The Centralia City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would make it more affordable for developers to build permanent supportive housing in Centralia.
If passed, the ordinance would amend Centralia’s building code to eliminate garage requirements and lower the minimum number of parking spaces required for permanent supportive housing developments — specifically defined in the ordinance as multi-family developments of 20 or more units of subsidized, leased housing with no limit on length of stay that prioritizes people who need comprehensive support to retain tenancy.
The code currently requires multi-family developments to have at least two parking spaces, at least one of which is covered by a garage, as well as additional street parking. The ordinance would eliminate the garage requirement and lower the minimum number of required spaces to one and a half per unit.
The code change — specifically the elimination of the garage requirement — would make it more affordable for developers to build permanent supportive housing, according to Brett Mitchell, of Reliable Enterprises, who said the code change would be necessary for Reliable Enterprises to pursue a proposed permanent supportive housing development in the urban growth area specifically targeted to serve transient families with children enrolled in the Centralia School District.
Mitchell proposed a similar code change back in December, which the council struck down. The project has since received an $8 million grant that would go back to the state to fund another project elsewhere if this current code change request does not pass.
The Centralia Planning Commission reviewed the current ordinance proposal on Feb. 11 and approved a motion to make a positive recommendation to the city council, following a discussion where staff members expressed concerns with the apparent number of cars that homeless people own, as evidenced by a situation last year at the Mellen Street Park-n-Ride property.
Despite Community Development Director Emil Pierson’s repeated reminders to council members that the ordinance on the table was about a change to the city’s code — not about a specific project — much of the discussion centered around Mitchell’s specific proposal and whether or not additional affordable housing would benefit the city of Centralia.
Mayor Susan Luond, who voted no to the ordinance along with Councilor Mark Westley, argued that supporting affordable housing development in Centralia would be a detriment to its citizens.
“Now I don’t want to appear hard-hearted here, because I am not … I am in full support of people who need help, but I also have to look at the health of our city … and we have to have a balance,” Luond said.
Earlier that evening, council members and Pierson discussed the potential of hiring a consultant to do a city-wide housing survey to evaluate housing availability and housing needs. According to Pierson, initial staff observation shows that Centralia lacks middle to high-income housing, but they have yet to do an official study.
“We’re trying to keep a balance and right now, and I’m sorry to say this, because I don’t want to be hard-hearted, we’re tipping the balance,” said Luond.
She later added that, given that the state exempts affordable housing from property taxes, “I really feel like the city of Centralia is very generous with their low income housing and has done a very good job to this day. I just personally can’t support it with no garages and that it doesn’t stay to the standard of what other people have been required to do.”
Mitchell replied that he “doesn’t follow” Luond’s rationale.
“If you don’t have accommodation for the population that lives here and you think there’s too many low-income people that can’t afford to live here and you deny access to affordable housing, that seems like it’s going to go nowhere,” he said.
“It’s been provided,” said Luond, “I have the figures here.”
“I’m just saying it’s not enough,” Mitchell said.
The ordinance will be brought back to the city council for a second reading at a later meeting.