High-density housing isn’t coming to Mukilteo

Recently, the City Council adopted a Housing Action Plan. Here’s a primer on what that means.

MUKILTEO — While a recent assessment of the city’s housing needs shows a severe shortage, Mukilteo has no plans to allow high-density housing.

“In the end, it came down to a long conversation and then three very reasonable strategies that we will implement over the coming years,” said Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.

The housing action plan directs city staff to begin working on three goals — updating the city’s comprehensive plan, expanding senior housing options and providing information to the community on existing programs that can help them stay in their homes. The city’s housing action plan, approved by the City Council in June, is a set of recommendations for how the city can increase its available housing. Essentially, it’s the city’s work plan. Its purpose is to outline the city’s housing needs and provide potential strategies for addressing those needs.

The city used a $100,000 state grant to create the action plan, commonly referred to as the HAP. It was prepared by Seattle-based BERK Consulting. The cities of Everett, Lynnwood and Monroe also received grants to create housing action plans.

However, Mukilteo’s housing action plan spurred a contentious, year-long conversation about the future of housing in Mukilteo. Many residents vehemently opposed the city adopting a plan at all, saying they didn’t want the city’s codes to change and allow more high-density housing.

“‘HAP’ is like a swear word in the community now,” Gregerson said. “It has morphed into something that’s not what it ever was. I’m definitely glad that we had that robust conversation all year and I think the three strategies that came from it are very reasonable.”

While earlier versions of the plan included strategies related to high-density housing, the final version did not.

As part of the HAP, BERK Consulting prepared a “Housing Needs Assessment.” Overall, the assessment found that the city is not producing enough housing to keep pace with population growth.

The assessment found the city needs more types of rental housing, more variety of housing sizes and more housing options for older adults. The assessment also notes a lack of affordable housing for the city’s workforce.

Nearly all of Mukilteo’s workers, or 94%, live outside of the city. Wages for Mukilteo’s workforce are expected to decline, even though roughly 40% already earn less than $40,000 annually, the report states.

Earlier versions of the HAP included a list of strategies that recommended the city explore high-density housing options, such as permitting townhouses or duplexes in more areas. However, the city council did not approve that version.

The senior housing option came from community suggestions, Gregerson said. It basically means the city will look at its land use codes or design standards to see how its housing can accommodate seniors.

“Maybe that’s single story (houses), or maybe smaller spaces when folks have a smaller household, but focused on seniors,” Gregerson said.

Gregerson said it may take several years for the city to begin its work related to expanding senior housing options. The city’s first step is to update its comprehensive plan, which state law already requires it to do by 2024. The city will most likely begin that work in the second half of 2022.

The city also expects to provide more information on its website about the eviction moratorium and how people can access rental and mortgage assistance. While the Mukilteo City Council recently approved an advisory ballot measure that will ask voters’ opinions on high-density housing, the outcome does not affect the city’s housing action plan. The city council is not considering a decision that involves high-density housing.

“This advisory ballot measure is not tied to a potential pending decision by council,” City Attorney Daniel Kenney said at a recent city council meeting. “… This is going to be a data point — a resource, a tool — in your discussions moving forward on a range of different topics.”

The ballot measure appearing on the November ballot will ask voters, “Do you think the City should encourage more high density housing to be built in Mukilteo?” The city council approved committee members to write statements and rebuttals for the voters’ pamphlet earlier this month.

Mukilteo City Council member Joe Marine proposed the advisory ballot measure. Marine has previously told The Daily Herald that the purpose is to make residents’ wishes clear to the city council.

“We’re going to be going through the comprehensive plan again,” Marine said in July. “I believe a clear direction from the citizens would be good.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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