Comment: 5 steps we can take to build more affordable housing

We have the partnerships and strategies needed to provide more housing. It’s time to get started.

By Alison Dean / For The Herald

Snohomish County’s population is growing at a blistering pace and shows no sign of slowing down.

More than 115,000 new residents moved here in the last decade. Families arrived for the great quality of life and workers moved in as employment opportunities increased. Yet, housing creation has not kept up with demand. In fact, only one new home was created in Snohomish County for every two new jobs.

The increased demand for housing means that home prices and rents continue to rise across single-family homes, condos and apartments. We must create thousands of new housing units at every price point to meet the needs of everyone; especially for those struggling to make ends meet.

HNN Communities specializes in affordable apartment communities. We provide housing for more than 75,000 residents in Snohomish County who make at or below 60 percent of area median income. We saw firsthand how covid-19 upended the lives of low-income residents who experienced loss of income, challenges with remote school, and inability to cover their housing costs.

We also saw how the community rallied to support our most vulnerable residents. Local government, community groups, non-profit services and affordable housing providers are partnering more closely than ever before to meet the needs of residents. Volunteers of America has been a lifeline for residents. They and others worked to deliver more than $5 million in rental relief funding for our residents to date. The Snohomish County government convened stakeholders across the housing sector to help bring relief and services to those who needed them.

Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we must leverage these new ways of working together to create and maintain the type of affordable housing Snohomish County needs. Here are five things we can do in the next year to help spur the creation of affordable housing and keep residents in their homes:

• Create a shared understanding of the need for relief and assistance for our most vulnerable residents. Build on programs that have proven successful such as Volunteers of America, housing vouchers and rental relief funding and allocation.

• Increase annual bond allocation to incentivize the creation of affordable housing. Currently, the state only has capacity to provide a few allocations a year, which is reducing housing growth.

• Expand Washington’s housing trust fund to provide state funding for new housing units and to allow affordable housing managers to maintain properties at risk of falling off the market due to significant wear and tear beyond what’s covered in the minimum safety deposit.

• Eliminate exclusionary zoning which limits the ability to site new housing units to a small narrow area of land.

• Fund affordable housing initiatives using local bonds to allocate funds to specific projects or developments.

Tackling the affordable housing crisis requires cooperation and partnerships between all stakeholders to help communities address their needs. We need to continue to grow these partnerships and platforms that have a proven success rate to lowering barriers to housing and increasing Washington state’s affordable housing capacity.

Alison Dean is president of HNN Communities which is a member of the Partnership for Affordable Housing, a coalition focused on increasing housing affordability in Washington state.

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