The Enumclaw City Council chambers. File photo

Tax breaks for apartment developments? City seeks public comment

Enumclaw discusses tax breaks for multi-family developments. Public can comment Aug. 9.

The city of Enumclaw has seen a housing boom in recent years with developments springing to life on both the east and west sides of town. One thing missing from the housing mix, though, is any hint of new apartment life.

It has been 30 years since a notable complex was built. That came in 1991 when the Chinook Apartments appeared at the north end of Cole Street.

The multi-family omission from the municipal landscape is now being addressed by members of the Enumclaw City Council, who are considering a program that would provide substantial tax breaks for anyone stepping forward to build a housing complex with more than four units.

The issue again came to light during the City Council meeting of July 26. The evening’s agenda included lengthy discussion by council members along with a presentation by Anne Fritzel, a senior planner with the Washington State Department of Commerce. She outlined and clarified some of the factors the city can consider.

The bottom line is rather simple: depending upon the type of housing built, developers could be exempt from paying some of their city property taxes.

One option would provide developers with an eight-year exemption, while an alternate route would eliminate property tax for 12 years. To qualify for the full 12-year exemption, a property owner must commit to renting or selling 20 percent of the available housing units to people qualifying as low- or moderate-income.

A day after the council meeting, City Administrator Chris Searcy was quick to clarify that the city isn’t solely chasing after low-income housing. Rather, he said, the goal is for something between “market rate” rentals and a target audience perhaps with an income in the 80 percent of average range.

The city has pondered the lack of new apartment buildings and, as part of the 2021 work plan, the council asked the city’s Planning Commission to look at exemptions for multi-family developments.

Fritzel, who heads the multi-family tax exemption program for the Commerce Department, said it’s a “very exciting time” in her field. Last year about 100 jurisdictions throughout the state were eligible to offer the program and about 25 have actually issued certificates. Additionally, she noted Commerce is adding staff to assist cities.

She emphasized that cities maintain control if they choose to offer incentives in the way of tax breaks. Enumclaw could determine where multi-family developments could be built and set income levels for potential residents.

When members of the Planning Commission studied the issue they forwarded a “do not approve” recommendation to the council. Chris Pasinetti, the city’s director of community development, explained that implementing the program could require considerable time by his staff to meet the program’s reporting and monitoring requirements. Additionally, it’s thought that the state Legislature could change some of the program rules, perhaps as early as the next session.

Members of the council were divided on the issue but were unanimous in their agreement that public comment is needed. Anyone wishing to share an opinion can attend the Aug. 9 meeting of the council, which will include a formal public hearing. The session begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1339 Griffin Ave.

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