg Williams, who lives a few houses down from the site, said the project would destroy the historic neighborhood.
“Green space will never come back,” he said. “This park means a lot to us.”
The project has another path forward if the city approves a request by Housing Hope to upzone the site to allow multifamily buildings. The change wouldn’t be out of character for the parcel, which is lined by both single-family and multifamily housing.
Councilmember Jeff Moore, who is the executive director of finance for the school district, recused himself from the discussion.
A public hearing on the proposal to prohibit supportive housing in single-family zones, along with changes to code surrounding this type of housing in commercial and multifamily areas, is set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave. The council is expected to take action that night.