Conflict brews between Royal City agencies and affordable housing developer

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ROYAL CITY — Contention is brewing between the Royal City School District and the Housing Development wing of Central Washington Catholic Charities over a possible extension of an existing affordable housing development within the school district.

Catholic Charities, which in 2008 originally leased a 51-unit affordable housing development in Royal City, is currently going through an application process to expand its housing capacity. But because the affordable housing development is tax-exempt, local city agencies are appealing the applications in order to impose a fee on the new development to make up for lost property taxes.

The school district argues that the previous housing development led to a spike in student enrollment as families moved from out of the area into the affordable housing, and that the district has to build new classrooms to accommodate the new students. If the Catholic Charities development were to expand, school officials argue that it would cost the district even more money that it can’t recoup with property taxes, placing a larger burden on other residents and businesses.

In lieu of the taxes typical of other developments, the school district and Fire District No. 10 have appealed a Catholic Charities application and are requesting that city officials impose a mitigation fee on the developers. Catholic Charities had only just won approval for its application by the Royal City city planner, who had determined the new development would not significantly impact city resources and didn’t warrant mitigation, when the agencies appealed.

But for Bryan Ketcham, director of housing services for Catholic Charities, the protests of city agencies are overblown and inconsistent. The organization develops housing in communities with existing residents who need it, so most of those who move into the developments are already locals, Ketcham said.

“We build affordable housing in communities because there’s a need for affordable housing in that community,” Ketcham said. “And some of the concerns and comments expressed was that we’d be impacting the population of the Royal City District, that there’d be a significant impact, and based on the research that we’ve done, we don’t find that to be the case.”

Enrollment numbers tell a different story, said Royal School District business manager Greg Pike. The school district saw about 29 new students enrolling per year before 2010, Pike said, with the Catholic Charities development corresponding with a spike of enrollees to around 83 students in 2010.

Ketcham disputed these figures, reiterating that their data showed that roughly “90 percent” of the school-age kids that moved into the development already appeared to be living within the school district.

“We analyzed every single family that has moved in or moved out of our Royal City development since inception,” Ketcham said. “I can’t speak on what their enrollment numbers were, but based on the information we have, where they applied with their original addresses implied they already lived in the district.”

Ketcham said that between 2008 and 2016, there was a net loss of school-age kids living at the developments, though Ketcham noted that Catholic Charities doesn’t track whether those students move to elsewhere in the district. Ketcham said that Catholic Charities agreed with the assessment of the city planner based on its own research: the development wouldn’t significantly impact the school’s resources.

Neither side of the argument could agree to the number of students the development introduced into the district, though district superintendent Roger Trail he didn’t think Catholic Charities could dispute the district’s enrollment data.

Ketcham said that he understood the position of the school and fire district but felt like the way the Catholic Charities development was being handled was inconsistent with city actions in the past. Ketcham noted that similar developments have been established in Royal City in the past without conflict with city agencies.

“I understand that this is a small community that’s resource-strapped, but there needs to be consistency in how the City handles these developments,” Ketcham said.

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