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Kirkland Housing Dialogue sparks discussion on job, housing imbalance

From left, Eric Shields, the city
From left, Eric Shields, the city's planning director, Rick Lerz with Kirkland-based Nytec, Nancy Hamilton with EvergreenHealth Medical Center, Doug Davis with Hallmark Realty, and Arthur Sullivan with ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing), Brenda Nunes, the organizer and panelists facilitator, Eric Campbell with Toll Brothers, Linda Pruitt with the Cottage Company, Gary Young with Polygon Northwest, Len McAdams with McAdams Remodeling and Design, and Robert Pantley with Natural and Built Environments discuss the housing situation in Kirkland and the Eastside at the first Kirkland Housing Dialogue on April 22.
— image credit: Raechel Dawson/ Kirkland Reporter

Council members Penny Sweet, Jay Arnold, Dave Asher and Rep. Larry Springer were among the 60 who attended the first Kirkland Housing Dialogue meeting on an early Tuesday morning.

Organized by Eastside realtor Brenda Nunes, the dialogue on April 22 was meant to spur awareness surrounding the lack of affordable housing in Kirkland, as well as connect the business community to the building community.

“We’ve seen an increase in people looking for properties who A. can’t afford them or B. they’re in multiple bid situations,” Nunes said. “It gets frustrating for buyers. The inventory here is too costly.”

Panelists Eric Shields, the city’s planning director, Rick Lerz with Kirkland-based Nytec, Nancy Hamilton with EvergreenHealth Medical Center, Doug Davis with Hallmark Realty, and Arthur Sullivan with ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing) described the housing dilemma for citizens in Kirkland.

With 22,000 jobs projected by 2035, Kirkland city officials are actively pursuing ways they can make the Comprehensive Plan Update fit the needs of Kirkland’s future, Sweet said in an introduction.

Citing the Employment Security Department and the Puget Sound Regional Council, Shields said of the 38,000 employees in Kirkland, 75 percent who commute drive to work alone.

“One of the things the city is grappling with is the job and housing balance,” he said at the meeting.

According to the Growth Management Act, the city should be planning for 22,400 more jobs with 8,300 housing units, but “that in itself is not balanced.” The city currently has 3,700 housing units for the 38,000 jobs, Shields said.

Lerz was able to back up Shields’s stats with his own figures. The average Nytec employee travels 14 miles each way to work every day.

While 71 percent of Nytec employees live in King County and the majority commute from Redmond, 18 percent live in Snohomish County with Pierce, Kitsap and Skagit County also in the mix. One employee even commutes from Graham, he said.

Of the demographic who lives in Snohomish County, the majority are young, single and make the lower end of the company’s annual salary -- about $48,000.

“They look solely at obvious [housing] cost,” he said. “They don’t look at cost of travel time, car maintenance, wear and tear. By living closer and reducing car costs, they can afford more house.”

Furthermore, of the 3,834 employees at EvergreenHealth Medical Center, a good 15 percent live in Kirkland, Hamilton said, adding that 28 percent live in Bothell, Seattle and Redmond.

Hospital employee’s average commute time is 16.4 miles, with the majority of their lower paid staff of $49,000 a year relying on the King County Metro bus system, she said.

“What happens when you can’t find something local is you end up commuting,” Nunes said. “The freeway from Snohomish County, down south, it’s packed. We spend so much time commuting because we can’t afford to live where we work.”

Davis, a realtor, said currently the 235 homes for sale in Kirkland are on average worth $725,000 south of Northeast 116th Street. While single-family homes, north of the old city boundary are between $525,000 and $600,000.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and in the last three years, I’ve seen so many cash sales,” he said.

Davis described a recent situation where a middle-class family was vying for a 1972 Houghton rambler worth about $800,000. They sent photos of their family and told the owners they wanted their kids to go to Lakeview Elementary school but it was a “multiple offer” home with people who could buy it outright, flip it and make millions.

“They’re gone in days -- quick, quick,” Davis said. “There’s 20-30 waitresses who work downtown. They all need a place to live. It’d be nice if they didn’t have to commute.”

Nunes recalls a “famous” teal house in Bellevue that once had 44 offers. Her most recent multiple-offer situation involved 14 offers for the home.

“We’re getting more people wanting to live in Kirkland,” said Nunes, who has worked in Kirkland for the last 20 years with Keller Williams Eastside. “The demand has been really strong the last year or two. Prior to the recession it was strong as well.”

Sullivan stated that the average wage in Kirkland is between $30,000 to $45,000 or lower income, and between $50,000 and $70,0000, or moderate income.

But despite the current situation, there are some ways developers can help fill the need for housing that accommodates all income levels.

Eric Campbell with Toll Brothers, Linda Pruitt with the Cottage Company, Gary Young with Polygon Northwest, Len McAdams with McAdams Remodeling and Design, and Robert Pantley with Natural and Built Environments discussed their businesses and some innovative ways they’ve been able to help create affordable housing.

Since 1996, Pruitt’s cottages can be seen as north as Whidbey Island, as west as Silverdale and at least three communities on the Eastside and in Kirkland.

The Cottage Company’s homes are designed to be smaller, roughly 1,000 to 1,500-square-foot homes, with more energy efficiency.

“The first question my buyers ask me is what can I walk to?” Pruitt said. “There’s a demand for high quality neighborhood commercial. Why do you think Microsoft employees are going to live in Seattle? It’s not because they want to spend three hours a day on a connector…”

Pruitt said the need and want for residential communities near commercial businesses is very much alive and that by keeping that in mind, there can be a positive impact on those long commutes.

Young and Pantley echo the importance of residential units being strategically placed near retail and transit.

“There’s a very high need for the residential component in Kirkland and Seattle,” said Young, who is working on the South Kirkland Park and Ride TOD (Transit Oriented Development) with Imagine Housing. “The TOD is a great experience. It connects to Metro, it connects two cities and provides 58 affordable housing units in Bellevue and Kirkland.”

About 850 total parking stalls will be installed for commuters once all construction is complete.

The leader of projects in Redmond such as Vision 5 and The Retreat, Pantley is in the process of building Kirkland’s first single residential occupancy complex where the original Crab Cracker was once located.

Pantley said people like a woman named Meagan, who got recently her nurses certificate, would be able to afford a residential suite priced between $770-$850 versus the studios that are currently priced at $1,400-$1,600.

Pantley said the majority of occupants don’t own a car and therefore don’t “clog the freeways.”

“It’s a model that allows people to live where they work,” he said.

Nunes said it was important to start the dialogue now to raise awareness in time for the Comprehensive Plan Update and so that the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce has time to prioritize the housing issue as they lobby during the next legislative session.

“I think the panelists did a really good job of discussing housing, transportation and development,” she said. “It was interesting to see the link between the commutes of the employees, the income level to live in Kirkland, the average home … and how that matches or doesn’t match to the job.”

Nunes said her next goal is to keep the dialogue going while finding other ways to reach out to more voices and input for the future.

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