PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners will be briefed Monday about a property tax levy proposed to tackle the county’s rising housing and rental costs and the lack of affordable housing.
“What we’re looking for is a way to create a fund to build and preserve affordable housing for low-income and very low-income people for decades to come,” said Bruce Cowan of the Homes Now, a citizens committee formed to advocate for getting the measure on a ballot.
Commissioners will hear about the proposal at 10 a.m. Monday in commissioners’ chambers at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.
The proposed Home Opportunity Fund would be funded by a seven-year property tax levy of 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For a home assessed at $250,000, the tax would be about $90 per year, or just under $8 per month.
If passed, the levy could net the Home Opportunity Fund $1.8 million per year, or between $13 million and $13.9 million over seven years, according to Cowan.
The proposed plan would divide the fund into thirds. Two-thirds of the fund — every 12 of 36 cents collected — would go to low-income housing, with the other 24 cents going to “very low-income,” according to Cowan.
According to U.S. Housing and Urban Development, low-income is defined as making 80 percent or less of an area’s median income. Very low-income is defined as those making 50 percent or less of the area median income.
According to the 2014 U.S. Census, the median household income for Port Townsend is $47,202 per year.
In order to qualify as “affordable housing,” housing costs cannot exceed 30 percent of a person’s income, according to Cowan.
In Jefferson County, a one-person household with an income of $22,550 is considered very low-income, according to Housing and Urban Development. Affordable housing for that one person would be housing costs of no more than $564 per month.
A single person making $36,050 per year would qualify as low-income in Jefferson County; for the person’s housing to be considered affordable, costs could not exceed $901 per month.
The Home Opportunity Fund would be used to help build more and maintain the current affordable housing units in Jefferson County.
To do that, the current proposal says county commissioners would appoint a Home Opportunity Fund board made up of nine citizens from a variety of backgrounds including finance, building and health.
The board would look over proposals from organizations and make recommendations to the county commissioners, who could then award grants and loans from the Home Opportunity Fund to help fund approved projects.
The levy has been endorsed by a number of local organizations that deal with affordable housing, including Habitat for Humanity, Olympic Community Action Programs, the Peninsula Housing Authority, the Economic Development Council and Bayside Housing Services.
Five years ago, Bellingham passed a similar levy, according to Cowan. Seattle has a long-standing housing fund and Vancouver passed its levy in 2016, Cowan said.
“No counties have done this, but we definitely have a countywide affordable housing issue,” Cowan said.
During Monday’s briefing, county commissioners will hear a presentation from County Administrator Phillip Morley and representatives of local housing service providers.
According to Morley, there will be time for public comment, but the commissioners won’t make major decisions this week.
Morley said the most they will do is direct county staff to bring back a final proposal and then schedule a public hearing for the levy on a later date.
Jefferson County Editor/