Letter to Editor: What’s keeping us from affordable housing (Housing Authority of Snohomish County)

Date Published: 
September 7th, 2021

Housing Authority of Snohomish County Executive Director Duane Leonard wrote the following letter to Washington State's The Daily Herald addressing news coverage of HASCO's Whispering Pines redevelopment:

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) is writing to add our voice to the recent coverage of the Whispering Pines redevelopment (“Whispering Pines residents ‘terrified’ as demolition looms,” The Herald, July 30.

What this story really shows is the absolute need for more affordable housing. HASCO has known this would create hardship for many of the residents who must move. I receive calls every week from people looking for housing assistance, for themselves, for a parent, for a child. But operating an unsafe project is the antithesis of HASCO’s mission.

This year we celebrate our 50th anniversary, and for all that time HASCO has been advocating for, and creating affordable housing in the county, along with Everett Housing Authority and other local non-profits, such as Housing Hope, the YWCA, the Volunteers of America, Catholic Community Services and others. For most of that time we have all met resistance at every turn.

I had the opportunity to present my opinions to the County’s Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce (HART) in 2019. I said at the time the three things that the county needed most for affordable housing were political leadership: fighting NIMBYism (not in my backyard) and money. So far very little if anything has been achieved.

In fact, since then one local city council voted down a proposed project where a school district partnered with Housing Hope to propose housing for homeless families on district property, but the neighborhood wanted it kept as open space where their pets could roam free. I have listened to another city council’s recorded meetings where council members have stated outright discriminatory viewpoints on the record against people of lower means; and another where the city is being torn apart just discussing and planning for growth. Is this political leadership? Is this fighting NIMBYism? And no one has even attempted anything about increasing available resources. HASCO has no taxing authority; we can only work with what we are given.

Income inequality is greater now than it ever has been. We have billionaires launching themselves into space while many people do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. In 2019 the average unemployment rate in the county was 2.8 percent. And yet we still had 77,000 families in the county who could qualify for a housing assistance program because they made less than $55,300 a year. They would be assisted, if there were enough resources available. As it is, HASCO can only serve about 6,400 households with a Section 8 voucher or unit at any one time. Many of these people not only worked, but worked more than one job; they just worked for low wages.

Unfortunately, the income inequality trend is accelerating. Most wage gains are going to people already at the top of the scale and families are falling out the bottom of the social safety net. This is happening before our very eyes and yet it takes something like the Whispering Pines re-development to bring people’s attention to the painful reality.

Therefore, I would implore each one of you to advocate to your local elected leaders to do more for affordable housing, to have courage and to stand up to NIMBYism. Housing stability is essential for healthy communities. In our present winner-take-all economy, some are doing fine, but many are falling behind and falling behind has a cost. The cost of higher incarceration rates, lower educational achievement, poorer health due to greater chronic stress, chronic illness and other forms of human misery that damage the community.

Without stable housing, our community will surely suffer, and doing nothing is no longer an option This will only make things much, much worse.

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