Olympia 2023 recap, Part I: Taxes and housing – or lack thereof

How did public input shape Olympia’s decisions in 2023?


In 2023, community votes and input played a vital role in shaping the direction of decisionmaking in Olympia. During the April election, Olympia and Tumwater rejected the proposed creation of a regional fire authority, with over 63% voting against the proposition. Those who strongly opposed the RFA argued that the funding formula was overly complicated and would regressively tax the people.

In November, Olympia made strides toward diversity and inclusivity in leadership as it voted for Dontae Payne, the first Black member of the LGBTQ and Jewish communities, to helm the city as its mayor.

However, the influence of public input in civic decisions has had different results. On some issues, public sentiment impacted the policy outcome. In other cases, residents’ views did not prevent certain reforms.

Community engagement

People have been clamoring for the city to prioritize sidewalk projects for years. Community members bombarded the city council and committees with comments about sidewalks.

As a result, the city council approved a 0.1% tax sales increase, which would generate $3.1 million in revenue annually to be dedicated explicitly to sidewalks and pathways, bicycle improvements, and access and safety improvement projects.

Despite strong opposition from the community, the city council approved amendments to Multi-Family Tax Exemption plan that would expand the program to include eastside and westside residential areas and three new neighborhood centers – Division and 20th Streets, San Francisco and Bethel Streets, Fones Road and 18th Avenue, and 3900 Boulevard Road. Community members opposed this program, saying that it unfairly uses taxpayers to subsidize wealthy developers.

Community members heavily criticized the Olympia Planning Commission's parking proposal of no minimum parking requirement for single-family, duplexes, and townhouses and zero to 1.25 spaces per unit for multifamily units. When the proposal reached the city council for consideration, councilmembers retained the standard 1.5 spaces per unit for developments with three or more units. The approved ordinance eliminated parking requirements within the Capital Mall Triangle area and within a half mile of frequent transit services. 

About 70% of residents believe Olympia is heading on the wrong track, according to Embold Research, which was commissioned by the city to conduct an online survey in May to gauge opinion among residents. The latest survey reflected a further decline in residents’ negative perceptions of the city’s direction.

In the city’s official Actually Olympia: The Blog, Olympia City Manager Jay Burney stated that while the community is not yet seeing progress on some key initiatives, the survey does confirm that the city's work is rightly focused on the issues the community is most concerned about - housing and homelessness, public safety, the economy, and communication.

In March, Olympia Housing Program specialist Christa Lenssen presented the Fair Housing assessment findings the city and Thurston County had assembled the previous year.

Citing a survey with over 600 participants, Lenssen reported that Thurston County residents are most likely to experience and report discrimination based on source of income, disability, race, and family status. Respondents said affordable housing should be a priority.


The city proactively took on homelessness and housing issues by introducing new policies and collaborations with other jurisdictions to help address these challenges.

Recognizing that persistent houselessness poses a significant threat to public health and safety of the entire community, the city council extended the declaration of a public health emergency related to this issue for a year.

Olympia enters partnerships with Tumwater, Lacey, and Thurston Council for Franz Anderson Road permanent supportive housing project to construct 70 studio and one-bedroom units.

A 10-acre city-owned property at 3900 Boulevard Road SE was sold to South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity to build more than 100 affordable low-income housing units.

For temporary housing, the city entered partnerships with multiple organizations:

  • Plum Street Village – 29-unit tiny home village operated by Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI)
  • Quince Street Village – 100-unit tiny home village operated by Catholic Community Services
  • Valeo Vocations – partnered with Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council, an agency that works with unhoused folks to return to the workforce
  • Franz-Anderson – 50-unit tiny home village in the works
  • Hope Village – 10-unit tiny home village at Westminster Presbyterian operated by the church and CCS
  • New Hope Village – six-unit home village at First Christian Church, operated by the church and OlyMAP
  • ROW (right-of-way) Days Inn – rehabilitate 120 units to permanent housing
  • Lightfoot cited ongoing projects and initiatives related to permanent housing:
  • Unity Commons Phase 2 – a 60-unit supportive housing building operated by LIHI on Martin Way. Phase 1 was expected to be occupied by the end of 2023.
  • Franklin/Olympia (previous Mitigation Site) - the city entered into a purchase and sell agreement with 228 Olympia LLLP to construct 81 low-income housing units.
  • Quince Street – plan includes three years of tiny home operation, then conversion to permanent supportive housing.

Housing and rental policy

The Olympia City Council passed an ordinance establishing a rental housing registry and inspection program to improve housing quality and tenant protection. Some community members expressed concerns about how the rental registry ordinance would impact small “mom and pop” landlords in Olympia.

Olympia is pursuing a $10-million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to increase homeownership opportunities for low-income individuals. The Pathways to Removing Obstacles to Housing (PRO Housing) grant proposal focuses on removing barriers to homeownership for first-time homebuyers with incomes at or below 80% of the area median income.

The city plans to update its land use codes and regulations to comply with new state laws related to middle housing and accessory dwelling units (ADU) and increase housing availability and affordability.

Editors note: edited for clarity 9:12 p.m. 12-29-2023


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  • Yeti1981

    If you call the same 5 or 10 community members opposed to everything related to development "strong opposition," what are the nearly 500 local builders (represented by OMB) and the many community members involved in Olympians for People Oriented Places and other general housing advocates called?

    Tuesday, January 2 Report this