New housing and homelessness partnership asks Auburn to join

Kent, other cities interested in participating

They are your neighbors – senior, welder, cook and barista, home health aid, grocery clerk and biologist – engines of the local economy.

But too many average or below-average median income earners today are falling into the clutches of the twin devils of regional growth and rising housing costs.

And too many are joining the ranks of the homeless.

At a recent Auburn City Council work session, Marty Kooistra of the 170-member King County Housing Development Consortium, and John Howell, a founding partner of the Cedar River group, asked city leaders if they want Auburn to join a new county-cities partnership that is ready to take aim at the housing crisis.

“We’re trying to create some staff capacity to help South King County with its work on housing and homelessness issues,” Kooistra explained of the fledgling South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership, or SKCHHP.

To make that happen, Kooistra said, SKCHHP needs to pool resources of the county and various cities, following in the steps of like successful programs throughout the nation. The partnership looks then to leverage other outside resources to create a capital fund that allows it either to develop new housing stock of mixed-use, mixed income developments, or to work on preserving some of the existing housing stock in South King County.

And, Kooistra said, “to have an impact on the growing need.”

By throwing together the latest total of homeless with households that are paying 30 to 50 percent of their income on housing costs, Kooistra said, citing numbers gathered by the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force in King County, the result is an algorithm that says if homes are built in a certain income strata, the county as a whole would need about 156,000 homes today to house the cost burdened, or extremely cost burdened, people.

In the last three years, according to King County, rent outside of Seattle has increased most sharply on the south end, and with 38 percent of the households there today up against some degree of cost burden, the number of houses that would have to be built to meet the need is 54,700.

“That’s a staggering number, compared to what we are producing right now. But it’s indicative of realizing the reality of what’s happening to us in terms of cost. … It’s important to remember we’re not talking about units, or housing, or whatever, we’re talking about people,” Kooistra said. “These are the people we rely on, day-to-day, to run the economy. … And all these are the folks who are trying to figure out how to make it work.”

One of the reasons it is such a challenge, Kooistra continued, is that in the last three years, rent increases have been highest in South King County cities.

Howell said SKCHHP, launched in 2016, is at the end of its three- year pilot term, so its participants are approaching the cities. In the last six months, members have created a working group that has developed a draft interlocal agreement, a work plan and a budget to create the collaboration.

To date, the cities of Auburn, Burien, Kent, Renton and Tukwila, and King County have indicated that they are interested in participating, but their participation requires council review and approval. Another six cities – Covington, Des Moines, Federal Way, Maple Valley, Normandy Park and SeaTac – have indicated interest, but have not yet said to SKCHHP that they’d put the proposal in their budgets.

Entities wishing to join have to sign the ILA, and participation is voluntary. Howell said the partnership’s ask of Auburn would be an annual $29,000.

Councilman Claude DaCorsi liked what he was hearing.

“Originally, I thought this was something that was limited to South King County, but the more you look at the process, the more you look at the issues we have, a tremendous amount of need for housing has been identified. … Having this group of cities come together is really important. And the most important thing you’ve mentioned is coming together with one voice,” DaCorsi said.

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