As it is in communities throughout the region, affordable housing is a hot-button issue at city council meetings in the city of Issaquah. In fact, it is one of the drivers of a development moratorium that the Council enacted last fall, in part to complete a housing strategy that would result in more affordable housing for the city 20 miles east of Seattle. In August the Council, noting that a plan had yet to be formed, voted to extend the moratorium into next summer.
It was no surprise, then, that the issue was a consistent talking point throughout this year’s election. Council candidate Justin Walsh, for instance, identified it as one of his primary concerns.
“We need to create affordable housing in a way that maintains the community we love,” he told Issaquah Daily in June. “If our teachers and small business owners cannot afford to be community members, they will move elsewhere and we will lose their stewardship over the community.”
Walsh ended up winning the November election. But in a twisted bit of irony, he will not be taking his seat come January. The reason? A lack of affordable housing.
An attorney who grew up in Renton and studied law in Seattle, Walsh was elected to Council Position 3 after running unopposed for the seat, which is being vacated by current Councilmember Eileen Barber.
However, during the campaign Walsh moved outside of Issaquah city limits to North Bend, rendering him ineligible to hold a city government position.
Walsh called the decision to move “heart-wrenching.”
“I’m very sad that I won’t be able to assume that seat and help out the city that I love,” he told the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter.
Walsh explained that he found his new house Sept. 10 and closed Oct. 19, dates that are after the window in which a candidate could withdraw from the election.
Since the withdrawal deadline had passed, Walsh’s name remained on the ballot. He did alert voters on his campaign’s Facebook page that he would no longer be able to fill the position, though it had little bearing on the election results for the noncompetitive race.
“It is with great sadness that I announce I will not be able to assume the seat being vacated by Councilmember Eileen Barber,” he wrote. “Beginning October 21, 2017, I will no longer be living within the city limits for the City of Issaquah.”
According to state law, the position cannot now be filled until it becomes vacant, which will occur on Jan. 1, 2018. The Council then has 90 days to fill the position, or the task will be designated to King County.
Walsh stated that a major factor in his decision to move was Issaquah’s lack of affordable housing—an issue to which he said he would have worked to find a solution while on council.
“Unfortunately the housing prices in Issaquah are not what I could afford,” Walsh said.
He observed that it’s a “sign of the times when an attorney cannot afford the housing prices in the town in which he works,” and expressed sympathy for all of the families struggling to afford housing in Issaquah.
“Median housing prices in the City of Issaquah have risen to over $700,000. To afford this average home requires an income of upwards of $150,000, and that is with no debt,” he wrote in his Oct. 18 Facebook post. “To purchase this average home usually requires a substantial down payment, usually of twenty percent. This puts the dream of home ownership out of the reach of most of our City’s residents.”
In comparison, the average home value in North Bend is $517,000, according to Zillow.
Walsh still plans to maintain his law firm in Issaquah and “stay active in the region.”