By Nate Nehring
One of the most-prominent points of discussion in local government is population growth. Snohomish County is among the fastest-growing counties in the nation. With an existing population of approximately 800,000 people, we are the third-most populous county in Washington state.
However, the county is projected to experience a population increase of 250,000 people over the next couple of decades, which would see us surpass Pierce to become the second-largest county in the state. This rapid growth brings opportunities and challenges.
As Snohomish County continues to build a national and even international presence, economic development and job growth become more viable. Within the next year, commercial flights will take travelers and businesspeople to and from the airport at Paine Field. Our job centers, such as Paine Field and the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center, will continue to attract jobs as we foster our business-friendly environment. Our county’s opportunities for prosperity will not come without challenges, however.
Traffic congestion and affordable housing are perhaps two of the biggest challenges we face during this period of growth. On the transportation front, state and federal partners continue to debate various ideas on how to best move people and freight on increasingly congested roads. Here in North Snohomish County, we are in a relatively good position thanks to over $400 million worth of investment from the state’s Connecting Washington transportation package. This includes two new interchanges (one at I-5/Highway 529 and the other at I-5/156th Street) as well as interchange improvements and widening along the I-5 corridor (88th and 116th Streets, and Highway 531). Affordable housing, or the lack thereof, has already begun driving people north. The median home price in Snohomish County is nearly $500,000. Two of the main contributors to this problem are excessive regulations and a lack of housing supply. According to a recent conference hosted by the Affordable Housing Council, excessive regulations add approximately 25 percent to the cost of the average home. It is becoming increasingly difficult for families to purchase their own home in Puget Sound. With an ever-increasing demand and an inadequate supply, buying a home will only become more difficult.
Local governments are limited by the Growth Management Act in what they can do to address the regulatory environment and the housing shortage. The GMA is a series of laws that requires local governments to plan for and regulate population growth. The GMA has 13 goals that have resulted in thousands of pages of regulations that affect how and where you can build a home.
Housing affordability does not have a simple fix, but we would do well by the people of Snohomish County and Washington state by taking a deep dive into the GMA and repealing some of the burdensome regulations that have made housing unaffordable for so many.
Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1, which includes Marysville and Arlington. (Nate.Nehring@snoco.org.)