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Published May 2002

Alliance on right track
to addressing housing needs

“A house is where a job goes at night.”

The exact origin of the quotation is unclear, but the point is undeniable. No matter what we do to make a living, we all want a safe, comfortable and affordable place close by to return to once our daily work is complete.

In the quest to encourage quality business expansion in Snohomish County, we hear from current and potential employers the importance they place on having a diversified housing stock that is attractive and affordable for their employees. If we can demonstrate that Snohomish County meets this important need, we believe that businesses will view expanding here more favorably.

The current need is to create a more diverse housing stock in Snohomish County. Additionally, we need to focus on the creation of a more diverse housing stock that reaches across the entire income strata in Snohomish County. Quality housing for higher-income and lower-income families is at a premium.

To achieve this wider spectrum of housing choices, we need to address the roadblocks and conflicts such as permitting and regulatory processes, planning restrictions, growth resistance and compliance with the Growth Management Act, that can limit the types of projects that will help us reach our goal.

Toward this end, the Snohomish County Housing Alliance is making impressive strides in addressing and resolving many of these issues. It began last year by convening the county’s first Housing Summit, and in April, it held the first in a series of semi-annual workshops to further the understanding of how various community constituencies view the future of housing in Snohomish County.

Led by co-chairs Bob Drewel, Snohomish County Executive, and Frank McCord, Chairman and retired President of Cascade Bank, the Alliance is composed of people vitally concerned with housing and growth — builders, bankers, government officials, environmentalists and community activists.

The Alliance is patterned after the King County Housing Partnership, which has had great success in encouraging alternative housing projects that have been built throughout the county. An excellent example is the “cottage housing” community in Shoreline, composed of small, 800- to 1,200-square-foot single homes built in a patterned development.

Communication is at the heart of solving problems that can block the building of quality alternative housing, McCord said. “Discussing topics of current interest, we can get builders, the cities and community leaders working together and on the same page.”

At the Housing Summit, for instance, “we learned that builders are willing to ‘take risks’ if they are assured of some certainty in the process,” McCord said. “But if they have to wait for more than six months before being issued a building permit, they can’t make a profit on a building project.”

Community housing consultant Michael Luis, who worked with the King County Housing Partnership, is now working with the Snohomish County Housing Alliance.

“I think we can be very successful in addressing the needs for diversified housing in Snohomish County,” he said. “The notion of bringing people together in a constructive way to resolve problems will lead to creation of a broader housing inventory in the county.”

I applaud the effort. Creating more housing choices is imperative for the future of Snohomish County.

“What they learned in King County,” McCord said, “was you need to talk about the issues that can block alternate housing projects and achieve a better understanding of everybody’s views.”

Deborah Knutson is President of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. She can be reached at 425-743-4567 or by e-mail to dknutson@snoedc.org.

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