The need for multi-family housing in Enumclaw | In Focus

We all have a say in what the future of this city looks like

Rich Elfers

Rich Elfers

Enumclaw is the town of choice for many people.

During the Enumclaw City Council meeting on July 26, the Council and staff had a lengthy discussion on the need for multi-family housing based upon recently enacted state legislation. No multi-family housing properties like the Chinook Apartments off Porter Avenue or the apartments on Semanski across from the high school have been built in the past thirty years. Nearly all the residences built in Enumclaw since then have been single family dwellings.

If you’re like me and you own a house, you have been called multiple times by investors who offer cash to buy your house. There’s a definite housing shortage in Enumclaw, but there is an even greater demand for apartments. Some of the major employers would like their employees to be able to live in town, but there are few places that they can afford. Employees are forced to look elsewhere for housing. We are living in a time of housing shortages that have driven prices and rents through the roof.

Added to that, King County has purchased development rights to property north, south and west of the city. Additionally, the White River and Pierce County lie to the south. That means annexation of county property into the city is not a viable option. Enumclaw can only grow into the areas designated by the Growth Management Act.

Senior citizen housing is also an issue. Many people in their fifties, sixties, and older would like to remain in the city, but downsizing to senior citizen housing is not really an option. There simply aren’t that many transitional apartments available.

Homelessness is also an issue. Subsidized apartments have been encouraged by the state to deal with the poor. Two council members were concerned with the impact of low-income renters living in the city and changing the nature of the community. How many subsidized units should be built? It was the state’s plan that some of the cost of low-income housing be passed on to homeowners through increased property taxes. The example was given that a house worth $400,000 might see an increase of between $2 to $10 to their yearly taxes. One of the staff wondered whether even a dollar rise in property taxes would be acceptable to some homeowners. Two council members opposed increasing low-income housing, one of them making an exception for seniors.

Taxes on these properties would be deferred either eight or twelve years, according to state guidelines, to give incentives to builders. That means no taxes would come to the city during that time. How would the police, the fire department and the school district cover the financial load of increased hiring? If a non-profit contractor decided to build an apartment unit, tax exemptions could be extended to 40 or 50 years. The city would have little control or income from such a project.

The choice of whether or not to build multi-family homes depends a great deal on contractors. Chris Pasinetti, Community Development Director, interviewed two large contractors who build such units and asked them what they would need in order to built multi-family apartments. They told him that they would need buildings more than two stories in height with between twenty-to-twenty-two units per acre. The apartment footprint would ideally be between ten to fifteen acres to allow for amenities such as a pool and a park, but as low as five acres was possible. The goal is to incentivize such projects, but as noted in the meeting, there are numerous county, state, and federal tax incentives already in place.

The Council reached no consensus on the direction the City should take on this issue. They are looking for public input. It seems the real issue is deciding what our city should look like in the next five to twenty years.

Citizens of Enumclaw, this is your chance to share your thoughts. What this city becomes lies in your power. Democracy only works when the citizens get involved.

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