Affordability requirements eyed for Langley development

The development agreement for the Coles Valley project will include some affordability requirements.

A proposed housing development in Langley that is intended to be affordable, at least in part, received some new guidance this week.

The city’s Affordable Housing Sub-Committee presented a list of recommendations to the city council during a meeting Monday night regarding affordability of the project.

The committee has been meeting biweekly for the past six months with the goal of providing recommendations for a development agreement between the city and South Whidbey LLC, the applicant under the new Planned Unit Development, or PUD, ordinance for the Coles Valley project.

In recent months, the proposed housing development on Coles Road has elicited concern from Langley residents who have been apprehensive about its size. During a community meeting in December, concept drawings of the development were revealed; they showed seven subregions with a variety of different housing types, ranging between 115 to 135 units total.

At the council meeting April 18, Director of Community Planning Meredith Penny said the recommendations from the Affordable Housing Sub-Committee can be integrated into the development agreement for the project, which will come before the council at a future date for approval.

The recommendations include affordability requirements, beginning with a definition of what makes an affordable rental unit: “Monthly housing costs including utilities do not exceed 30% of household monthly income for households with incomes at or below the following levels of area median income, or AMI, adjusted for household size.” For a unit that is owned, that does not exceed 38%.

The committee has determined that 30% of the number of units in the project should be affordable at the defined income levels: rental units at 80% of AMI and ownership units at 100% of AMI. Of that 30%, three-quarters must be rentals.

Under the recommendations, rental units must remain affordable at specified income levels for the life of the units or 99 years – whichever is longer. For ownership units, a deed of trust must require the units remain affordable in perpetuity.

The temporary committee also recommended that a minimum of 75% of all affordable units contain three or more bedrooms. Rose Hughes, committee chairperson, explained that this will help meet the needs of families with children or young people entering the workforce who can come together in shared households for mutual support.

“What Langley is missing is multi-family rental units that serve multigenerational families and families with children,” she said.

The committee also suggested that a bonding requirement would protect the city in the event of default or failure to perform the affordability requirements in the final development agreement.

Short-term rentals shall not be permitted within the PUD, regardless of whether the units are affordable or market rate.

A full list of the affordability requirements is available on the city website,

Hughes said at this time the committee is considering its work to be done unless the council asks for additional work to take place.

“We were inventing the wheel, and so we’d like to make sure that subsequent committees don’t have to invent the wheel,” she said.

In an email to the Record, Penny explained that a committee would have to be reformed to provide affordable housing recommendations on any other PUD permit applications that come in. As of press time, the Coles Valley PUD permit application has not yet been submitted.

Although the recommendations weren’t formally approved yet, the council members were largely receptive to them. The development agreement will be brought back to the council for approval.

Councilmember Thomas Gill said he had an objection to the restriction on short-term rentals, which he coined as “an income boost” for owners. In response, Hughes said people will still be able to rent out rooms.

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno said a bond would require a professional consultant to figure out the amount.

Paul Schissler, an affordable housing consultant, said that South Whidbey LLC still aims for 51% or more of the units to be permanently affordable.

“No other city’s asking for 30% affordable. But the landowners are offering 51%,” he said. “I’m glad to be part of it.”

Other members of the public, however, weren’t so supportive.

Leanne Finlay questioned if the city should proceed.

“If there’s nobody else doing this, I don’t quite see how a little town of 1,200 people could do it,” she said.

Hughes clarified that the 30% requirement is specific only to this PUD.

“Please do not be under the impression that Langley is adopting some really radical ordinance,” she said. “This is for this specific development area in this specific time when affordable housing is at a crisis level.”

Mayor Scott Chaplin said the topic will likely be revisited during a future special meeting or workshop of the council.