Bothell wants in on region’s affordable housing plans

The mayor asked Challenge Seattle and Microsoft to think of Bothell as an opportunity site.

Bothell Mayor Andy Rheaume. Photo courtesy of city of Bothell

Bothell Mayor Andy Rheaume. Photo courtesy of city of Bothell

After seeing that other cities on the Eastside signed on to a letter supporting affordable housing and Microsoft’s $500 million commitment to help finance it, Bothell felt a little left out.

Microsoft’s announcement was accompanied by a joint declaration from the mayors of nine cities — Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton and Sammamish — who called for for affordable housing options for people of varying income levels.

“It was signed by some mayors and we weren’t included,” said Bothell Mayor Andy Rheaume. “We want to be part of this too.”

Bothell has already been working on housing, adopting a strategy with a chapter dedicated to affordability in 2018. Local governments and the state have identified affordable housing as a top pressing issue facing the Puget Sound region.

“It’s super important to Bothell because people can’t work and live in the same place at this point, in the region,” Rheaume told the Reporter. “Bothell has historically been a place where you could afford to live.”

Rheaume said that housing is “one of the council’s highest concerns,” and that they want to “keep that thread in the fabric of Bothell.”

“It’s important that you don’t have one [segment] of the population that you live with, and everybody else comes in and serves you. It should be a community,” he said.

Not having affordable housing policies in place has caused people to live far away from their jobs, which has increased commute times, traffic and pollution from vehicles.

“It’s disheartening to think how long people have to drive to their job when they’re young and just starting out with a new family and everything,” Rheaume said.

Rheaume called the Sound Cities Association to ask how Bothell could get involved with Microsoft, as they support the idea to not only support options for low-income housing, but also for workforce and middle income. It’s a “different bracket of annual or household income than is typically targeted,” Rheaume said.

He then sent a letter to former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is now CEO of Challenge Seattle, outlining how Bothell plans to advance housing affordability in the area and noting that his city also supports the actions in the Eastside mayors’ statement.

“Cities are in desperate need of support focused on real solutions and Microsoft’s investment to offer financing for affordable housing gives us hope,” Rheaume wrote.

There are opportunities for affordable housing especially in downtown Bothell, where the city owns surplus property, Rheaume wrote.

“We believe there is an opportunity to engage with Challenge Seattle to leverage some of the $500 million from Microsoft in downtown Bothell. We would be interested in exploring this opportunity because our purchase and sale agreement with a prospective buyer could include affordable housing and completion date requirements to meet the three‐year completion target outlined by Microsoft,” he wrote.

Cities need strong partners to tackle regional issues, Rheaume wrote, adding that “local governments can’t solve our regional issues by ourselves but are ready and willing to be part of regional solutions.”

“Today, one of the biggest threats to our region’s quality of life and economic future is the lack of affordable housing,” Gregoire said in response. “Middle-income families are being priced out of nearly every zip code in King County. I applaud Mayor Rheaume and the city of Bothell for stepping up and taking action to address this crisis. This is an important step toward preserving the quality of life in our region.”

Rheaume said Gregoire’s response was encouraging.

“Anything we could leverage for affordable housing, we’d be interested in,” he said.

The city worked closely with A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) on its most recent housing strategy update, which was initiated in 2016. It involves many elements, including preserving existing affordable options such as manufactured housing communities, along with considering a multi-family tax exemption (MFTE) on certain projects, linking increased capacity with affordable housing and removing barriers to the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

“Bothell was one of the first communities to provide protective zoning for mobile home parks. That’s been a key part of the strategy for many years now,” said David Boyd, senior planner for the city.

The work on ADU regulations is ongoing, Boyd said.

“It’s an option that affects renters because it gives them another option. It affects first-time homebuyers, because it creates an opportunity to get some income and make it easier to get into the housing market. And it also affects seniors that might have an accessory dwelling unit and possibly even downsize into [it] and rent out their primary unit,” he said.

Bothell council also recently adopted the first mandatory affordable housing requirements “that were associated with, in one case, with a rezone and in one case, with a code amendment that increased capacity for an area” along the west side of the downtown subarea, Boyd said.

New developments there (both residential and commercial) will have to incorporate affordable housing, or pay a fee in lieu of to the ARCH trust fund. The levels were set at 60 percent of area median income for rental housing and 80 percent for ownership housing, Boyd said.

“Money that goes into the trust fund will enable us to provide housing for lower-income levels, below that,” Boyd said.

Community development manager Michael Katterman said land and multiple funding sources are important to make affordable housing projects happen. Boyd said it’s even harder to build affordable housing now because of the business boom.

“We’re limited in the tools that we have as a local government to really encourage affordable housing,” Katterman said.

In his letter to Gregoire, Rheaume wrote that the city is willing to consider many opportunities, including “making available at no cost, at deep discount, or for long‐term lease, under‐utilized publicly‐owned properties,” “reducing or waiving parking requirements in transit corridors to help reduce overall development cost,” “reducing or waiving impact and other development‐related fees” and “streamlining and accelerating the permitting process for low‐ and middle‐income housing development.”

Other options listed, which seem to be partly underway, are “updating zoning and land use regulations to increase density near current and planned public transit,” “providing tax exemptions and credits to incentivize low‐ and middle‐ income housing development” and “updating building codes to promote more housing growth and innovative, low‐cost development.”

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