Will $70 million stave off Tacoma's housing crisis? ‘Action strategy' offers blueprint

Will $70 million stave off Tacoma's housing crisis? ‘Action strategy' offers blueprint

TACOMA, Wash. — The Tacoma City Council has received an action strategy to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis.

And, crisis is not hyperbole. As the new plan noted: “Simply put, the city’s housing supply cannot meet the daily needs of its residents, and this needs to change.”

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The city estimates new services to help individuals, combined with work on new or preserved housing, potentially would reach about 10,500 households over a 10-year span at a cost of as much as $70 million. An investment of public, philanthropic and private resources would help meet the costs for the projects.

Mayor Victoria Woodards was pleased with the depth of the new strategy, which was presented to the City Council on Tuesday by Daniel Murillo, the city’s housing division manager.

“This is a great plan and I’m excited to adopt it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Woodards said.

The plan takes on four key areas in housing and cost estimates:

▪ Production of new homes: 6,000 units at a cost of $15 million to $33 million.

▪ Preservation of existing, affordable homes: 2,300 units $10 million to $24 million.

▪ Anti-displacement measures: 1,200 households: $3 million to $4 million.

▪ Removal of barriers to housing: 1,000 households: $3 million to $7 million.

And, it calls on numerous entities and individuals to get involved.

“Actions will not be successful without policy leadership, changes to the way the city programs and departments operate, and close partnerships with local and regional developers, cultural and nonprofit organizations, financial institutions, philanthropic organizations, and community members.”

Beyond that framework, the report offers myriad ways to put the strategy into practice, starting with dedicated funding “whether general funds, property tax levy, real-estate transaction fees or other methods” to provide the City’s Housing Trust Fund with more money to preserve affordable housing and build more.

A dedicated funding source also is recommended to keep rents stable at subsidized and unsubsidized housing units, and to make it easier for the city or its partners to buy back subsidized properties as their income restrictions expire and keep residents in their homes.

Another proposed option: changing the city’s land-use provisions to make it easier to build “less costly, small-scale homes, such as accessory dwelling units or duplexes.”

It also calls for “working with landlords to increase participation in rental assistance programs and their willingness to accept ‘higher-barrier’ households.”

Tacoma has seen some of the fastest rising rents nationwide. A recent Apartment List report noted a typical two-bedroom apartment renting at $1,543 a month, up 3.1 percent from the previous year.

Offering other evidence of the city’s tough housing market, the report notes that “One measure of housing need is ‘cost-burden’— or when a household pays more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing, including utilities. If a household pays more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing, that household is ‘severely cost-burdened.’ ”

The report notes that as of now, more than 18,600 renters and 14,000 homeowners in the city “experience cost-burdens.”

Evictions, particularly those involving large numbers of people, are a growing concern after low-income residents at the Tiki Apartments and the Merkle Hotel were displaced earlier this year.

To combat displacement, the strategy recommends making sure residents have substantial notice of rent hikes or lease terminations, and that relocation assistance be established “as part of a comprehensive tenant protections policy.”

To that end, a public hearing on relocation assistance is scheduled for the next City Council meeting on Oct. 2. The proposal calls for giving low-income tenants $2,000 in support if a landlord demolishes, substantially rehabilitates or changes the use of a residential property, or when use restrictions in an assisted-housing development are removed.

In the action strategy, local tax relief for homeowners also gets a mention. Such action would help homeowners “lower their overall housing costs and keep them in their homes. This program could also provide a grant back to eligible homeowners to help offset higher property taxes.”

To arrive at the strategy, city staffers spent four months meeting with members of the community and obtaining feedback online and in person from community partners. Many of the plan's recommendations are reminiscent of a similar affordable housing report submitted to the City Council in 2010.

The new plan now is in the hands of city staff members and the City Council to make the “action” part of the report’s title a reality. Implementing the plan will require staffers to work with individuals involved in local housing, with major components of the plan going to the City Council for review/approval.

An online housing market policy dashboard has been created to illustrate potential effects of incentives for creating income-restricted affordable housing.

As far as a timeline, a statement from the city after release of the plan noted: "City staff would incorporate budget requests as it brings forward implementation actions over the next several years."

On Page 65 of the strategy, it recommends developing a implementation checklist, and creating a twice-a-year scorecard to report performance and show the progress on the number of units produced or preserved and households served.

Before the plan was presented to the City Council, public comments offered anecdotal evidence of the current state of housing in the city.

One speaker, who was born in 1943 in Tacoma and who “started work in 1958,” noted he soon will face displacement.

“I like to work,” he said. “I’ve owned property, an airplane ... I’ve done a lot of different things.”

He implored the council members to look at him, an elderly man in his 70s.

“I am the new homeless,” he said. “I’m the new person who doesn’t have a place to live. The new homeless doesn’t look like somebody sleeping under an overpass or in the weeds or in a tent.”

You can view the full report at https://bit.ly/2Ohtw5x