Should county address housing?

EVERETT — There’s an affordable housing crisis in Snohomish County for low- and middle-income families.

That much several candidates for county offices agreed on Thursday at a forum that the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County played host to.

But their ideas for solving that problem were wide-ranging, including ideas such as updating the state’s Growth Management Act and stopping condominium conversions.

County Executive Aaron Reardon had no one to debate.

His opponent, Republican Jack Turk, was a no-show. Turk, a business owner who moonlights as a magician, said he didn’t know about the forum until late last week, when it was too late to cancel a business meeting.

“I have to pay a mortgage,” he said. “Nobody’s paying me to run for office. I’m like everybody else. I’m not paid by the county to go off to meetings and promote myself.”

June Robinson, executive director of the organization, said Turk was invited in July.

“Maybe he didn’t get that message,” she said.

Reardon, along with Bill ­Cooper and Brian Sullivan, ­Snohomish County Council candidates for District 2, which includes Everett and Mukilteo; and Mike Cooper and Renee Radcliff Sinclair, candidates for District 3, which includes Edmonds and Lynnwood, shared their ideas at the forum.

“Housing is the most important social issue we’ll deal with in the next five years,” Reardon said. “We are seeing a host of issues that are coming to a perfect storm in Snohomish County.”

The classic “American dream” of owning a home is no longer viable for many middle-income families, he said. High prices have pushed them out of the market.

Republican Bill Cooper, a former Bainbridge Island police chief, said the county’s budget has enough of a surplus to use reserves to support affordable housing initiatives.

“I would not support another burden for taxpayers,” he said.

Sinclair, a Republican, said she fought to create a county-level housing trust fund while she was a state representative.

“It didn’t go far,” she said, but added that such a fund would allow the county to rely on a solid base for housing dollars.

Sullivan, former Mukilteo mayor and current Democratic state representative, said the county hasn’t exhausted its chances for partnerships between the public and private sectors.

“There are a lot of options we can look at before we think about raising taxes,” he said.

Democrat Mike Cooper, a former state representative, said he would support a tax increase to fund affordable housing as long as the initiative was based on a clear plan. He added that the process of applying for housing grants should be streamlined, and possibly placed in the hands of an independent committee that would answer to the county executive.

Reardon said the state’s Growth Management Act is flawed. While it controls urban sprawl, it contributes to high housing prices, he said.

“I’ve never proposed throwing the whole thing out, but there are inherent challenges,” he said. “There may be some changes and tweaks (we can make) to this legislation.”

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