Letters to the Editor

Federal Way desperately needs affordable housing | Letters

As a resident of Federal Way, I would like to comment on the Park 16 Project application for revenue bond financing, as well as the City of Federal Way's official comments on this project.

The most glaring statistics on this subject are those provided by the U.S. Census, American Community Survey from 2012 for the City of Federal Way. It finds that an incredible 28.2 percent of Federal Way renters are paying a Gross Rent As a Percentage of household Income (GRAPI) that is 50 percent or greater. Let me repeat, more than a quarter of all renters residing within Federal Way are paying more than half of their income in rent. It's shocking. Also, the Census report finds that another 14 percent are paying between 40 percent and 49.9 percent of household income on rent. And another 20.3 percent of all Federal Way renters are paying between 30 percent and 39.9 percent of their income on housing.

By definition, housing that requires 30 percent or more of household income is considered to be "unaffordable." According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 30 percent of gross income is the maximum that all but wealthy households can pay in housing costs without creating an excessive housing cost burden.

Therefore, regardless of whatever statistics the City of Federal Way spits out, for more than 62 percent of the city's renters, housing is by definition "unaffordable." Thus, despite what the City of Federal Way might claim, it seems evident that there isn't a glut of "affordable" housing within the city, but the exact opposite. According to these numbers, there are currently almost 10,000 households who rent in the city experiencing "excessive housing cost burden."

The numbers become even direr when we break down the data based on income level. From the same data set (U.S. Census, American Community Survey from 2012 for the City of Federal Way), we find that an unbelievable 91.2 percent of households (7,225 of 7,919) making less than $35,000 a year are paying more 30 percent of their income (i.e. a level that is "by definition" unaffordable) on rent. When the data set is expanded to look at all households making less than $50,000 a year, the outlook becomes only marginally less grim with 83.3 percent of all households within that group (8,857 of 10,627) paying rents that are unaffordable, i.e. a GRAPI of greater than 30 percent.

In the city's comments on the Park 16 project, it wrote "The overarching goal of the Consolidated Plan related to rental housing is to ensure adequate supply of affordable rental housing in the City. As is evident ... the City is very successful in meeting this objective even without the infusion of additional lower-income, rental housing."

How can the City of Federal Way say that there is "adequate supply of affordable rental housing" when more than a quarter of all the city's renters are paying more than half their income on housing? Or when 91 percent and 83 percent of all renters making less than $35,000 and $50,000, respectively, have to cope with unaffordable housing? Their claims are absurd on their face.

I need not tell you that for those burdened by unaffordable housing, life can appear bleak. If you are paying more than 30 percent of your income on rent, then you are, almost definitionally, incapable of saving for the proverbial "rainy day" (e.g. a workplace injury, a family illness, or loss of what modest income you earn). Life is difficult for those living paycheck to paycheck. The financial relief experienced by those fortunate enough to live in subsidized housing can be life-altering. For most in these situations, they want nothing more than to make a better life for themselves and their families. Reduced housing costs provide people with the financial bandwidth to, among other things, afford the training and education to better themselves and the prospects for their families.

Basing affordability on a county-wide basis (though that is the language used in the Growth Management Act) seems to be a knowingly deceptive position by the city. The median income of a Federal Way household ($68,200) is less than 80 percent of the King County figure ($85,600). Of course, housing in Federal Way is going to seem comparatively affordable to the rest of the county. Also, by focusing solely on housing between 51 percent and 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) in King County, it has little relevance to the city's needs or the Park 16 Project's targeted residents.

As the Census numbers have shown, there is a desperate need for affordable housing, particularly at the lower end of the income ladder, and the Park 16 Project (apparently) focuses on that group with renters earning no more than 60 percent of AMI. Perhaps, based on King County statistics, Federal Way has a decent number of rental units between 51 percent and 80 percent of AMI, but that isn't for the most part the community served by the Park 16 Project. The figures provided by the city have little bearing on the community targeted by the project given how little overlap there is between them.

In conclusion, despite the claims of the city, Federal Way is clearly in desperate need for truly affordable housing. While I would need to know more about the Park 16 Project to be a full-throated supporter, I am extremely frustrated by the NIMBY reaction of the city. Also, it seems particularly callous by city officials who have over the decades designed a city with a very large low-wage job-producing retail sector to now try to block the tax credits that would allow for some of the city's workers to affordably be the city's residents.

Richard D. Champion, PhD, Federal Way


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