One Neighbor's Perspective on Snoqualmie Low-Income Housing

** Imagine Housing will hold a 2nd community meeting about their proposed Snoqualmie 160-unit low-income project.  The meeting  is tomorrow, Wednesday, February 20th, at 7pm at Snoqualmie City Hall.  More information about the project and prior presentation can be found on the Imagine Housing website. **

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 1.30.43 PMIn June 2012, the Snoqualmie community learned about a 160-unit low-income housing development planned for land parcel S20 located in the Eagle Pointe neighborhood near I-90, adjacent the new Snoqualmie Valley Hospital site.

For 8 months one resident, Jim Renahan, researched the topic at length and is now sharing the comprehensive information, as well as his resulting opinion.

Jim welcomes feedback and encourages anyone interested in this topic to also fact-find and voice opinions to elected officials, all whom are respectful and eager to hear citizen concerns.

Jim is supportive of low-income housing in Snoqualmie and Imagine Housing; but also has concerns about the proposed development’s large size (compared to other locations), the location itself and the project’s impact on city resources if a property tax exemption is granted to Imagine Housing.

Imagine Housing Snoqualmie 160-unit Low-Income Development

Washington State defines affordable housing two ways: moderate income and low-income.  Low-income housing is for households earning less than 80% of the King County median income.  Imagine Housing is targeting its low-income units to households who earn less than 60% of the median household income.   For example, a household of three earning less than $47,520 would qualify for low-income housing in Snoqualmie at the 60% income rate.

According to the State Growth Management Act and King County Planning Policies, there are no laws requiring cities to provide low-income housing.  However, policies and guidelines exist that encourage housing for all economic segments, including locations close to low-wage employment, with access to transportation and ones that avoid over concentration.

Snoqualmie’s Comprehensive Plan aims to provide affordable housing to households working within the city limits who can’t afford market rate houses/apartments; while aligning with the state/county guidelines of being close to amenities. The plan suggests the city only seeks to find solutions for those who work within the city limits (Casino excluded) and can’t afford Snoqualmie’s housing prices.

The City of Snoqualmie also has an important legal agreement with the developers of Snoqualmie Ridge II which states land parcel S20 can only be developed for  122 low-income units (if serving the 60% income level) or 184 units (if serving 80%+ income level).

Entrance to land parcel S20, at the end of Frontier Ave in Eagle Pointe neighborhood

Entrance to land parcel S20, at the end of Frontier Ave in Eagle Pointe neighborhood

Presently, there are six low-income housing locations sprinkled throughout Snoqualmie, totaling 214 units, with an  average size of 36 units. By comparison and according to ARCH, the average size in East King County is 45 units. There are two planned low-income locations remaining in Snoqualmie: Parcel S20 (122 units contractually, Imagine Housing proposing 160) and Kimball Creek (19 units).

Imagine Housing’s development will be 4 times larger than current, average Snoqualmie locations and would represent the 5th largest project in East King County.  The proposed development contrasts existing low-income housing in Snoqualmie, which is less dense and spread throughout the community.

Imagine Housing’s market study encompassed a 100,000 population, which is more than the Snoqualmie city radius totaling approximately a 12,000 population and jobs within its boundaries, including school district, city employees, retail and business areas.

Market Conditions

Based on public information about city and school employee salaries and estimating the business park jobs, about 500 people would qualify for low-income housing.   But there are two caveats:  1) That 500 is based on single income. If dual income is factored in, the number qualifying will decrease; and 2) 500 may qualify, but that does not mean all will choose to live there.  Generally, there is a 10-15% intent rate, which equals a market demand for 50-75 units, aligning with the city average.

Parcel S20 has poor access to amenities.  Existing affordable housing in East King County have a walk score of 64. Parcel S20 has a walk score of 3, meaning all errands require a car.  A walk score of 64 suggests some amenities are in walking distance.

Additionally, Snoqualmie also has a higher cost of living.  Based on a small grocery list, IGA is 12% and 25% higher than Safeway and Fred Meyer.  Gateway Gas station is 7% higher than Bellevue.

Density

Imagine Housing’s proposed 160-unit development is high density, meaning the project has a lot of units compared to the land it sits on.  Out of 65 East King County apartment locations, the average location size is 45 units. Parcel S20, by Imaging Housing’s estimate, would be the 5th largest low-income project in East King County.

Snoqualmie also currently has a disproportionate share of affordable housing units in East King County. Comparing affordable units to a city’s total population, Snoqualmie has 3.3% rate compared to 0.9% in the rest of East King County.

City Resources

Per state law, Snoqualmie city council can grant a property tax exemption for an 8 or 12-year period. Snoqualmie property taxes are around $13 per $1,000 of assessed home value; about $3 goes to Snoqualmie, $3-4 fund schools and the rest goes to various county/state funding.

If the city approves the property tax exemption, it is for the full $13.  With the city outspending cash income by more than $2,700,000 between 2010 and 2014 and the recent voter approval to raise taxes, the city cannot afford a tax exemption totaling $900,000. Can Snoqualmie afford potentially 600 new residents without a tax base for them?

Imagine Housing also requested permit fee waivers totaling $600,000. This additional revenue loss is detrimental to city finances, especially considering just this past November the city passed a new ordinance increasing certain permitting/department fees due to rising costs.

Comparing Snoqualmie’s household median income of $116,000 to a city with a median income of $48,000, historically there is a 25% higher crime rate in the lower-income cities, according to the US Bureau of Judicial Statistics.

Understandably, this is a delicate topic and it is important not to outcast all low-income residents over fear of a higher crime rate.  Nor does it mean Snoqualmie will experience a crime increase.  It is meant to point to a potential risk that could be compounded if public safety departments lose funding through a tax exemption.

Impact on Schools

In the past, the city has indirectly made the decision to waive school impact fees for non-profit developers.  For Parcel S20, this could equal $600,000 in lost impact fees.  When a new single-family residence is purchased in Snoqualmie, a one-time school impact fee is included in the purchase price.  That 2012 fee is about $8600.

A tax exemption for parcel S20 also exempts Imagine Housing from future school bond taxation.  The project could house 400-600 residents.  Imagine Housing stated that about 50% of residents in their other developments are children, which could potentially add 200 children to Snoqualmie Valley schools with no additional city tax base.  The district would still receive state and federal funding for those new students from other taxpayers.

Recommendations

The city must preserve city revenue and not forego tax revenue and permit fees given its economic environment.  I hope the city council will reject Imagine Housing’s permit fee waivers and property tax exemption request.

To be diligent, the city should conduct an independent market study; quantifying market demand for low-income employees in Snoqualmie who cannot afford market rate housing AND desire to live in Snoqualmie.

The proposed project should be relocated closer to amenities.  In hindsight the mayor suggested swapping the Eagle Pointe community park land with a school district parcel located at the corner of Snoqualmie Parkway and Swenson Drive for the project. Another possibility is Snoqualmie Hills, located near the business park.  This would be difficult due to an existing legal agreement with land developers, but I propose this is best for the long-term.

The project’s concentration should be reduced.  Existing Snoqualmie low-income housing developments are aligned with East King County averages of less than 50 units per location.  I propose the city reduce land parcel S20 unit requirement to less than 50.

Contact Snoqualmie elected officials to share your opinion:

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Another impact is the added downward pressure there will be on test scores from lower income demographics, this drives down property values and places a disproportionate amount of resources on all services, especially school resources. Do we want to be more like Auburn or Issaquah?

  2. Correction on my school impact fee math. Multi-family dwellings pay $3,200 per unit versus single family dwellings of $8,600. Since my understanding is non-profits are exempt from paying the one time school impact fee, the total loss in impact fee is $512,000 (160 units x $3,200 per multi-family unit) versus the $600,000 quoted above.

  3. The impact to the taxpayers and on our resources is tremendous for a project of this size. I’ve driven past the low income apartments in Issaquah that are managed by Imagine Housing, they’re a train wreck. The members of council really need to assess the long term impact, not only on the taxpayers and their property values, and our cities resources, but to the overall appeal and charm of our city for tax paying citizens who do not fall under the low income category looking to migrate in. The enormity of this project that Imagine Housing has proposed will have city residents shaking their heads in disbelief… this just doesn’t make sense on so many levels.

  4. Many thanks to Jim Renahan for his thorough research, insightful comments and recommendations, as well as the comments left by other readers. This is an issue that will have an effect on all of us so it will be wise for us to be informed and be involved, rather than not voicing our opinions and then being faced with issues we would rather not have in Snoqualmie.

  5. Lori Mitchell says

    Make sure you contact your City Council members to let them know your thoughts! Many of us with young children do not have the ability to attend these meetings; however, if you can call, write or email them with your thoughts, it can only help the cause. Don’t sit idly by if you have an opinion!

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