Emergency shelters, like the Pallet Shelter village on city property that Everett Gospel Mission manages seen here July 29, 2021, could have a faster permit review process under proposed code changes. (Katie Hayes / Herald file)

Emergency shelters, like the Pallet Shelter village on city property that Everett Gospel Mission manages seen here July 29, 2021, could have a faster permit review process under proposed code changes. (Katie Hayes / Herald file)

State laws prompt changes in Everett city rules for shelters

The city is considering revisions to issue permits more quickly for emergency shelters.

EVERETT — State laws passed last year are pushing Everett officials to consider changing city codes that regulate shelters and the number of people who can live in a home.

House Bill 1220 bars cities and towns from banning transitional housing or permanent supportive housing in zones where housing or hotels are allowed. The bill, signed into law at the end of the 2021 legislative session, also protects indoor emergency housing and shelters.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 5235 prohibits cities and towns from regulating or limiting the number of residents in a dwelling.

Everett’s proposed code revisions are mostly minor deletions of outdated categories for housing and adding new definitions. The Everett Planning Commission recommended both sets of changes in 5-0 votes last month after public hearings that did not draw any public comments.

“These are not huge changes,” planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda told the Everett City Council last week.

In response to HB 1220, the city proposes replacing the category of “group housing, temporary shelter” with “emergency housing,” “emergency shelter indoor” and “emergency shelter outdoor.” The Everett Gospel Mission’s men’s shelter on Smith Avenue is an example of an indoor emergency shelter. The Pallet Shelter village it manages nearby on city-owned property is an example of an outdoor emergency shelter.

The city’s proposal also includes adding “temporary extreme weather shelter” and “transitional housing” as categories and definitions. It also would require updates to the “management responsibility plan” section of city code 19.08.200. One revision could require enhanced fire safety precautions, including an evacuation plan and inspections.

A group that runs a shelter already must submit a management plan for the city’s review. Now the city also can require an updated plan if operations at the shelter change.

One major revision is the city can’t dictate its code of conduct for residents in those shelters. Instead, the city can only require that the managing agency have one for its residents. City officials would still review the code of conduct.

Under another change, those seeking to open a shelter would need an administrative use permit issued by the planning director rather than a temporary use permit. Today, the process can take four to five months, Stevens-Wajda said. Keeping that decision in-house streamlines the process.

Appeals would still go to a hearing examiner.

“We’re trying to just smooth the path for these when it’s a well-designed facility,” Stevens-Wajda said.

Accelerating the permitting process could be helpful at a time when the county saw a 10-year high in the number of people tallied during the annual point in time homelessness count.

Emergency shelters are a critical need in Everett and the county, said Galina Volchkova, senior director of housing services for Volunteers of America of Western Washington. The organization runs programs for rapid rehousing, rental assistance and refugee resettlement, as well as a shelter for women with children.

Volchkova said the 98201 ZIP code in Everett has the highest number of housing and shelter calls to 211, a social services help line in the state. The area’s incomes are low compared to the rest of the county, but housing costs are high.

That combination can mean some households pay 60% to 80% of their income on rent and utility bills, Volchkova said. A household is considered cost-burdened when rent exceeds 30% of its income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It’s really obvious that single-parent households would have to work three jobs just to pay rent,” Volchkova said.

Everett is using millions of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward emergency shelters, including at the site run by the Everett Gospel Mission.

City officials also have proposed a second location for emergency shelters on undeveloped city property at Sievers Duecy Boulevard and Glenwood Avenue. Women with children would occupy its 20 units, and Volunteers of America of Western Washington would manage the program.

Snohomish County recently announced its intent to buy a motel on Everett Mall Way and turn it into emergency housing for up to 74 people. Another tentative deal for a motel purchase in Edmonds is up for County Council consideration as well.

To comply with SB 5235, the city is considering deleting its family definition from code 19.04.020. It would also delete definitions for “bed and breakfast house” and “dwelling unit,” while adding “group housing, residential care facility” and “group housing, extended care facility.”

A public hearing and council vote on the code changes was likely for the Aug. 31 city council meeting. Meetings usually begin at 6:30 p.m.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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