Issaquah development secures affordable housing units | Council roundup

Also: Council enforces firearm laws set by Washington in 2022.

The Issaquah City Council held its general meeting on March 4. During the meeting, the council adopted the 2021 building and fire code; renewed an agreement with King County to fund the Issaquah Senior Center; approved funding for the ARCH Housing Trust Fund; approved the vacation of a right-a-way to begin construction of an off-leash dog park; and approved amendments to the Silverado development agreement, establishing the responsibility of the affordable housing units and percent of area median income. 

Other bills approved or authorized were:

Multi-Family Housing Tax Exemption ordinance

The council unanimously adopted an ordinance that includes the Issaquah Highlands Street Collection Residential Targeted Area in the Multi-Family Housing Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program.

The program is used as a tool to help increase the amount of affordable housing within the city.

This development includes commercial and retail use and residential units. These units will have a mix of market rate, senior and assisted living and — with the adopted ordinance — affordable housing units.

The development must include 20% of affordable units in every building with at least 10 non-age restricted or assisted living units, comprising around 200 affordable housing units, according to the bill.

The bill established the units will have rents affordable to households making 80% of the area median income (AMI) in King County.

A four-person household making 80% of the King County median income translates to $100,900, according to the King County Housing Authority.

These units must remain affordable for 12 years — the length of the tax exemption period — and could continue for an additional 12 years if approved.

A key topic during council discussion around the MFTE was the tax burden Issaquah residents would take on and the cost burden on the city, school district and other jurisdictions.

Although Councilmember Zach Hall voted in favor of the ordinance, he struggled with the idea that the increase in property tax and lost revenue for the city and other jurisdictions was worth the value of the affordable housing.

“I guess the question for us to consider is whether 24 years … of that MFTE of that lost revenue to the city and of the shifting property tax burden across residents is worth just 24 years of some 80% AMI housing.”

Councilmember Russell Joe said the MFTE is a tool he believes will allow people with occupations that “add to the moral fiber” of the city to afford housing that aligns with their incomes.

Councilmember Victoria Hunt said while the MFTE strategy is not the pinnacle of affordable housing solutions, it’s progress.

“I think it moves the needle in the right direction,” she said. “It’s definitely not sufficient; we will definitely continue to have challenges addressing our community’s need for housing. But, I think at this moment, in this particular instance, this is the right thing to do.”

Solid waste grant funding for education and action

During the meeting, the council authorized grant funding from the Department of Ecology Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance (LSWFA) program and an agreement for two projects: expand school recycling programs and promote waste reduction.

The goal of these projects is to assist schools in increasing recycling and composting knowledge while decreasing the chances of incorrect placement of recyclables and compostables.

“Students who learn proper sustainable behavior at school can have a positive impact on diversion at home,” according to the bill. “Also, providing education and recycling opportunities to students when young will set them up for positive environmental behaviors throughout their life.”

The grant will also reduce resource consumption and pollution by installing water bottle refilling stations and utilizing reusable durable cups and utensils at public events.

Funding from the LSWFA matched with funding from the King County Waste Reduction and Recycling Grant calculates the project total to $68,368, according to the bill.

Aligning with Washington’s firearm laws

The council authorized a revision of the Issaquah Municipal Code to adopt provisions of the Revised Code of Washington regulating firearms within the city.

Adopting these provisions ensures that no firearms are allowed into city buildings used in connection with meetings, locations or hearings of the governing body, according to the Washington State Legislature.

The governing body includes the city council, boards, commissions, committees and other city policy or rule-making bodies.

The first violation results in a misdemeanor, while the second and following violations are gross misdemeanors.

Adopting these provisions also enforces laws around various restrictions on the sale, possession and use of firearms.

Some of these restrictions include unlawful possession of a firearm; unlawful sales or transfers of firearms; improper aiming or discharge of firearms or dangerous weapons; and allowing, aiding or abetting the manufacture or assembly of an undetectable or untraceable firearm.

Each violation constitutes a different level of consequence, such as civil infractions, misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and class C felonies.

Although the Washington State Legislature approved this firearm legislation in 2022, the city is not able to enforce these laws unless adopted by the city’s legislative body, according to the bill.

The adoption of these laws will go into effect in 30 days, alongside a required sign stating open carry of weapons at Issaquah City Council Chambers are prohibited.

Issaquah brings SNAP Market Match to the Issaquah Farmers Market

The council authorized an agreement with the State Department of Health, allowing people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to get more value from each dollar spent on vegetables and fruits at the Issaquah Farmer’s Market. The program is called SNAP Market Match.

The SNAP program supports low-income families by providing monthly funding toward their grocery budget, allowing them to afford nutritious food.

Since the SNAP partnership between the City of Issaquah and the Department of Health, the Issaquah Farmers Market has participated in Washington’s Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program (FVIP), administered by the Department of Health.

The SNAP Market Match increases the purchasing power of SNAP when purchasing fruits and vegetables at markets: the program will provide $1 for every SNAP $1 spent on fruit and vegetables — up to $25 per day per customer.

According to the bill, SNAP-eligible items include fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, fresh herbs and edible plant starts.

These incentives will start in May, the first day of the Issaquah Farmers Market, and the agreement will be sunset on Feb. 28, 2025.

Renewing SCORE contract

The council renewed an agreement with South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a regionally owned jail in Des Moines, for inmates with acute mental illness or medical needs that often require extensive medical care.

The agreement, first set in place in 2011, allows Issaquah inmates who need extensive medical care to be transferred to SCORE instead of the King County jail.

In 2023, according to the bill, 14 Issaquah inmates were booked at SCORE, staying for an average of 43.07 days.

While booking fee rates have risen from $50 to $65 per inmate, along with daily rate and surcharge increases, SCORE has added an option for cities to pay for a guaranteed bed, which lowers the cost and reduces the impact of the rate increase.

According to the bill, SCORE continues to be a low-cost option.