A public hearing about a proposed plan to address Lynnwood’s housing needs turned into a larger discussion about how racism has played a role in the country’s housing policies and how the city would be able to address them locally.
For the past year, the city has been developing a Housing Action Plan aimed at addressing the need for more housing in Lynnwood. According to staff, the plan will be used as a guide to find ways to work with community partners and developers to bring more housing to the city. At the council’s May 10 business meeting, the Lynnwood City Council held a public hearing to allow for community input before the council is set to vote on the proposed plan later this month.
Department of Development and Business Services Director David Kleitsch described the proposed plan as a policy document to be used by the city when implementing and approving projects and programs.
“I guess the analogy would be — (the plan) is your menu, and from that we can pick things that align best with the community’s objectives and the council’s direction,” he said.
During the hearing, Pam Hurst — a member of the city’s Human Services Commission and wife of Council President George Hurst — praised the council for creating the “much needed” housing policy. According to Hurst, rent in Lynnwood has risen more than 40% since 2010 while income levels have only increased 7%. Hurst also said the rent increases are creating an economic competition that pushes out low-income residents.
“Whether you call it filtering or gentrification it is happening right now,” she said. “Many of our community members are finding themselves without a place to live.”
Additionally, Hurst reminded the council that residents at the Whispering Pines — an affordable housing complex scheduled for redevelopment — have until September to vacate the complex. The remodel of the 50-year-old HASCO-owned (Housing Authority of Snohomish County) building is required due to failing sewer and fire alarm systems in the current structure.
Already, several mixed-use and multi-family developments are either planned or being constructed around Lynnwood. Robert Larsen, who’s a member of the city’s planning commission, said he hoped the plan would allow the city to address the need for “missing middle” housing.
“There’s an important opportunity I hope we can achieve to make medium density work,” he said.
With so many new apartment complexes being developed, Lynnwood resident Louisa Mackenzie said she hoped the city would not overlook residents who still want to live in a single-family home. During her comments, Mackenzie said she wanted to dispel misconceptions that multi-family housing is the only answer to creating affordable housing.
“Single-family homes are occupied by people of all income levels, they are not the purview of the wealthy,” she said.
Mackenzie also read a statement from her wife, Virginia, who grew up in Lynnwood and is now a landlord who rents out two homes in the city. According to Virginia, her tenants specifically want to live in single-family homes — not apartments or condos.
“Renters and families who want a small affordable house should be able to live in Lynnwood,” she said.
In her written statement, Virginia also pointed out that the high-density developments going up around the city will not necessarily be affordable and will not help to create a more walkable city, which the city has been hoping to achieve with the Lynnwood City Center district.
“Affordable single-family homes on decent-sized lots, safe walkable neighborhoods and quiet streets — this is what many new arrivals in Lynnwood want too,” she said. “I urge the council to consider the impact of this action plan on a city that has already changed beyond recognition.”
Among the organizations preparing to partner with the city to create more housing is Habitat for Humanity. Board of Directors President Steven Li said that the plan is an opportunity for the city to be leaders for affordable housing in the region.
“We are ready to partner with the city developers, organizations and community members to address our regional housing needs together so that everyone has a decent place to live,” he said.
The plan has also gained the support of the Snohomish County-Camano Association of Realtors, which includes more than 2,000 real estate agents who live and work in Snohomish County. In a written statement read by Mayor Nicola Smith, Director of Government and Public Affairs Cami Morrill said many real estate agents are hoping to see more diverse housing types in Lynnwood.
Prior to the public hearing, Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth provided a brief overview of the plan, highlighting key aspects. The proposal is based, in part, on a housing needs assessment that found nearly 40% of Lynnwood residents pay more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, prompting staff to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition, which describes affordable housing as that which requires no more than 30% of a family’s gross income.
The study also found that homeownership is out of reach for many residents, primarily people from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities. Staff also found that BIPOC residents often live in separate communities than white residents.
In response to this information, some councilmembers and residents said that they disagreed with the findings because they have had neighbors who weren’t white. Lynnwood resident Ted Hikel described his block as “cosmopolitan” because his neighbors are residents of “African, Asian, Hispanic, European and Middle Eastern heritage.”
Additionally, Council Vice President Jim Smith said the findings about different communities did not reflect his experiences living in Lynnwood. Smith said he was concerned that the results of the study made it sound like Lynnwood had segregated neighborhoods and then spoke about the various people of color who have been his neighbors over the years.
“We have been told a couple times…given the impression that all the whites live in one area and then the BIPOC community lives in another area, and that is not what my experience has been when I moved here initially to Lynnwood,” he said.
In response to the contradictions, Holdsworth referred to the needs assessment, which she said uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau to provide more details about the race and income levels of residents in the areas of the city.
“Some of it dates back to an explicit racism that was in policies largely from the federal government and it trickled down into banking and other reasons,” she said. “There were also some less explicit policies that had consequences.”
However, Smith said he did not believe the census data was accurate.
“I’m not seeing this lack of diversity in Lynnwood,” he said. “You (say) it’s from the census or whatever, and again I would question that.”
In response, Kleitsch defended the data and said they would need it to address the city’s housing inequities.
“I don’t think that data is questioning the integrity of the community, but we do have concentrations of poverty that are also correlated to the BIPOC community and those are quite extensive numbers,” Kleitsch said.
Council President George Hurst said although some people may have anecdotal evidence about integrated neighborhoods, there’s no denying that based on census data from 2018 there is crossover between BIPOC communities and low-income neighborhoods.
“It’s hard to argue with data,” he said.
According to Hurst, the plan would be a guideline to move the city toward real action plans, which the city desperately needs, he added.
Also during the post-hearing discussion, Holdsworth addressed concerns about single-family homes disappearing, saying the city is still open to allowing for more. However, she added that the challenge with single-family homes is that they take up a disproportionate amount of land area. According to Holdsworth, 50% of Lynnwood residents live in single-family homes that take up 84% of the city’s residential land area.
“We do respect (single-family homes) and we recognize that they are desirable, but we’re also advocating in this plan to explore options,” she said.
The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed action plan at its May 24 business meeting.