Council hears update on affordable housing

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By John Larson
jlarson@tacomaweekly.com

City staff has been busy working on the Affordable Housing Action Plan. Tacoma City Council received a presentation on the topic during the July 30 study session. It was made by Housing Division Manager Daniel Murillo and Strategic Manager Jacques Colon.

Colon told the council they have three upcoming opportunities to delve deeper into the topic during upcoming meetings of the Committee of the Whole. On Aug. 13 they will examine the multi-family property tax exemption. On Aug. 27 the housing trust fund will be discussed. Inclusionary zoning will be examined on Sept. 10.

Colon mentioned progress that has been made on the topic over the past 12 months. This includes seeding the trust fund with $1.2 million, passing tenant protection laws and requiring inclusionary zoning as part of the Tacoma Mall Subarea Plan. While he noted many staff members have been doing great work on this effort, the city needs to continue to collaborate with real estate developers and non-profit organizations. “Housing is not something we have direct control over.”

In June staff met with developers of market-rate housing. The tax exemption is for 12 years for projects that include affordable units, or eight years without. A majority of developers have opted for the eight-year option. There has been discussion of requiring impact fees for the eight-year option. Height bonuses are available in some situation. Colon said the city is not seeing that used as much as hoped for.

Murillo said two new employees have been hired to implement the housing trust fund. One angle they are examining is what source of revenue would the public like to see used to maintain the fund.

Murillo said a program that helps homeowners pay for repairs has been adjusted in response to rising construction costs. Loans used to be capped at $30,000. That figure has been increased to $50,000.

“It is clear we need more housing across the board at all levels,” said Councilmember Lillian Hunter. She has reservations about inclusionary zoning in the Tacoma Mall area. “My concern is that we may have killed any meaningful development in some of those neighborhoods as a result of this requirement.” She asked for data on this for the September meeting.

Councilmember Catherine Ushka expressed concern that the tax exemption is unlikely to be utilized in census tracts where most residents have low incomes, as no one will want to develop there. Developers considering the 12-year option will look to build in higher-income neighborhoods, as the rents they would get for affordable units will be higher. She said what many people are spending on rent in small apartments available under the 12-year option is more than what she spends on her mortgage payment.

Councilmember Anders Ibsen, who works as a real estate agent, noted that some of the lower-income areas of the city are seeing the largest increases in the cost of living, be it rent or home sale prices. He mentioned a one-bedroom house on the East Side, about 400 square feet,that sold for $220,000 after being on the market for five day.

Councilmember Keith Blocker said he does not see how the current housing trust fund will be enough to reach the city’s goals of creating 1,000 units of affordable housing each year.

Mayor Victoria Woodards pointed out that during her childhood, her family lived in neighborhoods around the city. She said that was because there was something affordable in every part of Tacoma. She hopes affordable housing units are not all created in census tracts with low-incomes. “I do not think the burden should be put on one particular area but it should be everywhere in our city.”

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