SEQUIM — The Sequim City Council has directed city staff to pursue multiple short- and long-term options in an effort to reduce the housing affordability gap.
The council gave the direction last week as median house prices reach the highest point they’ve ever been and inventory is at a record low.
Barry Berezowsky, Sequim’s director of community development, said affordable housing is “an extremely complex issue, and we’re not going to solve it overnight, if at all.
“We’re not different from most cities in the country or the world,” he said.
“It’s crazy. I have friends looking to buy a place (but) they can’t even get to a showing before it’s taken off the market.”
Council members directed staff to look at multiple ideas and options with some including:
• Creating a land bank and/or land trust.
• Investigating options to increase density.
• Hosting conversations with developers about affordable or workforce housing gaps.
• Using Rainy Day Funds to support development.
• Investigating infill options.
• Revealing ins and outs of General Facility Charges (GFCs).
The council unanimously agreed to have city staff generate a list of land and homes for sale in the city.
What is affordable?
According to Sequim’s 2019 Affordable Housing Action Plan, affordable housing is defined as paying no more than 30 percent of one’s gross income, including utilities.
As of early 2019, Sequim had more than 1,700 low-income apartment options, according to the plan.
It also states that, of Sequim residents, 61 percent own homes and 39 percent rent; 41 percent of people with a home pay more than 35 percent of their monthly income toward a mortgage; and 53 percent of renters are paying more than 35 percent of their income for a home.
City staff wrote in their briefing to City Council members that “many families in Sequim are not able to find housing that does not cost more than 35 percent of their gross monthly income and a continuation of this trend, if allowed to continue, will have grave consequences on our community’s future.”
In January 2019, City Council members voted to approve an action plan that considered a number of options to address affordable housing, including:
• Establishing different taxing rates for affordable housing purposes.
• Allowing and encouraging the use of innovative housing products and designs.
• Deferring permit and planning fees, utility charges and impact fees for affordable accessory dwelling units.
In spring 2019, the Affordable Housing Ad Hoc Committee was formed with municipal leaders and building stakeholders. Five meetings were conducted to address issues, city staff report.
Mayor William Armacost said he was part of the committee, which heard from participating developers who said city general facility charges were too high when it came to multi-family facilities.
Public Works Director Matt Klontz said it would be “worth staff time to study connection fees to the greater benefit of the community.”
“We’re willing to work hard to figure out,” Klontz said.
He said the last time the city revised the GFCs, overall costs decreased about $670 last year, which he called “a step in the right direction.”
Council member Mike Pence said Klontz was on the right track with revealing more details on GFCs and “what is all included in these numbers that everyone tells us is a ridiculous number.”
Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell said density must go up along with the quality for professional developers.
“That’s how we resolve the mid-level professional curve,” he said.
“All these Band-Aids are great. I support them. But the situation is going to worsen.”
He later added that he doesn’t feel the housing dilemma is special to Sequim.
“We’re all screaming the same words,” Ferrell said.
He said the city must be sensitive to the costs for developers in order to allow for entry-level homes.
Council member Keith Larkin suggested the city sit down with developers again.
“I understand there’s a lot of things we can do as a city,” he said. “I believe those answers come from those people who finance those projects.”
Council member Brandon Janisse suggested a multi-family tax exception and investigating whether Rainy Day Funds can cover GFCs for affordable housing developments.
Berezowsky said city staff can investigate possibilities for more density in the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update and target areas to consider before they bring back options to the council for further discussion.
Berezowsky said middle-income housing that traditionally served new homeowners has been mostly lost, so he feels another option could be pursuing infill opportunities.
“I would be looking at opportunities here like (for example) a corner lot that’s the perfect spot for a three-story walk-up apartment that can blend in naturally to the neighborhood,” he said.
Ferrell said that was a great idea.
“We need to identify those (opportunities) and figure out how to market those,” he said. “We’re not going to subsidize our way into the housing market.”
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].