On Monday, June 24, the Snoqualmie City Council passed new rules that pave the way for what could be the largest affordable housing project in city history.
Five council members—Jeff MacNichols and Maria Henriksen had excused absences—unanimously approved an ordinance allowing tax exemptions for multifamily housing.
This new law allows affordable housing projects, such as Imagine Housing's planned neighborhood on Snoqualmie Ridge, Timber Falls, to receive tax exemptions under specific conditions. Tax exemption is not automatic and would be subject to a number of steps, including council approval, for a specific term of years, either eight or 12.
In a lengthy public hearing before the vote, more than a dozen citizens and speakers took the podium. Opposing the tax exemption, residents of neighborhoods near Timber Falls characterized the project as too big and the site too flawed. Several proponents of the project, among them county officials, staff and allies of Imagine Housing, aired their hope that the site could help transform lives for people of lesser means.
"I ask you today to not approve the tax exemption," Tom Tice, a neighbor and Snoqualmie Planning Commission member, told the council. "It's out of character with our neighbors. It's not something that represents what Snoqualmie is, why everybody moved up here."
"Everybody who thinks this is good is outside of Snoqualmie," said neighbor Chris Deutsch. "They've talked to lots of people in Snoqualmie—merchants and residents—who think it's a great idea—but none of them are here. The residents are here. They are the ones who are asking you not to do this."
Qiana Ross of Bellevue, a former tenant of Imagine's Andrews Glenn affordable community, came to Snoqualmie to urge the council to approve the exemption. She rejects the notion that the neighborhood is a ghetto.
"It's not low-income, it's affordable housing," said Ross. Imagine's development is targeted at people who earn at or less than 60 percent of the annual median income for the region, roughly $36,900 for a single person, $42,240 for a couple.
"Please understand the difference that affordable rent can make in ensuring growth and stability of a resident," said Ross. A veteran, she earned a college degree and is pursuing a health career at the University of Washington.
"I want others, especially veterans, to have the same opportunities," she said.
Monday's public hearing saw several spirited moments. One exemption opponent pledged to organize candidates to run against any council members who voted to approve affordable housing. Mayor Matt Larson banged his gavel and threatened to halt the meeting, a rare occurance, to quiet one speaker who piped up out of turn from the audience.
The council also approved Resolution 1204, designating Parcel S-20, proposed site of Timber Falls, as the city's target area for tax exemption.
"I really want the council to think about the tax pressure you're putting on the citizenry," said resident Jim Renahan, who opposed the move. "Respect our input and not allow any tax exemption on that parcel."
With the exemptions now in place, the council will be the final authority on whether Imagine's proposal, now in the early stages of consideration by the city, receives the tax break.