The Growth Management Act (GMA) housing goal states that comprehensive plans and development regulations should encourage a full range of affordable housing types to meet the needs of all segments of the population, and to encourage the preservation of the existing housing stock.16
Pursuant to the GMA, the Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs) specifically address how local comprehensive plans will consider the need for affordable housing. That consideration includes the creation of housing for all economic segments of the population and parameters for the distribution of affordable housing among counties and cities.17 In turn, each county and city is obligated to plan for affordable housing consistent with the regional context determined by CPPs.18 Counties and cities planning under GMA must ensure that, taken collectively, their comprehensive plans provide sufficient land capacity for projected housing needs, consistent with the county’s 20-year population growth allocation.19
CPPs may not, however, alter the land-use powers of cities.20
VISION 2050 includes a regional housing goal, stating that the region:
“preserves, improves, and expands its housing stock to provide a range of affordable, accessible, healthy, and safe housing choices for every resident. The region continues to promote fair and equal access to housing for all people.”
The Multicounty Planning Policies MPPs provide a regional policy framework for housing, which includes consideration of affordability, home ownership, housing location, and housing choice. In particular, the Housing chapter of VISION 2050 identifies the need for local action as a critical component in the provision of affordable housing.21 It includes policies related to affordability, displacement, and jobs-housing balance. In addition, the housing policies place significant emphasis on locating housing in close proximity to growth and employment centers and transportation and transit corridors.
21VISION 2050, page 103. Available at https://www.psrc.org/sites/default/files/vision-2050-plan.pdf
Snohomish County Housing
Snohomish County continues to face the following housing challenges:
1. Adequate supply of affordable housing for all economic segments in each community.
2. Adequate supply of quality housing options in proximity or satisfactory access to places of employment.
3. Infill housing development and community concerns about density and design.
4. Adequate resources for, and equitable distribution of low-income and special needs housing across the county.
5. Housing types suitable for changing household demographics and an aging population.
6. Maintenance of existing affordable housing stock, including mobile home and manufactured housing.
7. Overall increase in housing cost.
It is important to remember that housing is created, priced, and demolished as the result of complicated interactions of market forces and government policies that reach across regions and even nations. Snohomish County is part of a regional market where housing is a commodity largely produced by the private sector, with a small but significant portion provided by government housing authorities and non-profit agencies. Sufficient housing, concurrent with employment and population growth and adequate transportation access, is a regional challenge that needs attention at all levels of government.
It is beyond the financial capacity of local governments and nonprofits to satisfy unmet housing needs through their own expenditures. Historically, the federal government has taken the lead in the financial strategies, but federal funding does not meet the need. The housing affordability issue will get worse if federal funding trends continue.
Snohomish County jurisdictions recognize that their actions alone will not eliminate unmet housing needs. Financial constraints, however, are not a valid reason for jurisdictions not to address countywide unmet housing needs in their comprehensive plans’ land use and housing strategies.
Despite the limited control that local governments have over housing markets, Snohomish County jurisdictions have made progress in meeting these housing challenges. Snohomish County Tomorrow regularly monitors and analyzes these housing challenges to better understand them and to suggest steps toward their diminishment. The 2007 Housing Evaluation Report illustrates that, alone and in cooperation, the county and cities have adopted policies, strategies and regulations that help preserve affordable housing or remove barriers or reduce the costs of producing new housing units.22
Beyond that, the Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce was established in 2019 and issued the HART Report and Five-Year Action Plan in January 2020. The report identifies housing challenges and provides an action plan for addressing housing affordability.23
The CPPs on housing are required and intended to support both GMA and VISION 2050. Generally speaking, they follow the organization of the VISION 2050 Multicounty Planning Policies on housing.
22The report can be found online at www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/PDS/Divisions/LR_Planning/ Information/Plans/SCT+Reports/HER07.htm
23HART Report and Five-Year Action Plan. Available at https://www.snohomishcountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/71290/HART-Report-and-5-Year-Action-Plan?bidId=
Snohomish County and its cities shall promote fair and equitable access to safe, affordable, and accessible housing options for every resident through the expansion of a diverse housing stock that is in close proximity to employment, services, and transportation options.
HO-1The county and cities shall make provisions in their comprehensive plans to accommodate existing and projected housing needs, consistent with the Regional Growth Strategy and Snohomish County Growth Targets. Plans must include a specific assessment of housing needs by economic segment, as described in the housing report prescribed in CPP HO-5. Those provisions should consider the following strategies:
a. Avoid further concentrations of low-income and special needs housing.
b. Increase opportunities and capacity for affordable housing in Regional, Countywide, and local growth centers.
c. Increase opportunities and capacity for affordable housing close to employment, education, shopping, public services, and public transit.
d. Increase opportunities and capacity for affordable and special needs housing in areas where affordable housing is currently lacking.
e. Support affordable housing opportunities in other Snohomish County jurisdictions, as described below in CPP-HO-3.
f. Support the creation of additional housing options in single-family neighborhoods to provide for more diverse housing types and choices to meet the various needs of all economic segments of the population.
HO-2County and city comprehensive plans shall include policies to meet affordable housing goals consistent with VISION 2050. Jurisdictions should demonstrate within their land use and housing elements that they can accommodate needed housing consistent with the Regional Growth Strategy and Snohomish County Growth Targets. These efforts should include facilitating the regional fair share of affordable housing for very low, low, moderate, and middle-income households and special needs individuals. Housing elements of comprehensive plans shall be periodically evaluated for success in facilitating needed housing.
HO-3The county and cities should participate in multi-jurisdictional affordable housing programs and engage in other cooperative efforts to promote and contribute to an adequate supply of affordable, special needs, and diverse housing countywide.
HO-4The county and cities should implement policies that allow for the development of moderate density housing to help meet future housing needs, diversify the housing stock, and provide more affordable home ownership and rental opportunities. This approach should include code updates to ensure that zoning designations and allowed densities, housing capacity, and other restrictions do not preclude development of moderate density housing.
HO-5The cities and the county shall collaborate to report housing characteristics and needs in a timely manner for jurisdictions to conduct major comprehensive plan updates and to assess progress toward achieving CPPs on housing. The report shall be sufficiently easy to understand and use for planning and evaluation. To the extent made possible by the availability of valid data, this report shall, for the entire county and each jurisdiction:
a. Describe the measures that jurisdictions have taken (individually or collectively) to implement or support CPPs on housing, especially measures taken to support housing affordability.
b. Quantify and map existing characteristics that are relevant to the results prescribed in the CPPs on housing, including (but not limited to):
i. The supply of housing units, including subsidized housing, by type, tenure, affordability, and special needs populations served.
ii. The availability and general location of existing affordable housing units and the distribution and location of vouchers and similar assistance methods.
iii. The supply of land that is undeveloped, partially used and/or has the potential to be developed or redeveloped for residential purposes.
c. Identify the number of housing units necessary to meet the various housing needs for the projected population of households of all incomes and special needs populations. The number of units identified for each jurisdiction will be utilized for planning purposes and to acknowledge the responsibility of all jurisdictions to plan for affordable housing within the regional context.
d. Evaluate the risk of physical and economic displacement of residents, especially low-income households and marginalized populations.
HO-6The county and cities should implement policies and programs that encourage the rehabilitation and preservation of existing legally established, affordable housing for residents of all income levels, including but not limited to mobile/manufactured housing and single - room occupancy (SRO) housing.
HO-7Jurisdictions shall use housing definitions consistent with those of the Snohomish County Tomorrow Housing Characteristics and Needs Report prescribed in HO-5. Definitions may be periodically revised based on consideration of local demographic data and the definitions used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HO-8Each jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan should reconcile the need to encourage and respect the vitality of established residential neighborhoods with the need to identify and site essential public residential facilities for special needs populations, including those mandated under RCW 36.70A.200.
HO-9In order to improve the jobs-to-housing balance in Snohomish County, jurisdictions shall adopt comprehensive plans that provide for the development of:
a. A variety of housing choices, including affordable housing, so that workers at all income levels may choose to live in proximity to existing and planned employment concentrations and transit service; and
b. Employment opportunities in proximity to existing and planned residential communities.
HO-10Jurisdictions should encourage the use of environmentally sensitive housing development practices and environmentally sustainable building techniques and materials in order to minimize the impacts of growth and development on the county’s natural resource systems. This approach should also consider the potential costs and benefits to site development, construction, and building maintenance to balance housing affordability and environmental sustainability.
HO-11The county and cities should consider the economic implications of proposed building and land use regulations so that the broader public benefit they serve is achieved with the least additional cost to housing.
HO-12The county and cities should minimize housing production costs by considering the use of a variety of infrastructure funding methods, such as existing revenue sources, impact fees, local improvement districts, and general obligation bonds.
HO-13Jurisdictions should ensure that their impact fee programs add no more to the cost of each housing unit produced than a fairly-derived proportionate share of the cost of new public facilities necessary to accommodate the housing unit as determined by the impact fee provisions of the Growth Management Act cited in chapter 82.02 RCW.
HO-14The county and cities should incentivize and promote the development and preservation of long-term affordable housing through the use of zoning, taxation, and other tools, including height or density bonuses, property tax incentives and parking requirement reductions. The incentives should apply where feasible to encourage affordable housing.
HO-15Metropolitan cities, Core cities, and High Capacity Transit Communities, as defined by the Regional Growth Strategy in VISION 2050, shall develop and implement strategies to address displacement of historically marginalized populations, including residents identified in the report prescribed in HO-5, and neighborhood-based small business owners.