Top (L-R): Shirley Sutton, Nick Coelho, Naz Lashgari. Bottom (L-R): Patrick Decker, Joshua Binda, Lisa Utter.

Top (L-R): Shirley Sutton, Nick Coelho, Naz Lashgari. Bottom (L-R): Patrick Decker, Joshua Binda, Lisa Utter.

Housing affordability is top issue in Lynnwood council races

Only one incumbent is running in the races for three seats. Newcomers hope to bring diversity to the council.

LYNNWOOD — Come next year, the city council here will look a bit different.

Only one sitting councilmember is running in the three races. Two campaigners are trying to get back on the council after previous stints. And the rest are trying to bring diversity or new blood to a mostly white and older council.

The top issue facing the city, many candidates said in interviews with The Daily Herald, is the growth coming to Lynnwood. Two of five households in Lynnwood struggle with housing affordability, according to the city’s Housing Action Plan. And Lynnwood’s comprehensive plan projects about 16,000 new residents in the next 15 years, in a city with a current population under 40,000 people.

Ballots were mailed to voters earlier this month. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2. Drop boxes are available until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Shirley Sutton (left) and Nick Coelho.

Shirley Sutton (left) and Nick Coelho.

Position 1

Shirley Sutton, who wants to get back on the council after a couple years off it, is running against local small business owner Nick Coelho. She came in first in the August primary with over 44% of the vote. Coelho had just under 30%.

The median family income in Lynnwood is over $75,000, according to the Housing Action Plan the council adopted in May. The average home price is about $508,000 and average rent is a smidgen over $2,000.

Just under half of the city is made up of renters. Coelho, 34, thinks the council needs more renters like himself.

“I just feel like there need to be people who have conviction, who are actually going to try and fix our housing system,” he said. “We have a lot of problems with affordability… and I feel like all too often we get obsessed with the symptoms of the housing crisis and not the actual root causes and the structures and the systems that got us here in the first place.”

Sutton, 75, said she would advocate for public housing.

“Private development has failed to respond to the market demand for low-cost housing,” she said.

This has delivered high rents and luxury homes targeted at wealthy workers, Sutton said. She argues Lynnwood residents need more housing options.

About half of the housing in Lynnwood is made up by single-family homes, while 39% is multifamily, the HAP reported. Coelho would like to loosen zoning laws to allow for more duplexes and triplexes. He also wants to work with the federal government to bring more low-income housing options to “meet workers where they’re at.” If these changes aren’t made, the city will just “tread water,” he argued.

Without robust action, more people will get priced out and the people left won’t work in the city, Coelho said while sitting in front of a sign reading “Be The Change.”

He also would push to make the City Center development more walkable and less centered around cars. Coelho figures this would bring more living-wage jobs to the city. The City Center project would look to be Lynnwood’s commercial hub as Link light rail arrives in the city in 2024.

Sutton said her top priority would be strengthening the economic base of the city. For example, she would like to create a city department focused on economic innovation.

“Our community is demanding that we get it in order,” she said. “We don’t need another survey. We need action.”

Sutton boasts endorsements from the Snohomish County Democrats as well as the 32nd and 21st District Democrats; Coelho has South County Union Firefighters, outgoing mayor Nicola Smith and three sitting city council members. Sutton has brought in over $7,000 in campaign contributions; Coelho almost $12,000, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission. His total includes $1,000 each from the Affordable Housing Council and the Lynnwood Police Guild.

Naz Lashgari (left) and Patrick Decker.

Naz Lashgari (left) and Patrick Decker.

Position 2

Patrick Decker was appointed to the council in May. Now he’s running for a four-year term against Naz Lashgari, former chair of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission.

Light rail in 2024 is projected to bring tens of thousands of riders to the city every day. Lashgari, who moved to Lynnwood 5½ years ago, wants to ensure that growth is equitable.

“I think it’s a blessing that we are growing,” she said. “But I am an avid believer that with growing pain you have to have patience and you have to make sure you manage the direction that you want the city to go.”

With the DEI commission, she helped spearhead the “All Are Welcome” campaign to show the city’s commitment to being safe for immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ people. Lashgari touted the hiring of Lynnwood’s first race and social justice coordinator this summer as a “first brick for equity.” She would want to “remove barriers and to provide whatever steps (are) necessary to make sure that we can have the equitable outcome.”

“I’m here to be the voice of the people who need to be heard,” Lashgari said. “I want to make sure that they know there is someone in the council that understands their struggles.”

Decker agreed that public safety and the city’s growth are the top issues in the city. He thinks they’re inextricably tied: To bring in new businesses and residents, Lynnwood has to be seen as safe.

A former chair of the city planning commission, he wants multi-use residential housing that includes services and retail nearby, more types of housing options and increased affordable housing. At the same time, he thinks the character of single-family neighborhoods needs to be preserved.

“The worst case is our downtown city center looks like it does today, or perhaps even worse,” Decker said. “If we are unable to attract that investment, we’re going to go backwards. We’re going to be rolling backwards in terms of safety and in terms of quality of life.”

Lashgari noted she wouldn’t have voted in favor of the Community Justice Center development the council passed last month. The $56 million construction contract to build a new police department, jail and misdemeanor court was approved by a 6-1 vote. Lashgari said she would’ve wanted more research to be done, adding there wasn’t enough community involvement. Decker voted for it, saying the current jail is “woefully insufficient.”

Lashgari also said she will advocate for a 24-7 program in the police department to address mental health crises.

Lashgari won the razor-thin primary with just over 35% of the vote. Decker advanced by three votes over former mayor Don Gough.

Decker, who is involved in the city’s Cops and Clergy program, has the endorsement of the Lynnwood Police Guild. Mayor Nicola Smith has endorsed Lashgari.

Joshua Binda (left) and Lisa Utter.

Joshua Binda (left) and Lisa Utter.

Position 3

Lisa Utter was first elected to the council in 1997. Her opponent, Josh Binda, hadn’t been born yet.

Yet Binda, the chair of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, won the primary over the former longtime councilmember by almost 1,000 votes.

Binda, 21, a political science major, said his top priority is affordable housing. He wants to increase renters’ protections and build more units that take into account circumstances other than income, such as being a single parent, a veteran or a person with disabilities.

He also said he would push for a participatory budgeting process to get the city’s residents more involved in Lynnwood’s future.

“We need new perspectives, new voices, new ideas,” Binda said. “And I think I bring that fresh perspective and those fresh ideas and fresh solutions that Lynnwood needs right now.”

While he said he doesn’t have specific aspirations, the college student did mention Congress and the presidency as lofty goals for his future.

Now trying to get back on the council after a dozen years away, Utter hopes to steer the city toward a sustainable future with the coming arrival of light rail.

“Making sure that we have a very welcoming, high-quality city that has good services, that has inclusive and connected neighborhoods,” she said of her vision.

Wary that price hikes could push residents out of the city, Utter hopes to address the “missing middle” in housing with duplexes, triplexes and backyard cottages, or detached accessory dwelling units.

She sees public safety as less of a problem than other candidates. The city must focus on funding mental health services, Utter argued.

Binda has the endorsements of Lynnwood’s current mayor, many Democratic state legislators and the Snohomish County Democrats. Utter has the support of the 32nd Legislative District Democrats, the Seattle chapter of the National Organization of Women and the city’s police department. He has raised over $23,000; she under $5,700.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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