Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) discussion of the housing needs assessment and proposed allocation methodology, TRPC member Hilary Seidel urged the staff Friday, January 2, to consider educational needs as part of their planning process.
TRPC senior planner Allison Osterberg presented the housing allocation to the council, assessing the need for housing at different income levels in Thurston County jurisdictions over the next 20 years.
The presentation covered housing supply, projected future housing needs, and a proposed methodology for allocating that need across the county's cities, towns, and rural areas.
The assessment was undertaken to comply with the state's HB 1220, requiring jurisdictions to "plan for and accommodate housing affordable to all economic segments of the population."
Osterberg explained that TRPC worked with county and city partners to analyze existing housing supply data and project future housing demand. They looked at housing affordability for different income brackets and what additional units would be needed by 2045. Over 54,000 new housing units will be required in Thurston County by 2045.
Osterberg noted that while jurisdictions are not required to specifically plan for or allocate housing needs for those earning 80-120% or more of the area median income, that income segment still represents a significant portion of the overall housing market or supply in the county. She said there is a need for more affordable housing for those below 50% of the AMI, as well as supportive housing options.
The assessment also examined how the countywide projected housing need of 54,000 additional units could be allocated or distributed across the different cities, towns, and rural areas. A proposed methodology aimed to spread lower-income housing options across jurisdictions rather than concentrating them in only one or two places.
Representing the interests of students and school districts, Seidel wanted to keep education at the forefront of discussions as the TRPC determines how best to distribute over 50,000 homes equitably and sustainably across Thurston County jurisdictions.
Seidel, Olympia School District Board president, cautioned a potential strain that could result if a significant number of the over 50,000 new housing units were allocated outside of urban growth boundaries and into rural areas instead.
"If we locate more housing in rural areas, those schools will not necessarily have seats. And yet, in our schools in Olympia, we have lots of room. So, I think that's one thing to think about in terms of planning out - what we want our communities to look like," Seidel said. "When people move to a community, they expect to have services, and schools are one of those really important integrated services."
TRPC member John O'Callahan of Tenino raised several questions about defining affordable housing. "We need to look at what that means instead of just saying affordable housing."
O'Callahan pointed out that it would be extremely difficult for a household earning $30,000 annually to afford even an apartment, let alone a house.
He noted that with a household size of four people (as was assumed in the needs assessment), trying to live on a $30,000 total annual income would require significant financial stretching to afford basic housing without accounting for other necessities like food, transportation, utilities and other living expenses.
"What do we mean by affordable housing? And what kind of a house can somebody buy with $30,000?" O'Callahan inquired.
Without clear guidelines defining the costs associated with affordable housing, O'Callahan said it would be difficult for jurisdictions and builders to develop projects that meet affordability requirements. He pointed out that material prices have increased sharply in recent years, making projects more expensive.
In addition, O'Callahan brought up challenges like obtaining water rights, which he said took Lacey two decades to secure. He stressed that the infrastructure needs to support thousands of new homes, such as electricity access.
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