Have you heard the term “housing first”? It is a housing model that has been studied around the nation. There are many ways to implement this model and conflicting published data on successful implementation methods. It is further complicated with mixed results for addiction and mental health housing retention.
All the conflicting research and results lead many people to wonder where Washington state will achieve the best benefits with taxpayer dollars. Recent law changes have loosened regulations and led to more questions regarding taxpayer costs versus benefits of these tools. For instance, the city of Everett passed an ordinance in 2016 that waived the planning and zoning requirements for supportive housing developments on public land.
An example is the proposed supportive housing project located at the Norton Avenue playfield. Norton Avenue playfield is owned by the Everett School District and the proposed lease gives the property to Housing Hope for $1 a year for 75 years. Housing Hope will build a majority of this development with state and federal grants (taxpayer dollars) and then bring in tenants who will pay rent with taxpayer subsidies. The financial costs stack up for taxpayers but so do the social and environmental costs. Increased housing density and loss of open spaces, recreation areas, stormwater retention and habitat. These are large costs that may never be recovered.
The city of Everett is putting a lot of focus on the concept of a housing first model. This might be a great regional approach with a detailed plan, transparent implementation process, and defined success metrics. However, no one community should have a disproportionate amount of supportive services and housing projects, and the city of Everett should not bear disproportionate costs in Snohomish County. Region representatives, including the city of Everett, must work together to gain taxpayer trust by implementing a housing plan that includes measurable success metrics region-wide.