Hearing set Monday on proposed tax for affordable housing in Jefferson County

PORT TOWNSEND — Community members can share their thoughts on a proposed property tax levy aimed at tackling the county’s lack of affordable housing at a hearing at 6 p.m. Monday.

The meeting will be in the Superior Court courtroom at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St.

A measure proposed for the Nov. 7 general election would establish a Home Opportunity Fund, which would help fund new housing and maintain old affordable options.

“Jefferson County citizens experience a severe shortage in affordable housing,” a staff memo said. “The shortage is well-documented and growing, particularly for low- and very low-income households of the community, including those with disabled people, veterans, seniors and families with children.

“Local housing nonprofits and the Peninsula Housing Authority would do more but lack the necessary financial resources.”

If approved by a simple majority of voters, the ballot measure would authorize a property tax levy of 36 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. Of the 36 cents, 24 cents would go to projects targeting housing for very low-income residents and 12 cents would go toward low-income residents’ housing.

The proposal is a seven-year levy and is expected to raise $1.9 million per year, or $13 million to $13.9 million in seven years.

Community members can sign up to speak at the beginning of the meeting. At public hearings, comments are limited to three minutes.

Written comment will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. It can be emailed to [email protected] or submitted by mail to Jefferson County Commissioners, P.O. Box 1220, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

Comments will be assessed at a special session at 9 a.m. July 31 in commissioners’ chambers in the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The levy has been backed by a number of local organizations including Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, Bayside Housing Services, the Peninsula Housing Authority and the Economic Development Council.

If created, the Home Opportunity Fund would be separate from the county’s general fund and would be administered by the public health department with oversight by a nine-member volunteer board appointed by the county commissioners.

Requests for proposals would be issued each year to invite funding proposals for projects creating or preserving affordable housing. Awards could be used as matches for other funding, county staff said.

According to Housing and Urban Development, very low-income is described as someone making 50 percent or less of the local median income. Low-income is 80 percent or less of the local median income.

In Jefferson County, a single person making $22,550 per year would qualify as very low-income and a single person making $36,050 per year would qualify as low-income.

That is based off the county’s median income of $47,202 per year, according to the 2014 U.S. Census.

The county says in its proposed resolution that HUD found that about half of all renter households in the county — 1,680 of 3,425 renter households — pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing while about one in four pay more than 50 percent.

Currently in Jefferson County, there are only 600 subsidized low-income housing units and all of them have a six- to 12-month waiting list, according to OlyCAP.

Similar levies have been passed in other Washington cities such as Bellingham in 2012 and in Vancouver in 2016.

A full draft of the proposed levy is available on the county’s website, www.co.jefferson.wa.us.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected]

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