PORT TOWNSEND — The chair of the Port Townsend City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee said the panel is discussing incentives for developers to help solve the housing crisis.
“We have a lack of supply of homes for sale and rentals,” Michelle Sandoval told those attending a Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.
“How did this happen? It’s a perfect storm. We had the recession. We had builders leave the business or retire. Builders sold lots that they were spec-building because of the economy,” she said.
She believes changes in zoning and codes won’t do it alone and said, “There have to be incentives to entice builders to build here.”
She suggested inclusionary zoning where a developer builds 50 houses and 10 percent of them are low-income or affordable.
“We currently don’t have a builder doing that,” she said.
Sandoval, a real estate broker and owner of Windermere Real Estate in Port Townsend and Port Ludlow, said that the median price of a home in Port Townsend is $437,000. In Jefferson County, it is $457,000.
And in Seattle the price is $983,000, she said.
She outlined the problems of developing affordable housing in Port Townsend and East Jefferson County and what might be done to help the crisis.
“The city and county don’t build homes,” she said. “That’s not our mandate.
“All we can do is to is make sure that there are incentives if a developer has something that’s beneficial to the community at large,” she said.
“This is not a problem that’s simple and easily fixed,” Sandoval continued. “This is a complex, interconnected web of issues and I’d like to make a call to action to this community. We need strong leadership from this community.
“I do not believe we will ever be successful tackling this issue with top-down leadership.”
Sandoval is in her 17th year as a member of the Port Townsend City Council, serving four years as mayor. She currently is chair of the City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee.
She mentioned reviving the Housing Action Plan Network, a group of concerned community members that has, in the past, gathered to create a plan for solving the housing crisis.
Sandoval said new or potential employers look at the quality of schools, children’s activities, amenities, infrastructure and affordable housing.
“The lack of infrastructure in a old town carries a lot of weight,” Sandoval said.
”Downtown now looks fabulous,”she said, referring to the Water Street Enhancement Project. ”We got rid of the 80-year old pipes. We have new sidewalks. New roads. This small community is investing in infrastructure.”
She also pointed to the building of a new school, Salish Coast Elementary to replace Grant Street Elementary, a $28.1 million project expected to be finished for the 2018-19 school year, as well strong recreational opportunities, but said that those qualities don’t help low- and middle-income people who are looking for a place to live.
“In competing for grants for our low- to moderate-income folks, you get points for how distressed you are,” she explained. “Jefferson County isn’t in that category. Our average income is higher because we have community members who don’t fit the distressed category.
“We aren’t dire enough.”
Sandoval said the way the area currently receives funding for housing is through real estate recording fees through the county.
“Approximately $240,000 per year is raised through a $10 fee,” she said.
”It’s going up to $60 beginning in July. We are on track to record about 10,000 pieces. In terms of the city, we have one-third to one-half of those recordings. So, going up to $60 will change things,” she said.
She said that City Council members are considering various types of affordable housing options including rentals and multi-family units, those for sale and those for rent.
Sandoval discussed what alternative types of housing are allowed under current city codes.
“Mobile homes are allowed. Manufactured homes are allowed. Tiny homes are allowed, but if they are on wheels, no.”
Also under consideration is allowing more than one accessory dwelling unit on a property and allowing the owner of the property to rent the main house.
Her committee is investigating more solutions and in the next few months will present their findings to the City Council.
Sandoval put out a call to action.
“Let’s put housing and the homeless first here,” she said.
”We live in one of the best places in the country. It’s up to us. Let’s come together and fix this crisis. Let’s be laser-focused and make a strategic plan and make some progress. We can do this.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-3225 or at [email protected]