After hearing emotional testimony from Whispering Pines tenants at its Oct. 14 meeting, the Lynnwood City Council is considering adoption of an ordinance that would help ease the transition for displaced low-income residents.
The council voted to table a motion from Councilmember George Hurst that would form an ad hoc task group to draft an ordinance allowing the city to partner with landlords displacing low-income residents. The proposed ordinance would provide funding for residents to help cover the cost of rent deposits and moving expenses.
By a 4-3 margin, the council agreed to postpone discussing the ordinance until its Oct. 21 work session. Voting against the motion for the task group were Council President Ben Goodwin, Council Vice President Christine Frizzell and Councilmembers Ruth Ross and Shannon Sessions. Voting in favor of the motion were Hurst and Councilmembers Ian Cotton and Shirley Sutton.
The proposed ordinance comes in response to the September 2021 deadline for Whispering Pines residents to vacate the low-income apartment complex scheduled for remodel. Hurst said there is no time to waste.
“Time is of the essence here,” Hurst said. “(Whispering Pines residents) are desperate to know that there’s going to be some help for them.”
Remodeling plans for the 50-year-old building — owned by Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) — include bringing the building’s failing sewer and fire alarms up to code. All of the building’s units are labeled as affordable housing, but the new building would offer both affordable and market-rate units.
Whispering Pines resident Darlarae Osborn said she understands the need for the building’s remodel, but she will need help covering the cost of moving.
“Without financial help, I fear I will be homeless,” she said.
Whispering Pines resident Maria Roth said the council needs to quickly address the city’s lack of affordable housing and the plight of the city’s homeless.
“There are no solutions in front of us,” she said. “That’s a problem because where do you go when you’ve got nowhere to go, because you can’t afford it.”
Roth pointed out that the city has had new housing developments, but none of them offer affordable housing. She also suggested that the city find new ways to bring competitive housing offers to the city.
“We all need a place to live and I would encourage this council to start seeking solutions for people that are displaced,” she said.
During the discussion, Councilmember Ian Cotton supported the motion and said that council action was required to address the needs of the community, especially the Whispering Pines residents.
This is not the first time Hurst has proposed that the city pass legislation to assist create language in the city’s municipal code for low-income housing. Last November, he offered a similar ordinance that was rejected by the council and passed to the city’s Human Services Commission. Also, he recently proposed the city use the Revised Code of Washington’s definitions for affordable and low-income housing in Lynnwood’s code.
Though Hurst’s latest proposed ordinance received general support from the council, some council members said they would not support the decision to create a task group to develop it. Speaking to her decision to vote against the motion, Council Vice President Frizzell pointed out that Hurst is not the only councilmember interested developing a housing policy.
“Every councilmember sitting up here has more than once expressed a desire and a passion to create a housing policy,” she said. “Forming an ad hoc committee goes against that plan.”
Council President Goodwin said developing a city housing policy should be a collaborative effort including all councilmembers. Additionally, Goodwin said important issues require a discussion before proposing an ordinance like the one presented.
“I think every councilmember has the right as an elected official to be in the discussion about what is in the ordinance,” he said.
The council is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance at its Oct. 21 work session.
In other business the council unanimously voted to adopt three ordinances increasing the city’s utility rates for 2020-25, the city’s capital facilities plan for 2020-25 and the transportation improvement plan for 2020-25. A public hearing was held for each ordinance.
Prior to the public hearing, city staff and representatives from FCS Group — the financial consultant hired to conduct the city’s utility rate study — briefed the council on the proposed city rate schedule to be implemented through 2025. Utility rate studies are conducted every three years to set the rates for the city’s water, sewer and surface water utilities for the next six years.
Public Works Director Bill Franz began by pointing out that Lynnwood’s rates will remain the lowest in the area through the next six years.
“We’ve worked very hard and done our best to contain and minimize cost to our ratepayers,” Franz said.
The study recommends a 4% annual increase in the city’s water utility rates from 2020-22, followed by a 2% increase from 2023-25. It also recommends that sewer rates be phased in based on whether they are single-family, multi-family, mobile homes and commercial buildings. The average sewer rate increase will be 3.9% through 2025. Also, stormwater rates are recommended to increase 3% annually through 2025.
FCS project consultant Brooke Tacia said all rate increases are consistent with what has been projected in the past.
Additionally, the ordinance addresses the need for two additional staff members. The first is an additional operator at the city’s wastewater treatment plant who will address the staff shortages that have prompted overtime for plant workers. According to city staff, the cost of the operator will be covered by decreases in overtime pay.
The second position to be filled is an infrastructure technician. As the city grows and continues to rely on its infrastructure tracking system, the new technician is required to help maintain and record data while tracking, managing and maintaining infrastructure.
Both positions were included in the city’s council-approved 2019-20 biennium budget.
The presentation also highlighted the city’s low-income discount programs, which offer utility discounts to more than 500 Lynnwood residents. The reduced rate programs include:
– A Snohomish County Real Property Tax Exemption Rate Discount for residents that own a home and have a direct utility account with the city. The discount offers 50%, 55% or 60% discounts depending on income level, with the highest dollar discount up to $600 annually.
– The city’s Snohomish County Multiple-Unit and Mobile Real Property Tax Exemption Yearly Rebate, which is offered to residents that own their home in multi-family complexes — like condominiums or mobile homes — and do not have direct utility accounts with the city. Residents who qualify receive yearly rebates based on calculated use and income level.
– The Special Utility Rates Based on Washington State Assistance Programs, for residents who receive assistance from programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). To qualify, participants must reside in residence and be responsible for direct payment of utility bills.
– A new rebate programs that offers discounts to families with students in the Edmonds School District on the free and reduced meal program. The rebate is for residents who rent or own a residence in the city and is based on a 50% discount of actual or calculated (if multi-family) base rates.
– Another newer program that offers rebates based on age, disability, and income level for residents who rent or own in the city. Qualified residents must be 61 years or older or have a household income less than 70% of Washington state area median income and is rebated based on 50% discount of actual or calculated (if multi-family) base rates.
In other action, the council issued a proclamation naming Oct. 14 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Lynnwood.
Speaking to the proclamation, Anthony Adams of the Suquamish Tribe said he would remember the day for the rest of his life.
“I raise my hands to you in respect,” he said. “Thank you for honoring us on this day.”
Another proclamation was issued naming Oct. 20-26 as Friends of the Library Week. The proclamation also celebrated the 40th year of incorporation of the Friends of the Lynnwood Library.
Also during the meeting, the council appointed Shawn Walker and Loren Simmonds for Positions 2 and 3, respectively, on the Lynnwood Public Facilities District Board.
The council also passed a resolution to reject Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 that would set the city’s car tab fees at $30 on the grounds it would be detrimental to the city’s road maintenance.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton