Over the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening and thinking about the problem of crushingly high housing costs in our region. With the support of my colleagues at the County Council and the County Executive, last year I sponsored a motion creating a regional task force of elected officials from around King County to study the regional parameters of this challenge and come up with regional approaches to address it. We kicked this work off this summer, and it will continue for about the next year.
In the process of pulling this affordable housing task force together, I have heard the following type of comment several times: “We don’t need a task force. We know what the problem is and we know how to fix it. We just need X.” In these discussions, “X” is the one approach – or at least the predominant approach – that will solve the problem. For some people, “X” is increased investment in government-subsidized affordable housing. For some, it is regulatory reform around growth management rules that prevent suburban sprawl. For others, it is the political will to change land use rules to allow significantly more infill development. For still others, increased mandatory inclusionary zoning — requiring higher levels of affordable housing units in every new development or payments. Accessory dwelling units. Tiny houses. Transit oriented development. Condominium liability reform. “We’ve just got to put a stop to all this growth.” The list goes on.
I believe that if any one approach, or even any one type of approach, to this kind of a complex problem would more or less “solve” it, we’d be on our way to a solution by now. Yet costs to own and rent a home in our county continue to spike. As H.L. Mencken famously said: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is concise, clear, simple and wrong.”
This is why I’ve joined with the County Executive, Council colleagues and elected officials from cities ranging in size from Seattle to North Bend to dig into housing data and policies to understand the problem and identify regional solutions. We will learn about what is going on with supply and demand in the housing market, how wages compare to housing costs in various parts of our county, how the crisis of affordable housing is affecting individuals and families every day in King County so we can propose strong regional approaches to ensure that we – collectively as a region, public and private sector – are providing the range and number of housing options needed for a healthy economy and community. Along the way, we’ll benefit from guidance from a standing panel of experts in housing and related fields and a number of ad hoc panels of people from all over the county and all walks of life to help us understand the needs and impacts on people in our communities. And we’ll be looking for information, intelligence and feedback from the public at large.
I’ll be writing about our efforts from time to time and hope you will follow along and share your experiences and thoughts on this challenging but critically important topic. For more information about the task force, see our website. Our next meeting is this Friday, 9/22/17 at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center at 10 AM. Members of the public are invited and welcome. If you would like to be on our mailing list, please email Alison.firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach me personally by e-mail at email@example.com or at 206-477-1006.