HOUSING

Olympia City Council approves Housing Action Plan

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The Olympia City Council approved the Housing Action Plan, yesterday, which provides key strategies to help residents get an access affordable housing.

Olympia’s Strategic Projects Manager, Amy Buckler, shared the proposal during the regular city council meeting on June 22. Buckler explained that they identified six key strategies under the city’s Housing Action Plan. These include:

  1. Increase the supply of low-income housing
  2. Make it easier for residents access housing and ensure that they remain housed
  3. Expand the housing supply by making it easier to build all types of housing projects
  4. Provide a variety of housing options
  5. Continue the conversation and collaboration among their partners to provide feasible housing strategies
  6. Establish permanent funding to build low-income housing.

The action was a part of Washington State House Bill 1923  passed in 2019, which grants federal funding for cities within Washington state to encourage the construction of affordable housing. Olympia also partnered with neighboring cities including, Lacey and Tumwater, to create a Housing Needs Assessment and draft an Action Plan.

The resolution is non-binding for any upcoming housing or government projects but serves as the city’s guide in making future housing actions and regulations. “We can really look at this as a living framework for our housing program,” Buckler said.

The project manager noted that the resolution is just a continuation of the steps that the city had taken. In fact, Buckler shared that Olympia is already implementing some of the recommended action steps in the plan.

For example, the city had already adopted tax exemptions on multi-family housing such as in the case of Merritt Manor. For the project, the city had given a 12-year tax exemption and 80 percent impact fee exemption to the building developers. In addition, Buckler also said that the city had provided flexible codes to encourage the construction of accessory dwelling units.

In the future, Buckler mentioned they plan to make it easier for developers to rehabilitate buildings, as well as reduce parking requirements. Moreover, they would also implement regulations to protect tenants, as well as provide relocation assistance.

The city's plans are based on the results of the housing needs assessment. In their study, Buckler projected that in the next 25 years, the cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater might need around 29,500 new homes. To meet the demand, Olympia needs to have at least 14,000 new homes.

“Not only is our population growing, our demographics are changing,” Buckler said. She continued by saying that the city will have an old population, that by 2045, 1 in 4 residents will be over 65. In terms of composition, the study provides that only 37 percent of the households belong to a nuclear family or families composed of parents and their children.

Buckler claimed that their study shows people of color are heavily affected by the housing crisis. She also recognized that this was a result of previous redlining and zoning regulations that made it difficult for them to own a home.

Unfortunately, Buckler said, these narratives continue until this day, as people of color are less likely to own a home and are more likely to have more people in their household, have smaller income, and are at risk of being homeless.

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