New housing construction is seen along Broadway on Wednesday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

New housing construction is seen along Broadway on Wednesday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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Housing costs, supply are getting dire in Snohomish County

A third of county residents struggle to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, a new report found.

LYNNWOOD — The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Snohomish County doubled between 2010 and 2019, according to a county report released Wednesday.

At $1,889 per month, nearly half the county can’t afford the rent without being “cost burdened” — spending more than a third of income on housing and utilities.

By that measure, you’d need an annual income of $76,000, or the equivalent of three minimum-wage jobs.

The Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Task Force authored the new report. The group is a mix of elected officials, local government staffers, nonprofit leaders and housing experts who assembled to craft a five-year housing plan for county and city governments.

“Too many of our residents are struggling to afford housing,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, who co-chairs the task force. “I launched HART last May to address these issues. I wanted to bring all our local partners together to see what we could do to help.”

It’s not just minimum-wage workers feeling the pinch, too, the report says. One third of residents in the county are “cost burdened.”

“Across the spectrum, there are housing affordability issues,” said Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, a fellow task force co-chair. “We need to get beyond the idea that this is a problem for other people.”

Snohomish County’s housing woes have several origins, the report says.

To name a few, the surging population has depleted the supply of housing, the median household income hasn’t kept up with rents and home values, and the number of low-income housing units has declined.

Across all income levels, the low supply of housing is the biggest issue, Somers said.

To address that, the task force plan pushes for affordable, high-density housing along transit corridors.

Getting the housing inventory back on track requires more than 90,000 new units, just to meet current demand, the report says.

Population estimates project more than 1 million total residents in the county by 2040. To meet that demand, the total climbs to 127,215 additional units. That’s 6,300 new dwellings each year, more than double the current rate.

Selling the benefits of density to residents is another goal for the task force.

“I hear a lot that people don’t like growth, they don’t like density,” Somers said. “Well, we have to manage the people that are coming in. We’ve got to start to change the conversation.”

A declining number of affordable housing units has also contributed to the county’s low supply.

Estimates are that between half to two-thirds of all low-income housing units in Snohomish County — those with rent under $800 per month — disappeared between 2011 and 2017, a Harvard study found.

Developers won’t build new affordable units without government intervention such as tax exemptions, zoning changes and reduced permit and impact fees, the report says.

In Lynnwood, council member George Hurst argued the city should require Northline Village, a 1,370-unit development near the incoming light rail station, to include some affordable housing. The council voted 5-1 to approve the project — without such a mandate.

“It’s a transit-oriented development,” Hurst said. “Like Executive Somers said, that’s what it’s for, affordable housing. We failed there. But the good thing is there’s going to be a lot more (development) in Lynnwood.”

The report also urges cities to take an inventory of publicly owned properties that could be leased or sold to builders.

In Everett, school district land in the Port Gardner neighborhood almost was used for 34 to 50 low- to moderate-income apartments for homeless students and their families.

Neighbors opposed the Housing Hope project and expressed concerns about the development’s effect on their property values. This month, city council members voted 4-1 to ban supportive-housing projects from single-family zones, which includes the Port Gardner site known as the Norton Playfield.

“I’m disapointed in the vote and losing this tool because there’s very few tools in our toolbox when it comes to developing affordable housing,” said Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, a regional task force member. “(Housing) is one of the most urgent issues of our time.”

To spur local development, the report recommends expanding zoning opportunities, expediting the construction permitting process and simplifying development timelines.

Members of the task force plan to lobby the state and federal government for new ways to provide tax exemptions for developers.

“We’re better together,” Smith said. “When we come together as a county and we go down to Olympia or go to D.C., we are now a force to be reckoned with.”

The task force is set to meet again in spring and fall to check on progress.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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