For many people, the weekend is a time to relax after a long work week.
But instead of relaxing, dozens of Kirkland residents filled a room on the Google campus last Saturday to discuss issues of housing during a three-hour public workshop hosted by the Kirkland Housing Strategy Advisory Group.
During his welcoming remarks, Kirkland Deputy Mayor Jay Arnold noted the packed house and the fact that it was a Saturday morning.
“This is clearly an important issue to the City of Kirkland,” he said about housing.
Arthur Sullivan agreed.
“The fact that these people are (here on a weekend) says something about the topic,” he said.
Sullivan is a program manager for A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), an inter-local agency that includes all Eastside cities and operates as an extension of the cities’ housing departments, and is working with the advisory group.
While the group unveiled the work it has done in the past eight months, the main purpose of the workshop was to get feedback from community members and incorporate those ideas into their recommendations to City Council.
“We’re here to listen,” said Sullivan.
Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen, who could not attend last weekend’s workshop due to illness, said the goal of the advisory group was to involve “representative stakeholders from throughout the community to help form recommendations for (the city’s) Housing Strategy Plan.”
“The purpose of our plan is to identify a wide variety of tasks that the city might undertake over time to implement current housing goals and policies,” she said.
The morning started with participants looking over display boards with information the advisory group has gathered so far. Once the formal programming began, people broke up into small groups for discussions on three specific topics: housing supply and diversity, affordable housing and neighborhood character. Participants had the opportunity to discuss two of the topics for about 45 minutes each.
In the housing supply and diversity discussions, people discussed different types of housing and what they thought would be appropriate in Kirkland. These types ranged from single family homes, to multi-family units, to dormitories.
One participant noted that when discussing preserving a neighborhood’s character, people often get confused and think this means uniformity. He said preserving character does not mean only having one type of housing, such as single-family homes. To do this, he said, it would bring only one type of resident into the community. There is a difference between maintaining character and being identical, he said.
When discussing affordable housing, one of the concerns people brought up was the fact that they thought incentives and benefits of affordable housing should go more directly to local residents, not others such as out-0f-state developers.
This is an important issue to Walen.
“As a small business owner I know the barriers that keep my employees from living in Kirkland,” she said. “Other council members have similar insights. We want to see opportunities for everyone. As a council we want our community to be open, inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”
People also acknowledged that affordability can be dependent on construction costs.
During the discussion on neighborhood character, the idea of 10-minute neighborhoods was a conversation topic. Participants discussed what types of services and amenities they would like to have within 10-minute walking distance of where they live.
One woman shared that she takes transit everywhere and how that factors a lot into her choices. She added that she would like to see more “neighborliness” in the community as people don’t seem to know each other or what anyone else is doing.
“It’s really sad to me,” she said.
Another issue that was brought up during these discussions was that of safety and accessibility when it comes to a neighborhood’s walkability.
Prior to the workshop, Sullivan said some of the work the advisory has done includes an online survey that brought in more than 1,400 responses (more than any other online survey the city has done) and in-person focus groups.
He added that there is no hard timeline for when the group will report to council.