The intersection of South 16th Avenue and Tieton Drive is pictured on Tuesday in Yakima.

Back in 2017, an equity study prepared for Yakima’s city government highlighted a demographic dividing line at 16th Avenue.

Neighborhoods east of 16th Avenue have lower family incomes, older homes, more people living below the poverty line and a higher percentage of people of color, the study said.

The report was part of an effort to evaluate how city services and spending were distributed across the community.

Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez said those demographic realities haven’t changed, especially when it comes to housing.

“The city of Yakima is still struggling with inequities,” she said during a council meeting Nov. 5. “The line is drawn at 16th Avenue, and we see that the amenities are reduced on the east side of town. There are less amenities and greater levels of poverty.”

Gutierrez brought up the issue of housing and how it relates to equity last month as the council began debating the possibility of changing its form of government to a council-mayor system — a topic that will come up Nov. 19. Gutierrez said the city has been working on affordable housing issues, but hasn’t taken real steps to address housing segregation.

She added that the issue of equity wasn’t addressed until the city lost a Voting Rights Act lawsuit that led to redistricting, and several people of color were elected to the council.

“It’s our responsibility to try to desegregate when it’s been clearly demonstrated in various means, including federal court, that we’re dealing with hypersegregation across racial lines,” she said.

The council unanimously agreed Nov. 5 to delve into housing equity issues, and what other communities are doing, at an upcoming study session.

Councilman Brad Hill said the council has a responsibility to offer housing options across the city and a study session on the issue would be appropriate.

“I don’t think the situation is quite as stark as what’s presented, but nonetheless I want to be part of a solution,” he said, adding that a study session would be helpful to maintain focus on the city’s housing crisis.

He said he voted for the Bicycle Apartments on 50th Avenue despite pushback from neighbors. He also mentioned the higher-density apartments under construction between 64th and 72nd avenues along Midvale Road in the West Valley, while noting it wasn’t designed as an affordable housing project.

Councilwoman Holly Cousens said she was on the council when the equity study prepared by Washington State University’s Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension was released, and the city hasn’t done much to use the information. “This is a great way to do that,” she said.

Councilwoman Kay Funk noted the council approved a preliminary plat Nov. 5 for 94 single-family home lots on 64th Avenue and Occidental Road. She said it’s better to have a mix of single-family and higher density, multi-family units, “and we’re not seeing that.”

Community Development Director Joan Davenport said a $100,000 grant the city recently received from the state for a housing action plan could be a useful tool in the discussion. The city will use the funding to engage people, promote infill development on vacant and underutilized lots, promote home ownership for low- and moderate-income families, develop partnerships for senior housing and work on housing for very low income people and those who are experiencing homelessness.

She suggested rolling the discussion about housing equity into early discussions next month. She said she’d discuss how to do that with the consultants working on the project and the new interim city manager.

The Yakima council also is scheduled to have a public hearing Dec. 3 about changes to promote more affordable housing. The city’s Planning Commission had 12 study sessions to work on proposals and came up with some of the following changes for the council to review:

  • Changing to rules for accessory dwelling units to encourage so-called mother-in-law residences and tiny homes on single family lots.
  • Increasing environmental review exemptions to decrease costs and time for developments that qualify.
  • Allowing private streets as part of some new subdivisions, which could decrease development costs.
  • Allowing duplexes on corner lots in new subdivisions in some zoning areas.

There also are changes dealing with H2-A farmworker housing and short-term rentals.

Gutierrez said while the proposed changes are beneficial, they don’t directly tackle segregation issues.