Council Roundup: November 22, 2021

COVID-19 Rent Assistance, Rental Housing Inspection Program, 2022 Proclamations, Affordable Housing Demonstration Program
Posted on 12/02/2021
Photo of miniature wooden houses and trees.

The Burien City Council discussed during a study session COVID-19 rent assistance, rental housing inspection program, 2022 proclamations and other observances, and the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. 

City of Burien and King County Offer Aid to Renters Struggling to Pay Rent

The City Council heard a presentation from human services and rental housing inspection program City staff and King County staff managing the Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program (EPRAP). They described the resources available to both groups, status of current programs, and gave a report on how much assistance funding has been distributed in Burien.

Burien is among three cities that extended their eviction moratorium through January 15, 2022 to allow  more time for landlords and tenants to apply for and receive rent assistance. To help Burien residents access rent and utility assistance, the City currently contracts with several agencies. More than $500,000 has been allocated so far, serving 532 households.

EPRAP has distributed approximately $12 million to King County renters who are behind on paying rent. Burien community members are eligible to receive King County funding. To date, more than 1,500 expressed a need for help and 60% have received payments. King County provides three months of past due rent payments and three months of future rent payments so households can stabilize and get ahead on payments. Only households who meet certain income requirements and have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for the programs.

King County offered three pathways to the assistance: allowing landlords to apply on behalf of their tenants, allowing tenants to apply on their own through an online application, and working with more than a dozen community-based organizations that serve specific communities and who can help renters overcome barriers to filling out the online application. The landlord application is closed but the tenant application is open. A phone hotline (206-477-1311) has people who speak multiple languages available to help.

Rental Housing Inspection Program’s First Year of Operation Sees Some Success

Staff gave an update on the current status of the Rental Housing Inspection Program. The program was adopted as part of a suite of tenant protections adopted in 2019 by the City Council. The program’s goal is to encourage proper maintenance of rental housing in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Burien community members. It officially went into effect January 1, 2021. The program divides the city into three zones. Housing in Zone 1 in the northwest region of the city is the first to be required to participate in the program.

City staff select 20% of the units on each property that will be inspected. Inspectors must be hired from a City-approved inspector roster. The landlord is required to provide two days written notice and the inspector must complete the City’s inspection checklist. Once the checklist has been submitted and approved, the landlord receives a certificate of completion, which is valid for three years. Landlords are also required to maintain an annual Burien rental housing business license.

There are currently 360 properties that are required to participate in the program. During this first year of the program, here have been some compliance issues. Staff are working on possible enforcement options for non-compliance.

Proclamations in 2022 to Honor Culture, Identity, and Other Important Causes and Milestones

The City Council continued their discussion of cultural heritage months and other commemorative observances that the City will acknowledge in 2022. During their last discussion, there were questions raised about the naming of specific observances as well as making sure we were including environmental and sustainability themed observances. Staff revised the list and presented it for the City Council to review. Approval of the final list of observances will occur at a later meeting.

Affordable Housing Demonstration Program Evaluated

The City Council discussed the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, which has been in place for two years. Staff conducted interviews with groups who either were currently participating in the program or who had expressed interest in submitting a proposal. These interviews formed the initial evaluation of the program that was presented to the City Council. A more complete evaluation will be presented during the first half of 2022.

To date, seven developers have expressed interest in participating in the program. The interviews provided information for staff and City Council to consider. The common themes that emerged from the interview were:

  • Creating housing for people making 50% or less of the area median income (AMI) requires financial subsidies from other sources such as federal housing vouchers.
  • Public subsidies for housing that serves households earning up to 30% AMI is most often provided to projects that serve veterans, people with disabilities, or people experiencing homelessness.  
  • Several groups recommended that the income limit for homeownership housing be raised to 60% AMI. 
  • The developers who were interviewed expressed that the overall process and permitting was straightforward and efficient, but there could be better clarification on what type of community engagement is required earlier the process.
  • Several expressed that having to present to the City Council before the application arrives presents risk and expense for the developer and could discourage other developers from applying for the program.

Marty Kooistra, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium of King County, presented an overview of the affordable housing landscape in the Puget Sound region. He stated that the key ingredients for affordable housing include resources, land, amenable zoning, policies that support tenants, fee reductions and waivers to lower cost of building, and to create an overall “welcome mat” for affordable housing developers by expressing support for building in Burien.

His specific recommendations on ways the City can support housing affordability are:

  • Extend the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program (it’s set to expire in 2023)
  • Provide translation services to developers
  • Implement code changes to reduce setbacks, increase density, and reduce parking requirements
  • Expedite affordable housing permits
  • Implement an affordable housing fund
  • Conduct upfront SEPA
  • Consider using City-owned land
  • Support for reporting and 50-year oversight for affordable units
  • Streamline the subdivision process