Council hears update on affordable housing

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The city is working with its partners to establish a comprehensive strategy related to affordable housing. Tacoma City Council heard an update on the subject from consultants on June 12.

Work in May and June is focused on refining and prioritizing actions and developing draft action strategy. Special outreach has been made to speakers of Korean and Cambodian, as well as clients of Nativity House.

For many years the city has offered a property tax exemption to developers who build in designated areas. This is for multi-family projects with a minimum of four units. The exemption is for eight years for market-rate units and 12 years for units that meet the definition of affordable housing. Many such developers have chosen the eight-year option. When this option is removed, modeling suggests more developers would choose the 12-year option. This could create up to 2,600 units affordable for households earning 80 percent of the average median income.

Councilmember Justin Camarata said he fears eliminating the eight-year option would result in no new housing being built. Councilmember Chris Beale said once such an option is taken off the books, it can be hard to re-instate it. “I want to make sure we keep all the options on the table.”

Reducing parking requirements has been offered as an incentive to developers. Beale said he recently spoke with a developer who voiced support for this option.

Councilmember Lillian Hunter noted Tacoma does not have impact fees. She said they were dropped years ago to spur development downtown. 

There was some discussion of an affordable housing trust fund, something used in other cities. Voter approval would be needed to establish one in Tacoma. Beale noted information would need to be presented to the public. “I do support having that discussion.”

Councilmember Conor McCarthy noted many homeowners are on a fixed income, many of them elderly. He raised concern about raising property taxes on such people to assist low-income renters.

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