Housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues in Snohomish County and the Greater Puget Sound Region. As home prices in King County skyrocket, demand for affordable housing in Snohomish County is growing, which pushes prices up. 

We also know that government fees and regulations increase the cost of building homes. That cost is passed on to homebuyers. 

Home ownership is a critical element of economic mobility, the ability of people to climb the economic ladder. By putting home ownership out of reach for many individuals and families, we are limiting opportunities for our residents and our economy overall. 

To help address this issue, I have proposed four pieces of legislation at the local level which would allow for a more diverse array of housing options and would reduce bureaucratic red tape in the review process which often leads to increased costs to the homebuyer.   

The first proposal would make changes to the regulation of detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) in unincorporated Snohomish County. DADUs, commonly referred to as “mother-in-law apartments”, provide housing options for all ages. This includes young adults as well as elderly relatives who prefer to live in close proximity to family. The draft ordinance associated with Motion 21-297 would ease restrictions on DADUs to make them more attainable for more property owners in unincorporated Snohomish County. The Council referred this issue to the Planning Commission and Planning and Development Services (PDS) on Sept. 15.   

The second proposal would encourage production of more “missing middle” housing by allowing higher building densities in certain urban areas of the County. It also would address displacement issues often caused by development by granting density bonuses for the preservation of existing housing. The Council passed Motion 21-309 on September 15th which refers the issue to the Planning Commission and PDS for their consideration and recommendation.   

The third proposal would authorize development agreements for new subdivisions in Snohomish County. These agreements are common in many local jurisdictions and allow flexibility to encourage innovative developments. If approved, the key change would involve adding flexibility in situations where an application meets the intent of the adopted planning policies in a way not anticipated by specific development regulations. The Council passed Motion 21-308 on September 15th which refers the issue to the Planning Commission and PDS for their consideration and recommendation.   

The final proposal in this suite of housing affordability legislation would allow for categorical exemptions to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), thereby eliminating a largely redundant part of the permit process. These exemptions would apply in situations where the use is roughly equal to what is called for and already studied in the comprehensive plan. This option was granted to local governments by the State Legislature under House Bill 2673, which passed 98-0 in the House and 43-4 in the Senate. Motion 21-334 was adopted today by the County Council and refers the issue to PDS for their consideration.   

This suite of legislation, if adopted, will help create more affordable housing in Snohomish County. I look forward to taking action on these ordinances following input from the Planning Commission and PDS. If you have thoughts on any of these or on housing affordability issues in general, please reach out to me at nate.nehring@snoco.org.  

Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at (425) 512-4810.

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