Centralia Council Gives Nod to Pursue In-Depth Housing Action Plan


The Centralia City Council on Tuesday gave informal recommendation for city staff to pursue an in-depth Housing Action Plan (HAP) that will examine the city’s existing inventory, its needs and how to better incentivize development.

The HAP, which should be completed by June 2023, will also help the city in jumpstarting work to revise the housing element of its comprehensive plan, which municipalities within the county are required to update by 2025. It will also satisfy recent legislation requiring municipalities to plan for and accommodate housing options for all economic segments of its population.

The decision came during a workshop held prior to the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night. The council heard from Anne Fritzel, a senior planner with the state Department of Commerce’s growth management services. In addition to the HAP, the council also considered the possibility of conducting a much more abbreviated study.

The council was motivated to pursue a housing study amid discussion about amending its code in order to reduce parking requirements for permanent supportive housing developments, said Emil Pierson, director of Centralia’s Community Development department.

Pierson said the HAP will be completed in multiple phases, starting first with an inventory analysis of current housing within the city.

Before the city can formally submit a request for proposals, which will come before the council for approval, Pierson said they’ll need to wait to secure grant funding from the state.

“In a sense, it’s going to take some time to do this plan, but (the council) will get bunches of data at different times. We just want to make sure that we’re not spending money before we know we can get reimbursed,” he told The Chronicle.

Drafting of the HAP is expected to be a $100,000 contract, Pierson said.

“I think the crisis is now. So, as fast as we can get information, in my opinion, is a worthwhile investment. Knowing that it’ll be an iterative process, kind of like an agile sprint … Moving quickly now is really beneficial,” said Councilor Kelly Smith Johnston.

The city’s quest to draft its HAP also underscores a larger countywide approach to addressing the need for housing. A housing summit with local municipalities, including cities, ports, school districts, and other broader stakeholders, is due to take place later this year at a date to be determined.

Fritzel said HAPs have never been required under the state’s Growth Management Act, which requires fast-growing communities such as Lewis County to draft comprehensive plans. She said HAPs do help substantially with planning changes to the city and county’s comprehensive plans.

“It says ‘What’s your housing look like now? What is your planning realm look like, your policies, your regulations? What’s getting in the way of meeting your needs, and what strategies can you use to address those needs?’ And you also have to do an implementation plan and we recommend monitoring,” Fritzel said.

The HAP, in general, will look at many aspects of municipal governing that relates to housing needs, availability and development, Fritzel said.

Speaking to the council, Pierson said the housing plans under the GMA differ dramatically from how municipalities have done them in the past.

Before, the state would hand down a population number and the city, working with the county, would determine how many new units they need, adjust zoning and let the market take care of the rest. With the new legislated housing requirements, the committee adjusting the comprehensive plan will take a broader look at housing trends and needs.

“So, in this case, we’re doing much more science and jumping down into the weeds versus just staying above it,” Pierson said.

Fritzel said while the process does require the city to make educated assumptions about the housing needs of the community, and that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for cities, the process is really about filling in the gaps.

Councilor Elizabeth Cameron said she’d like to see a result from the study that helps them address families’ needs, as well as the change in those needs.

“What I’m seeing around the city is people doubling up, tripling up in their rental situation and the housing is not meeting their needs. And these are people who do have an income, but their housing is not meeting the needs of the city,” she said.

Pierson said the city already has strong zoning in place, noting that accessory dwelling units are allowed on all zoning levels and duplexes are allowed on some of the smallest, densest plots.

Consultants drafting the HAP, he said, will highlight those strengths and weaknesses.