Housing troubles growing in Enumclaw

The housing crisis that has rocked big cities has trickled down to smaller communities like Enumclaw.

That unfortunate fact — the product of a rebounding economy and often-limited housing inventory — was emphasized during the most recent meeting of the Enumclaw City Council.

Stepping before the council was Britt Nelson, director of Plateau Outreach Ministries, who updated the council on two programs that receive financial assistance from the city.

For 2017, the council awarded POM $15,000 so it can help city residents pay utility bills; additionally, $5,000 was given so POM can assist those who have trouble paying their monthly rent.

POM’s rental assistance program rescues those in danger of being evicted, a very real situation given the current rental landscape that includes sometimes-limited options and growing costs.

“There are a lot of housing challenges,” Nelson said, “and we don’t see it getting any better.”

Citing a local example, Nelson said POM recently worked with a man living on a military pension who couldn’t absorb a $160 bump in his monthly rent. Having received an eviction notice, he turned to POM for assistance.

The problem, Nelson said, exists throughout the booming region, where housing demands are continuing to push up costs.

“The housing crisis is everywhere,” she said, relaying a recent study that showed a minimum-wage employee in Seattle needs to work 87 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

“We’re not quite that bad,” Nelson said, but the outlook is far from rosy. In Enumclaw, she said, a minimum-wage employee has to log a 68-hour work week for a one-bedroom unit.

Through five months of 2017, she reported, POM has awarded $13,000 in rental assistance. The city’s contribution is just one part of the financial equation, she said, adding that fundraising and the POM thrift store — More Pennies From Heaven — help make ends meet.

Through the “utility voucher assistance program,” POM does not handle any money; rather, staff examines client’s financial difficulties and works with the city’s utility and finance departments to get bills paid. Through the first five months of the year, Nelson said, $7,700 has been spent.

Those who benefit, she said, range from young families to senior citizens on fixed incomes. When budgets are stretched thin and utility bills cannot be paid, Nelson said, unplanned medical bills are often the culprit.

Also during their June 12 meeting, Enumclaw City Council members:

• were told that a professional fireworks display will not be a part of this year’s Stars and Stripes celebration. For several years, the city’s Fourth of July festivities have concluded with a pyrotechnic display, most recently at the large field between Southwood and Sunrise elementary schools.

Mayor Liz Reynolds noted that the fireworks display, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, has been called off “due to environment causes.” Specifically, it’s about birds.

“We are a plateau that is rich with eagle nests,” Reynolds said, explaining that it is illegal to discharge fireworks within one mile of hatchlings. Violating the rules, she said, brings “a considerable fine.”

A few years back, the community display was at Expo Center. Reynolds said the state’s Department of Wildlife notified the city of a nearby nest and, further, explained that the holiday’s booms and blasts carried a potential fine of $100,000.

With that, a decision was made to move the display to the other side of town. Now, Reynolds said, the Chamber of Commerce faces the same situation. Given the circumstances, the chamber’s board of directors opted to cancel the fireworks display, she said.

• approved a $35,000 contract for a “downtown plaza and pavilion” study. The money had been approved in the 2017 budget, earmarked for an examination of the public space bordered by Cole and Railroad streets between Initial Avenue on the north and Stevenson Avenue on the south.

The study is to focus on the northern portion of the block, used primarily for parking. The southern half also has parking but includes the city-owned building occupied by Arts Alive! and the Chamber of Commerce.

A memo from City Administrator Chris Searcy noted the study will take place over four months, could look to existing development in Puyallup and Renton, and could consider options like a pavilion, space for public art, recreation opportunities and public parking improvements. The public would have a chance to weigh in, the memo said, before plans were moved forward.

A proposed timeline calls for recommendations to be made in September with a final report coming in October.

Conducting the study will be BHS Consultants.

• approved a contract that will bring improvements to both the tennis and basketball courts at Garrett Park.

During the 2017 budget process, $30,000 had been set aside for the project. Four bids were received, three were deemed “responsive” and the best offer came from Lewis Surface Development Co. The bid was $31,468, which was accepted.

Work will include patching cracks and filling low spots, with new court surfaces and appropriate striping.