Snohomish County leaders will soon consider raising sales tax for new affordable housing as the county grapples with homelessness and rising cost of living.
County Executive Director Dave Somers and two county councilors on Wednesday proposed a 0.1% increase in county sales tax to fund housing for the homeless and low-income people.
“For years, the supply of affordable housing has fallen short of demand, and rising housing costs have pushed people to their limits … Without these investments, our economy will weaken, more people will become homeless, and our quality of life will improve. be reduced, “Somers said in a statement.
The proposal follows a state law change last year to allow local governments to raise sales taxes by 0.1% on affordable housing and services without submitting the tax to the public vote. The increase is 10 additional cents on a $ 100 purchase, or $ 1 on a $ 1,000 purchase.
Several cities and counties in the state have decided to increase by 0.1% since the law was passed.
As with the rest of the region, Snohomish County has seen an increase in the number of homeless people in recent years and housing costs are rising. According to the list of apartments, the average cost of a two-room apartment in the county is $ 1,528, which is about 26% more than in the same period in 2017. The average home in Snohomish County sold in October for $ 695,000.
If the new tax is passed, Snohomish County expects to generate about $ 23.3 million a year over the next five years. According to the county’s spending plan, most of the funds will be used to purchase, build, repair and operate an “accessible emergency bridge and permanent auxiliary housing.” The County will also pay for some mental health services.
The county proposal estimates that foundations could pay for 100 emergency and permanent auxiliary housing units, likely through hotel purchases, as has recently been done in King County. Affordable housing combines housing with services, including social workers and counselors, for the homeless.
The proposal also promises 300 new units of affordable rental housing that will target people on less than 60% of the area’s median income, about $ 48,600 per person.
At the last accurate count in January 2020, about 1,132 people were left homeless in Snohomish County, including those living outside their homes and in shelters.
King County Council approved a similar tax hike last fall, even after some of the county’s largest cities pulled out of the county’s disbursement plan and adopted their own versions of the tax. In Pierce County, the city of Tacoma has gone through a tax hike.
Snohomish County also saw some animosity between city and state leaders.
All seven Linwood City Councilors opposed the tax hike in a November 8 letter to Snohomish County Council.
“Sales tax is a regressive form of taxation, and we are asking you and our state legislatures to find other forms of income to address pressing housing and mental health problems,” the letter said.
“Homelessness is even more regressive,” argues Mary Ann Dillon, executive director of YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish in Snohomish County, who supports the tax.
Snohomish County Councilors will discuss the proposal later this month.
Councilor Neith Nering said on Wednesday that he would propose an amendment to put the tax on the ballot instead.
“I would like to see more public opinion and discussion before such an important decision is made,” said Nering, who also expressed concerns about the main proposal. “Poor and middle class people will feel it every time they shop.”
Rising cost of living is crowding out low-income people, Dillon said, and the pandemic has exacerbated the need for housing and services.
“This sales tax has the least impact on the taxpayer and has the greatest impact on our community,” Dillon said.
Linwood City Council President George Hearst told the Daily Herald of Everett that when faced with a possible county tax, the city council could adopt its own tax to maintain local control of the funds.
On Monday, the Herald newspaper reported that the city council of Snohomish unanimously adopted its own 0.1% sales tax.