The cities of Bothell and Kenmore have taken similar approaches to addressing the affordable housing crisis in recent weeks, looking to preserve their existing housing stock, plan for upzoning and take advantage of regional resources.
Kenmore has been examining the issue since October 2017, looking at options for affordable housing while placing a moratorium on the redevelopment of the mobile home parks. On June 5, the city’s Planning Commission made its final recommendations for the parks, which were presented to the Kenmore City Council on July 9.
In Bothell, the city council adopted a Housing Strategy update and voted on July 3 to create an Affordable Housing Code Chapter in the city code. It would establish a foundation for a city-wide affordable housing requirement on new developments, and be applied to properties where the city authorizes increases in residential densities though code amendments or upzones.
Bothell also has a zoning overlay for the preservation of mobile home parks, which is being considered by its neighbors in Kenmore.
Several tenants in Kenmore’s mobile home parks, including Kenmore Village, Lakewood Villa and Inglewood East, came to last week’s meeting to encourage the city to preserve the parks, and the existing affordable housing opportunities they provide. Many said they could not afford to move elsewhere, and worried about losing their investments if the parks were to be redeveloped.
“It’s a high-priority issue. We are not doing this to change the zoning to kick out residents, [or] allow development. It’s to change the zoning to try and preserve existing housing,” said Planning Commission Chair Douglas Nugent. “Some people still think we’re trying to allow a new zoning that allows for and encourages redevelopment to close the parks.”
There are currently no regulations in the city that would prevent or mitigate closure of a mobile home park. The property owner could choose to convert a park into commercial or multifamily development at any time, although a one-year notice of closure must be given to residents, per state law.
The moratorium remains in place while the city studies the issue, but is set to expire at the end of October.
Mayor David Baker said the conversation about affordable housing started when the city heard concerns about what would happen to residents if the park owners decided to sell. Kenmore wanted to “have some plans in place,” and “some understanding of what we can do as a city.” He said that the city council would spend a number of meetings going over the Planning Commission’s recommendations, which do not include a zoning overlay for mobile home parks.
Kylin Parks of the Association of Manufactured Home Owners said that the council should reconsider the overlay. Kenmore’s six parks contain more than 250 homes and hundreds of residents, including many seniors.
“We are all very, very concerned about this,” Baker said. “There is a serious housing crisis around here. We know that, and we really don’t want you to be a part of it… There are certainly no plans to boot anybody out. That’s not what we’re here for.”
Deputy Mayor Nigel Herbig said he was “disappointed” that an overlay was not among the commission’s recommendations, and that he couldn’t see a path forward that didn’t displace people without one.
The Planning Commission did call for the long-term preservation of two parks: Lakewood Villa and Inglewood East, both located on Northeast 175th Street near the Sammamish River.
For the remaining parks (Lake Terrace, an unnamed park on Northeast 181st Street, Kenmore Village and Lakewood), the commission recommended that the properties be upzoned, with a requirement that replacement affordable housing be included in any redevelopment. Existing qualified mobile home park residents would be given the first opportunity to rent the new units.
The Kenmore City Council will also consider some direct financial assistance strategies, including infrastructure loans and reduced fees, reviewing those tools at its July 16 meeting and upcoming July 23 meeting.
Nugent said that the commission rejected the overlay for many reasons. He said that it is restrictive, unsympathetic to property rights and inconsistent with some parts of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which call for increased density in the downtown core to make it more a more commercial and walkable area.
Inglewood East owner Russ Millard objected to the “spot zoning” that would preserve only two parks in the city, the ones that are farthest from the downtown core. He said that he has no intent to sell or redevelop his park.
Kenmore’s Planning Commission tried to balance the needs of mobile home park tenants with other low-income residents in the city, Nugent said. One way to increase the number of affordable units is to build more housing.
“I understand that most of the people living in the mobile home parks are cost burdened. You’re spending more than a third of your income on rent,” Baker said. “Our main goal with our housing strategy is to preserve what we’ve got. Affordable housing in the region, in King County and in Kenmore, is not even close to being enough of what we need.”
Bothell’s affordable housing also revolves around upzoning.
“Capacity increases serve as the nexus for requiring affordable housing, as state law provides authority for the city to mandate a minimum number of affordable housing units that must be provided by all residential developments in areas where the city decides to increase residential capacity,” according to the Bothell City Council’s July 3 agenda bill.
Bothell’s Housing Strategy update, adopted on May 1, includes a strategy to consider multiple approaches to linking increased development capacity with providing affordable housing.
The Kenmore Planning Commission tried to balance the competing issues of preserving existing affordable housing and increasing housing supply with its recommendations.
“When we set aside certain areas in favor of certain groups, mobile home parks… or seniors, we reduce further the amount of buildable land for more housing supply, which as we’ve seen economically, has had the biggest impact on stabilizing rents in this area,” Nugent said.
But some of the mobile home park residents don’t like the idea of apartment living. Many worked hard to buy their homes, and don’t want to leave.
Baker said that mobile home residents are “an important part of this community.” One resident, in Lakewood, estimated that about 80 to 100 children living in his mobile home park attend Kenmore Elementary.
“Please don’t think that we want you gone, we don’t,” Baker said.
Both cities worked with A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) on their affordable housing programs. Like other cities, they may consider alternative compliance provisions for developers, such as a fee-in-lieu.
Arthur Sullivan of ARCH said that these programs are administered at the city’s discretion. For example, Kirkland is putting funds from its affordable housing fee-in-lieu program toward the women’s shelter planned in the city.
One of the Kenmore Planning Commission’s recommended options includes possible use of transfer of development rights. In this scenario, the “lost” density on a mobile home park property to be preserved could be sold by the owner to the developer of another site as compensation.
Although the commission explored this option, their preference was a fee-in-lieu program to achieve the same result. According to ARCH, most developers prefer this approach to the actual building of the units.
Bothell Deputy Mayor Davina Duerr said that the city is “long overdue” on passing a city-wide ordinance for affordable housing, but she had some questions about duplexes, foreclosures and homeowners’ associations. Staff said these could be addressed later with additions or revisions to the “baseline” provisions in the new code.
Bothell’s code amendments passed unanimously, while Kenmore’s are still under review.
Unlike previous projects, the Kenmore Planning Commission did not present specific zoning code amendments for the mobile home parks, preferring to leave those up to the council, if necessary.
When the council settles on a preferred approach, staff will prepare amendments, conduct a SEPA review and provide the required notice to the Washington State Department of Commerce. The council would then hold a public hearing on potential amendments and make the final decisions.
This article was updated on Aug. 10 to correct one of Douglas Nugent’s quotes.