Port Townsend’s Comprehensive Plan through 2036 includes goals of providing an adequate supply of housing for residents of all income groups, including sufficient housing affordable to low- and moderate-income groups. The plan could be adopted by the City Council on Sept. 6. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend’s Comprehensive Plan through 2036 includes goals of providing an adequate supply of housing for residents of all income groups, including sufficient housing affordable to low- and moderate-income groups. The plan could be adopted by the City Council on Sept. 6. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Affordable housing high priority for city of Port Townsend

Adequate housing for residents of all income groups, including sufficient housing affordable for low-and moderate-income groups, is among the goals of proposed revisions to the city’s 2016-36 Comprehensive Plan.

PORT TOWNSEND — It’s difficult for working-class families to find a place to live in Port Townsend, something City Manager David Timmons hopes to fix.

Increasing market prices and the current lack of housing available in Port Townsend, specifically rentals, is making it difficult for employers to bring in new employees, he said.

”If you can afford to buy, there may be properties you can buy. But to just rent properties, they just aren’t out there,” he said.

“We don’t have the rental housing stock, and we’re finding people are getting displaced.”

His goal before he retires in 2018 is to develop a housing trust in Port Townsend that would help alleviate the problem by introducing more rentals into the city.

Adequate housing for residents of all income groups, including sufficient housing affordable for low- and moderate-income groups, is among the goals of proposed revisions to the city’s 2016-36 Comprehensive Plan.

The Port Townsend City Council will consider adopting the revisions during its meeting Sept. 6 after an initial reading Aug. 15.

For the housing trust to work, the city would need to work together with private organizations and nonprofits, Timmons said.

“It’s one of the things the council has asked me to focus my remaining time on,” he said. “I’m trying to get all the various providers together to look at how we could create that model.”

Part of that includes identifying properties where rental units can be developed.

According to the comprehensive plan, the city has nearly doubled the residentially zoned land needed to accommodate the projected 2036 population of 12,165 residents. Port Townsend’s population was 9,210 in 2013, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.

The problem, however, is that there isn’t enough “shovel-ready” land to build on. Much of the land doesn’t yet have the infrastructure needed to meet the projected needs for single-family and higher-density housing.

That’s where the housing trust comes in.

“If you have a piece of property and you have to put $1 million in to it to make it developable, you’ve got to have a significant number of units to recover that investment,” Timmons said.

What can make development financially realistic is building partnerships with different groups, he said.

The city has already sponsored a grant application that helped Habitat for Humanity of Jefferson County with a build, he said.

The city needs to identify properties and work on getting infrastructure to those properties to help subsidize the cost of development, he added.

“The payback is the property is then put into a trust, so it stays affordable in perpetuity,” Timmons said.

By increasing the number of rentals available in Port Townsend, the goal is to get more workers into the city and to help economic development, he said.

What appears to have caused the rental shortage is the second-home market, he said.

People have been buying rental units and turning them into second homes, which has compounded the housing problem, he said.

As of 2015, Port Townsend had more than 5,300 housing units. About 693 of those units targeted low- and moderate-income households with some form of financial assistance. Those are reported to be at near 100 percent occupancy, according to the draft comprehensive plan.

More than half, about 52 percent, of Port Townsend renters and 39 percent of homeowners are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, the report said.

While affordable housing has been one of Port Townsend’s goals for decades, there is new language in the current draft of the comprehensive plan that supports new types of affordable housing, said Judy Surber, senior planner for the city.

“We were trying to reflect new types of housing we didn’t have before,” she said.

The plan would support “smaller homes” and “micro units,” she said, which would help the city meet its affordable housing goals.

Cities must update their comprehensive plans as required under the Growth Management Act.

The plans address land use, housing, transportation, utilities, capital facilities and economic development.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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