October 2018 ribbon cutting at Sunset Court apartments in Renton. Families pay 30 percent of their income in rent and utilities while living in Sunset Court, which has 50 units. Photo courtesy of Renton Housing Authority.

October 2018 ribbon cutting at Sunset Court apartments in Renton. Families pay 30 percent of their income in rent and utilities while living in Sunset Court, which has 50 units. Photo courtesy of Renton Housing Authority.

Renton joins fight for affordable housing in King County

About 40 percent of Renton households are ‘cost burdened’ and pay more than 30 percent of income on housing

Renton City Council unanimously passed an agreement to give $60,463 to the South King Housing and Homeless Partners, a coalition of South King County cities, over the next two years.

The city will be working with the group to better preserve and add affordable housing in the region as prices continue to rise and low-income households are desperate for relief.

The proposed five-year affordable housing action plan was presented March 4 to councilmembers at Committee of the Whole. In the presentation for council, economic development specialist Marc Santos-Johnson explained the needs in Renton and offered recommendations for how the city can tackle the housing crisis.

For Renton households in 2017, 40 percent were considered cost burdened — which refers to people who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing — and about 15.6 percent were severely cost burdened, he said.

Cost burden is disproportionately affecting the elderly population and people under 25, Santos-Johnson said.

To meet countywide planning policies, Renton will need 5,478 housing units by 2030 that are affordable for households making zero to 50 percent of the area median income, Santos-Johnson said.

Overall, rents are increasing or existing housing is being demolished for more expensive units. Much of the new housing being built in King County is for upper income households, Santos-Johnson said.

Renton’s median home sale price was $477,753 in 2017. This marks a 37 percent increase from 2012 when the median price was $299,975, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Rental homes were also 48 percent cost-burdened in Renton, according to an analysis on housing needs in King County that was presented to council in 2017.

Santos-Johnson looked at starting salaries for several jobs in Renton and found that few could afford an apartment at these Renton complexes: The Reserve, The Lofts, Copper Ridge and Grammercy apartments. Two of these complexes are over 30 years old.

“And none of these people make enough money to afford a single family house in Renton,” he said. “That includes a postmaster, a teacher and civil engineer.”

One of the big challenges for affordable housing in Renton is that over 1,600 people are on the waitlist for Section 8 housing vouchers, and the Renton Housing Authority has ceased accepting applications at this time due to the scarcity.

Strategies for the city

Recommendations were developed for Renton with the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force, which included Renton City Councilmember Ryan McIrvin, two representatives from the city in the working group, and one member of the Renton Housing Authority on the advisory panel.

Seven of the recommendations already aligned with ongoing plans in Renton, including preserving residential manufactured home zones (commonly referred to as trailer parks), increasing density and reducing fees for accessory dwelling units.

Renton also previously established a multi-family property tax exemption program, but the task force recommended further evaluation of that program.

The task force recommended 15 strategies for Renton to consider in the next five years. Many include funding infrastructure, such as partnering with the Renton Housing Authority to acquire more land for affordable homes.

One recommendation included preventing displacement and gentrification for existing communities of color and low-income communities.

Another strategy suggested was for the city to lobby for the proposed statewide legislation to protect tenants and support condominium liability reform.

The recommendations have been referred to the Planning and Development Committee for further analysis and will go back to council for approval at a date to be determined.

In a previous story on the new coalition for affordable housing, Sound Publishing’s Aaron Kunkler reported that South King County communities had naturally occurring affordable housing in the past. But those areas have been hit hard by rent increases, and housing cost increases are starting to push people out into Pierce County. The coalition will work to protect and add to affordable housing for low-income households.

The coalition has estimated the county needs to create an additional 44,000 housing units, and Washington state’s regressive tax structure makes public housing more expensive. Task force co-chair and King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said in January that the task force will focus on spurring private development that can create affordable housing.

The Renton City Council will continue discussions on affordable housing at the council retreat at 10 a.m. March 9 at the Senior Activity Center. Housing is an item listed on the agenda.

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