Lynnwood City Council hears update on plans to relocate Whispering Pines tenants

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Whispering Pines is located at 18225 52nd Ave. W. in Lynnwood.

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) came before the Lynnwood City Council Feb. 20 to share its plans to assist residents who will be displaced if the aging Whispering Pines apartments — which currently provides subsidized housing to low-income renters in Lynnwood — is torn down and replaced.

The council is considering whether to approve a proposed comprehensive plan amendment and rezone that would allow replacement of the 240-unit apartment complex — located at 18225 52nd Ave. W. — with a taller, structure capable of housing 300 units.

According to HASCO, Whispering Pines currently houses 74 residents who hold Section 8 vouchers, which pay the difference between the contract rent and the rent the household can afford.

A public hearing on the comprehensive plan amendment proposal and rezone is scheduled for the city council’s March 11 business meeting.

HASCO Director of Development Kristen Cane told the council Feb. 20 that Whispering Pines residents are expected to vacate the complex before construction begins in September 2021. HASCO began the process of informing tenants now because officials knew the project would be a major disruption.

“We provided a significant level of notice specifically to help residents start planning the move-out,” she said.

The project is a first of its kind for HASCO, said Executive Director Duane Leonard.

If the property rezone is approved, the new structure could hold 300-400 units. Half of the units in the new structure would be listed at market value, and the other half would be rented as affordable housing. All of the complex’s current units are described as affordable housing.

As reported in our previous story, residents have expressed concern about the plan to reduce the number of available affordable-housing units. Tenants said they believed this was a step in the wrong direction, considering the current waiting list for affordable housing was eight years.

Those living at Whispering Pines were notified nine months ago they will need to move out of the 50-year-old building, which has been experiencing failures in the sewer and fire alarm systems.

HASCO is prepared to help displaced residents in several ways, Cane said. In April, residents will receive a printed packet that includes information on other low-rent and tax-credit properties in the area. “We want to provide information to residents about what those properties are, where they are, whether they have low rents,” she said. Displaced residents will also receive additional information about available properties, such as property location, bedroom sizes and current rent rates.

According to Cane, HASCO will prioritize placing Whispering Pines residents in other HASCO-owned properties or other tax-credit apartment complexes, like City Center Apartments.

HASCO will assist lower-income residents in applying for waiting lists for rent-subsidized properties, Cane said. Beginning in June, HASCO staff will also be providing Whispering Pines residents with on-site, one-on-one housing search assistance. Residents will be surveyed to find the best time period throughout the day for this help.

“It will include assistance for the residents to do online apartment searches and answer any questions they have about locating units,” she said.

HASCO will also provide reference letters for residents to use when applying for new apartments, explaining why they have to move, Cane said.

Recently, HASCO signed a contract with Volunteers of America, a non-profit organization in Snohomish County, which will offer residents a renter’s certification course. Cane said the course has been a success in helping residents understand their responsibilities as well as their rights as renters under tenant law. Classes with an interpreter will be available for those who do not speak English.

The course also helps tenants “clean up any potential negative rental history or at least be able to explain it to a landlord,” she said.

Between now and the time the building is demolished, rents will not be increased for Whispering Pines residents. Cane said that decision was made to allow renters the opportunity to save any additional funds they have to cover moving costs.

Councilmember George Hurst said that renters have expressed concerns over the return of their damage deposit when they move out.

“If we are not going to be re-renting a unit, when the resident moves out they will get their full damage deposit without standard fees that get subtracted for cleaning,” Cane replied.

— By Cody Sexton

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