Thousands in county qualify for housing help — but don’t get it

Meanwhile, skyrocketing rent and real estate prices have made it impossible for many residents to afford a home here.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

EVERETT — More than 56,700 households in Snohomish County aren’t receiving assistance, even though they qualify for Section 8 vouchers and income-restricted housing.

The number is likely to increase, Alliance for Housing Affordability Program Manager Chris Collier said.

Affordability is vanishing from the private market.

“We need to have a community discussion about what shelter is,” Collier said Tuesday. “… It’s not for the benefit of other people. It’s for the benefit of ourselves — as a community and as a society. Housing unaffordability, at the scale we’re grappling with right now, really puts (society) at risk.”

Collier works for the county housing authority and heads the Alliance for Housing Affordability. It’s a collaboration that includes 13 cities, Snohomish County and the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO). Last week, Collier presented the initial results of a land use study commissioned by HASCO and the alliance.

The Urban3 study examined the value of land in Snohomish County and modeled the potential tax revenue from different types of property use. HASCO Executive Director Duane Leonard said the Urban3 study is useful for cities in the alliance as they prepare comprehensive plan updates.

“We have to start addressing the issue of higher densities, and those studies really pinpoint the problem right away,” Leonard said. “We’re running out of land. We need to make better land use choices, period.”

Collier’s presentation also compared wage growth with changes in rent prices and home values over the past 20 years.

In 2019, more than 77,300 Snohomish County households qualified for Section 8 vouchers or income-restricted housing. The housing authorities and nonprofits in Snohomish County can only house about 27% of them.

“We are leaving 73% of our qualifying, very-low-income households to figure it out,” Collier told the board. “… There is no way that you can expect your HASCOs, your Everett Housing Authorities, your Housing Hopes, to fix this. It’s impossible, because that’s not the source of the problem.”

In the past two years, only 15% of Snohomish County homes sold for less than $400,000. The number represents fewer than 3,900 single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums that sold in 2020 and 2021.

“The $200,000 home sales were basically gone by 2018 in Snohomish County,” Collier said.

The 2021 median sale price was $682,000 for a single family home in the county. It has risen 116.6% since 2000. In Everett, the median sale price has risen 104%. In Darrington, it has risen 101%.

“This is something that is inescapable,” Collier said. “I also say that to reject the notion of ‘drive until you qualify’” — as in, if you can’t afford a home in one city, hop on the highway until you do.

In essence, Collier said, housing prices have trapped renters.

“Not only is rent rising faster than income, homeownership is getting further away,” Collier said. “The little cherry on top of this awful cake that I’m baking for you is that you’re trapped in that rental, you can’t get out, and you’re paying more per square foot than if you had home equity.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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