Toyer Strategic Questions County Buildable Lands

Housing, especially the cost of housing, is a big issue these days.  And that issue could get even bigger.

In the lead up to Snohomish County’s forthcoming “major” update to its comprehensive growth plan, the County is first responsible for producing a Buildable Lands Report that looks at how the County has developed over time.  Although it is not the only document used to determine how the County will allocate updated population growth, plan for infrastructure, and size its urban growth areas (UGAs), this report is the first step and it sets the tone for the entire process.  Thus, ensuring it is accurate is monumentally important.

Recently, our firm spoke out (see copies of our letters below) to question the County’s Draft Buildable Lands Report because it doesn’t accurately reflect what has already been built in the County.  The County’s response is that the report is a snapshot that looks at a point in time in 2019.  We agree it’s a snapshot.

However, we don’t agree that “pending” housing, homes that were in the permitting or construction stages at that point in 2019, should have been counted as “available” housing capacity for the 20-year planning period.  As we explain in our letters below, the “pending” housing inventory was spoken for the moment it started through the permitting process.

In other words, the County’s report is saying,don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”  But we are trying to remind them, “we aren’t selling chickens at the farmer’s market, we’re selling eggs.  And we need dozens and dozens more!”

Snohomish County has a housing problem.  The Puget Sound Region has a housing problem.  The problem for many people is housing cost, which continues to rise at a rapid pace.  A big part of the reason housing prices have risen and continue to rise is the wide disconnect between supply (how many houses are available) and demand (how many people need housing).  It’s why so many homes sell for more than asking price.  And it’s why so many builders have sold out their housing developments before they’ve finished building the homes.

Some representatives at the County are not happy with us for raising these concerns.  So they’ve come up with new graphs and charts to dismiss our concerns and say we are wrong.  But are we? 

The truth is I’ve been raising this concern since the early 2000s when I was involved in commenting on that Buildable Lands Report.

So I have got to ask you.  Is it easier to find a place to live at a cost you can afford todayAre you worried that your kids or grandkids may not be able to live around here when they grow upAre you frustrated that you’ve got a lot of equity in your home because of rising valuations, but if you sold you’d struggle to find a new house you can afford?

Our company is in the business of supporting housing affordability and we see the impacts daily.  Heck, our team has experienced it when we’ve tried to buy or rent homes for ourselves.

The County may be willing to admit we have a housing problem, but they’re not looking deep enough for the source of why we are so far behind and we can’t seem to catch up.

The housing crisis is solvable if we have accurate data upon which to hold the type of policy discussions needed.  If not, prices will continue to skyrocket, homeowner tax burdens will increase, and homeownership will remain out of reach for many.

Want to help the fight?  Send a quick letter or email to the folks on the Snohomish County Tomorrow Steering Committee to let them know we need to have accurate buildable lands information to ensure we have better planning.  Here’s how you can contact them:

Send them an email:

cynthia.pruitt(at)snoco.org

Send them a letter:

Snohomish County Tomorrow
Attn: Cynthia Pruitt
3000 Rockefeller Ave
Everett, WA 98201

TSA Comment Letter on Draft Buildable Lands-rf
BLR Letter SCT FINAL

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