EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated with the correct expiration date for the extension of the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program.

By Mellow DeTray

Monday night’s (Oct. 24, 2022) Burien City Council Study Session was a heated meeting that lasted over five hours, and did not conclude until around midnight.

It began with Councilmembers voting to move two business items – Affordable Housing Demonstration Program and Renters’ Rights – to the top of the agenda, since many community members were present both in person and via Zoom to voice their concerns and find out how these issues would be decided.

Affordable Housing Demonstration Program Extended
Extending the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program – which has been in effect for three years and is expiring soon – received almost unilateral support among the community members who spoke on it during Public Comments. Speakers showing support included members of the Burien Planning Commission as well as a representative from ecoTHRIVE, an affordable community that is currently being planned.

Council discussed various iterations of the housing program, which incentivises developers to build affordable housing for both rentals and owner-occupied dwellings. All Councilmembers were in favor of extending the program for one year, which would allow ecoTHRIVE to come to fruition, but several of the Council wanted to extend it even further, to welcome more projects like it to the city. In the end, there was not enough support for this amendment, and the demonstration program is now set to expire at the close of 2024.

Rental Protections Pass
The community showed up to again express support for Council adding renter protections to city law, as well as a handful who shared their concern over certain of the planned line items, which they said would make owning a rental property untenable. While the bulk of community feedback has been asking for renter protections to be enacted, particularly before the eviction moratorium ends on October 31st, several asked for this law to be more balanced toward smaller rental owners, who would be unfairly impacted by the new laws. A representative from the Rental Housing Authority said that similar changes have gone into effect in Seattle and created a predictable surge in rent increases.

Council discussion of the renter protection ordinance began with a proposal to remove the item that would require rental owners to pay for the relocation costs of evicted tenants. This amendment, which removed the most contentious of the renter protections, passed unanimously. Finally, Council voted 6:1 to enact the remaining protections, which include a longer notice for rent increase, reduced late fees and move-in costs, and specify that owners cannot require a social security number from applicants. These changes will be effective immediately.

City Business
Council approved adding city staff salary and compensation recommendations to the budget. Changes aim to ensure positions are compensated fairly and competitively, as compared with surrounding cities. While most city positions are currently at or below market rate, analysts were surprised to discover that several positions were between 7 and 17% above the rates for comparative positions. Staff recommended that this be corrected by eliminating Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) raises for these positions until they even out, as well as increasing the pay of those whose compensation falls below the going rate. Total cost of these changes will be $283,033 in 2023 and $373,634 in 2024.

Recruiting for New Police Chief
Burien will begin the process of hiring a new Police Chief to replace Chief Ted Boe, who was promoted to Patrol Operations Division Chief for King County. Burien Police Captain Todd Morrell, acting as Interim Chief, reported to Council that the city continues to have the lowest number of officers per resident. He stated that the city would need eight more officers to reach one officer per 1000 residents, but 18 more officers to meet the area average. Six additional positions are budgeted for, but have not been successfully filled.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for ten years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.