Opinion

My final plea for Kirkland | Editor’s Note

Carrie Rodriguez - Contributed
Carrie Rodriguez
— image credit: Contributed

Where in Kirkland do you live?

For the past five-plus years as editor of this newspaper, I have answered this question several ways.

In the beginning, when folks in the community asked me, I praised the Lake Washington School District and told those who inquired that I was looking for a place for me and my family to live in Kirkland, where my kids could receive a top-notch education.

As time went on and I still hadn’t found a place yet in the city to live, I quipped that I worked and played in Kirkland. Or I would describe that the Reporter office is located in Totem Lake.

But lately when people have asked me where I live, I tell them outright.

I don’t live in Kirkland.

In fact, I don’t live on the Eastside – not even close.

It’s taken me a long time to tell people that without feeling embarrassed that I cannot afford to live here. So why am I disclosing this information now?

Well, over the years I have used this editorial space for many purposes, from urging residents to donate for good causes to defending an editorial decision. But as I leave the Kirkland Reporter this week and step down as editor – instead of giving you the run-of-the-mill goodbye and a list of all those who I will miss – I find it more useful to dedicate this space toward a more worthwhile cause.

So where do I live?

Every weekday for nearly six years, I have made the 20-mile trek along Interstate 405 from my home in Des Moines to the Reporter office in Kirkland. And if you’re familiar with I-405, you understand that 20 miles equates to at least one hour, one way – in normal traffic. If there’s an accident on the freeway, you can add at least another half-hour to that commute.

So if you add up all the hours that I spend commuting to work in both directions every weekday, I essentially spend an extra business day commuting.

To get me through my long commute each day, I have learned to wait until I hit the Renton “s-curves” before I begin my morning cup of coffee, as I know it will take me a good 20 minutes to break a quarter mile. I need a positive pick-me-up to get me through that negative, never-ending winding stretch of freeway.

However, I do not lay this equation out before you to garner personal sympathy, but to highlight the bigger issue of affordable housing in Kirkland.

Kirkland officials have made great strides in creating more affordable housing in the city. The Reporter has commended those efforts before, including the South Kirkland Park & Ride transit-oriented development that will include affordable housing.

The Council in 2004 adopted a package of incentives to promote more affordable housing, including the ability for developers to build more housing units, tax exemptions and fee waivers for projects that include some affordable housing units in market rate housing developments.

The Council has also stated a vision that those who work in Kirkland should have an opportunity to live here. Approximately one-third of the jobs in Kirkland in 2008 were lower paying retail and service sector jobs.

As editor, my salary is comparable to an entry-level teacher in the Lake Washington School District. And there are probably many other employees within the aforesaid industries who can’t afford to live in Kirkland either. Over the years, I have spoken with many of these people, including teachers, police officers, firefighters and administrative staff for various companies.

This is a huge problem.

When communities don’t have enough affordable housing, many people are affected. A long commute is only one consequence of being unable to afford to live in Kirkland.

A congested freeway is another.

Traffic congestion worsens when people must commute long distances to work.

The capacity on I-405 is full and officials are currently studying options to implement a toll for drivers to use the carpool lane. A deeper look at affordable housing in neighboring communities would certainly benefit this conversation between city officials as they look to find ways to ease traffic.

When I head back home during rush hour and look out over the rows of clogged cars, I have often wondered how many people like me are driving long distances to get back home to their families after a long work day.

My family is also affected because I cannot afford to live in the city where I work. I give up at least 10 hours per week that I could be spending with my 1-year-old daughter and my teenagers. That’s a lot of time for homework help, playing and laughing.

Without enough affordable housing, businesses also have trouble recruiting and retaining qualified workers, as employees are less likely to stay at a job if they cannot afford to live nearby.

I am lucky enough that I found a position as editor for another newspaper within my company at the Federal Way Mirror where I will finally be closer to home.

However, for the others who currently work in Kirkland but can’t afford to live here, I urge Kirkland officials to look beyond the city’s packaged incentives and stated visions for affordable housing.

I encourage city officials to speak with employees in Kirkland, whether it’s your barista, your child’s teacher or your bank representative. Do they live in Kirkland? If not, why not?

Implement a city-wide survey for all business employees that asks these questions and more.

This is my last wish for Kirkland, the city I have grown to love over the years. The city I have worked and played in. The bedroom community that I hope one day all Kirkland employees can call their home.

 

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