EVERETT — Homeless families won’t find refuge in new large developments within single-family neighborhoods anytime soon.
The Everett City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to remove supportive housing as a use in those areas. Councilmember Liz Vogeli voted no, and Councilmembers Jeff Moore and Scott Murphy were absent from the meeting.
The zoning change bars supportive housing, previously defined in city code as multifamily housing, in single-family zones. Instead, those developments can be built in Everett’s multi-family and commercial mixed-use zones.
It ends several months of contentious hearings, meetings and public discourse about an old ordinance that had allowed such development on publicly owned property. Clare’s Place, with 65 units for people who were chronically homeless, was built under the now-scrapped rules.
“When the (former) ordinance goes away, then supportive housing that is single family will always be allowed in single-family zones,” Mayor Cassie Franklin said during Wednesday’s meeting.
A proposed supportive housing development for homeless students and their families along Norton Avenue in the Port Gardner neighborhood pushed the city to back consistent building standards. City council members said they will revisit all of Everett’s zoning designations with an eye on expanding opportunities for supportive housing.
For now, the vote means another delay in housing those students and families. It also restricts future surplus publicly owned property in single-family areas for high-impact housing.
“The door would be closed for even their consideration by your passing this ordinance,” said Housing Hope CEO Fred Safstrom, whose nonprofit was a partner to develop those homes. “That is a regret. I believe that is moving (in) the wrong direction.”
There were 1,266 Everett School District students who experienced homelessness in the 2017-18 school year, according to state data. A partnership between the Everett School District and Housing Hope would have built 34 to 50 low- to moderate-income apartments, with priority given to those students and families.
Housing Hope envisioned several two-story buildings, each containing three to four units at the proposed location in the 75-year lease. The nonprofit applied for city code changes and proposed keeping the street-adjacent buildings at single-family requirements if it could construct larger buildings toward the eastern extent of the property, Safstrom said. One of those large buildings was considered for a 10,000-square-foot early learning center.
“We are essentially voluntarily agreeing to much lower density, lower building heights and fewer uses,” he said.
Several neighbors decried the proposed project. They said they were worried the development would lower their home values, overburden parking and traffic, and deprive them of a nearly 3-acre open field owned by the school district.
Nearby Doyle Park and Jackson Elementary School are each a third of a mile downhill and uphill, respectively, from the Norton Avenue field.
Other city residents rallied behind the housing project as an issue of social justice.
“Where people live has meaning and impacts how they connect with their community,” Angela Di Filippo said Wednesday. “If Everett is going to be successful as it grows, it will need to embrace diversity in regards to the types of housing used, and who is housed where.”
Originally, the housing nonprofit expected to have the design and finance structure ready by July 2021, with construction beginning six months later. With the supportive housing ordinance revoked, Safstrom said the timeline could be extended by a year.
“It comes at a cost,” Safstrom said before the vote. “Construction costs continue to rise. We’ll probably have another 8% in construction costs.”
The nonprofit was prepared for other costs and pre-development expenses “with no assurance that we’ll be able to ultimately complete the project,” he said.
Housing Hope will pursue the project under the current requirements.
“This is an urgent need,” Safstrom said. “We’re sticking with this because we think this is an important project.”